Why is “joie de vivre” so hard to translate? Explore France as a study destination.
France is located in Western Europe and shares borders with six other countries, making it very well connected to the rest of Europe. With its remarkable history, nature, culture, literature, art, cuisine, wines, sights and climate, it’s understandable why it is the most visited country in the world.
France is very attractive to foreign students. 309,000 foreign students were enrolled in French universities in 2015, according to Le Monde. The country has an outstanding tradition in education, and is fast evolving for instance offering more English language programmes than ever before. Did you know that Paris was considered a safe haven for young people from various countries in the world for most of the 20th century? In the 21st century, France still trains for instance some of the best mathematicians of the world.
The largest cities in France are Paris (over 2 million in the city, about 10 million in the greater Paris area, which includes several universities and other higher education institutions, Marseille (800 000, about 1,7 in the wider area) and Lyon (500 000, over 2 million for the greater Lyon). Medium or small sized cities can also be student magnets, such as Lille in the North or Clermont-Ferrand near the volcanoes of the country’s centre.
Higher education in France
In France the higher education is organised in three types of institutions: universities (universités), grandes écoles (prestigious 3 to 5 year schools, including Political Studies Institutes, business schools, and engineering schools – with an often challenging entrance examination), and other colleges (Instituts universitaires de technologie : IUT, private universities and arts colleges). Universities and grandes écoles generally focus on theoretical academic studies, whereas the other colleges usually focus on a range of subjects related to a certain specialization. It can be possible to move between the systems, from IUT into some business schools for instance.
Even though a baccalauréat (or its foreign equivalent) is usually sufficient to enter university at bachelor’s level, master’s degrees increasingly require an additional examination. This holds for students who want to come to study in France for the whole of their studies. For the bachelor’s level, French universities are open to all students that have passed their baccalauréat, but scientific and medical programs require you to have a baccalauréat in these subjects prior.
Universities are public, and the tuition fees are usually low (between 150-900 euros per year). However, the business schools as well as some private communication higher education schools charge much more, in the range of 5000-10.000 euros per academic year).
French education promotion agency Campus France offers more detailed explanations about the country’s education system and you can check if you are eligible for funding depending on your country of origin.
Student life in France
Student life in France varies greatly depending on the type of institution (university, grande école…) you are attending. There is no ‘one size fits all’ model of student life, though you might find yourself spending more time visiting museum exhibitions than you perhaps would in other countries, especially if you are studying in Paris. Usually, though, it is safe to say that you will likely spend most of your time in a lecture theatre, and the rest of it in smaller, seminar-size classes. Be careful to make clear notes if you have to take an exam. They will come in handy as the system of reading books and articles and being tested mostly on these has not always pervaded the French educational system: so do the readings, but treat your professors’ lectures as if they were gold, too.
Even though the numerous attacks in 2015 and 2016 that shocked the whole of France and beyond have put a hold to the relaxed, chilled nature on French streets, especially in the bigger cities, France is still a safe country. The ‘emergency’ state ensures increased police/army presence on the streets, which is not a violation of civil liberties, just a protection in the case of potential future attacks. You can even talk to the (wo)men in the stations that you see in military uniforms. Erasmus students who study in France have lived the attacks together, too. These stressful moments made their friendships even stronger.
Students also get a lot of discounts in places such as theatres, museums, etc. Markets can also be a great way of experiencing the French lifestyle (especially outside the capital) to buy fresh products and perhaps discover some odd French accents!
Did you know? Paris has been ranked the best student city in the world by QS.
Since 2013, it has become easier to hold English language programmes in Molière’s country. Even though the most frequent teaching language continues to be French – French is one of the most spoken languages in the world – more than 1200 programmes are taught in English in France in 2016.
This can be good to know if you intend on coming to France for a short exchange and do not have previous knowledge of the country’s language. Meanwhile, Alliance française can help you learn French, whether abroad or in France.
Applying to French universities
First of all, dive into Study Advisory’s university search and find the perfect university for you! We recommend you to read the reviews from former students, since they give you some inside information on the student life and practical matters in the university. In each of the university profiles, you will also find a link to the university’s own website, where you will find the detailed entry requirements and application dates for each of the study programs.
Sending your application on time is often one of the first keys to success!
If you are from the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland), you can apply directly to the institution you are interested in. To start a bachelor’s degree in France, you must register on the portal for university admissions, Admissions post bac (only in French), which all students about to graduate from high school in France use. If you are about to come with the Erasmus programme, check your local organisation’s Erasmus or international office.
If you are from a non-EU country and want to study in France, contact the French consulate in your city or closest city in your country of residence. Check if your country of residence belongs to this list (36 countries including Mexico, South Korea, Vietnam and Cameroon do) and Campus France’s office will assist you apply for a student visa and other tasks, all the way to enrolment.
Remember also to check the application times well in advance, as they normally end several months before the start of the semester. For instance, on APB, for a full French bachelor programme, you must register by mid-January every year. Make also sure that you have the certified copies of all the documents you need to send with your application.
French universities recommended by Study Advisory:
The Sorbonne is renowned abroad and is one of the oldest universities in the world. Over 23 000 study in this humanistic and social science-orientated centre of knowledge, which includes 7 doctoral schools. A great way of experiencing Parisian intellectual life from within! The Sorbonne has been rated excellently for its teaching on Study Advisory.
Sciences Po Lille (Lille Political Science institute) has received very good ratings for teaching and value for money. There are 10 political science institutes (IEP) in France: the selection process is strict and the education is comprehensive, with many social science subjects on offer. At an IEP, one can study finance, economics, history and international law…, alongside two compulsory foreign languages. Good to know: some IEP are particularly strong in European studies.
Kedge business school – in Bordeaux and Marseille – has received very good ratings, especially regarding the campuses. At Kedge you can study finance, marketing, and also more original courses in sport management or maritime commercial and logistics optimisation.
IPAC Annecy offers courses in international trade and management. It belongs to the IPAC group which is also located in Albertville, Chambéry, and Grenoble, only 25 minutes drive from Geneva international airport.
Top 3 reasons to study in France:
- High-quality education with a long history.
- Immersing yourself in a rich culture.
- Tradition of welcoming students from abroad.
Did you know this about France?
- Unlike in some other countries, religious instruction is not given by public schools, except in the eastern regions Alsace and Moselle.
- Mont-Blanc, located in the French Alps, is the highest peak in Europe.
- France produces around 350-400 different types of cheeses. Yum!
- France’s longest land border is not with Spain or Germany… but with Brazil!
The official website of Campus France includes everything you need from visa for non-EU students to learning French, and funding and accommodation tips.
L’Etudiant, a magazine for future and current university students