You have probably never thought about studying in France because of the Language barrier. To study abroad in France, learn about the French university system, required qualifications, how to apply, fees, scholarships, accommodation, and student life.
If you’re looking to study abroad, higher education (enseignement supérieur) in France attracts many international students. With high-quality French universities, grandes écoles (similar to Ivy League universities), as well as specialized schools offering a wide range of courses at nominal fees, it’s no surprise that France attracts a quarter of a million foreign students who study abroad in France every year.
More than 287,000 international students come to study abroad at France’s universities and higher education institutions every year, making it the fourth most popular student study destination abroad after the US, UK, and Australia. A third of French PhDs are awarded to students from outside France, and almost half of all academic papers are co-authored with at least one foreign colleague.
France is committed to a policy of treating French and international students equally, with identical and very low tuition fees for courses leading to national diplomas (degrees), and the same access to benefits, such as housing assistance and health insurance. This guide to studying in France:
- Top universities in France
- Higher education in France
- Types of universities in France
- Qualifications awarded in France
- Exchange programs, grants, and scholarships in France
- Applying to a French university
- Foreign qualifications and accreditation
- Language skills for admission to a French university
- Cost of studying in France
- Student accommodation in France
- French visas to live and study in France
- Working while you’re a student in France
- Tips on student life in France
- List of top French universities
Top Universities in France
French universities are of high quality. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-15, France had two educational institutions in the top 100: the École Polytechnique at 61 and École Normale Superieure at 78.
A further five universities are within the top 200: Pierre and Marie Curie University (103), Paris-Sud University (120), École Normale Superieure de Lyon (160), Joseph Fourier University (178), and Paris-Diderot University-Paris 7 (180).
There are around 36,000 different programs and courses available at undergraduate and post-graduate levels in French universities. Some undergraduate programs and a large number of post-graduate programs are taught at least partially in English. You can find a list of more than 1,000 programs taught in English.
Each institution sets its own calendar but the academic year usually starts between 15 September and 1 October and ends at the end of June/beginning of July. There are holidays around Christmas/New Year, February, and April, as well as public holidays in France.
Types of Universities in France
France has around 250 elite institutions called grandes écoles, 83 public universities, as well as many other research institutes and specialized schools.
Grandes écoles are the most prestigious higher education institutions in France, producing many politicians, top civil servants, and scientists. The two highest French universities in the world rankings – the École Polytechnique and École Normale Superieure – are grandes écoles. They usually specialize in a single area, often business or engineering, although some offer a wider range of subjects. In fact, admission is by highly competitive entrance exams. They can be either public or private. They teach many programs in English and enroll about 30,000 international students.
About 80% of university students in France go to a public university; 10% of these are international students. Anyone who holds the baccalauréat (or equivalent) can enroll in French universities, which offer training in all disciplines. Public universities are funded by the French government and also often include internships.
There are also research institutes, art and architecture schools, colleges of fashion, film, performing arts, journalism, social work, and other specialisms.
Many universities, research, and specialized schools are grouped together in higher education and research clusters or PRES (pôles de recherche et d’enseignement supérieur) collaborating on courses, research, and resources. Sometimes degrees are awarded by the PRES rather than individual institutions. In fact, there are some 20 PRES in France.
Qualifications Awarded in France
French degree courses at universities follow the Bologna ECTS (European Credit Transfer and accumulation System). Under the system, one credit corresponds to the student workload required to successfully complete the course modules; these credits can be accumulated and transferred. There are three levels of national diplomas (diplômes nationaux) awarded in France:
License (equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree) – three years, 180 ECTS.
Master’s degrees, which are divided into research, for those who want to progress onto a doctorate (Ph.D.), or professional, for those who want to enter the workplace after graduation – two years, 120 ECTS.
National doctoral degrees (Ph.D.) – three years, 180 ECTS.
In the grandes écoles students have two years of preparatory study (CPGE or prépa) in a grande école or other schools before sitting entrance exams for three-year programs at one or more of the grandes écoles. At the end of the five years, students are awarded their school’s diploma which is the equivalent of a master’s degree.
Exchange programs, grants, and scholarships in France
There are many grants as well as scholarships available to international students, from license up to post-doctorate levels.
The French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs offers grants to international students, either through the Ministry or through the cultural departments of French embassies and consulates worldwide. For example, the Eiffel Excellence Scholarship Program offers scholarships in engineering, science, economics, and law at the master and Ph.D. levels.
France is signed up for the Erasmus program, an EU initiative that allows students from one European country to study or gain work experience in another. The Erasmus Mundus program is open to non-Europeans, with grants for master’s, doctoral and special partnership projects. For more information, see Erasmus+France
The French Ministry of Higher Education and Research offers grants to foreign students who have lived in France for at least two years and whose residence for tax purposes is in France, plus for doctoral and post-doctoral research.
Regional councils award grants to students enrolled in local institutions sometimes in collaboration with a public research body, such as the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) or a private company.
There may be other grants available under exchange agreements with universities outside France; in general, students have to already be enrolled at the university in the home country and nominated for an award. Individual universities may also offer financial assistance themselves; ask at the university’s international office. American students may also be able to study in France on a grant through the Fulbright US Student Program.
Applying to a French university
The procedure you follow depends on your nationality, where you currently live, as well as what and where you want to study in France. You can apply to as many universities as you like.
If you’re an EU or EEA national you can apply directly to the university of your choice using the same online post-baccalaureate process as French students: Admission post-bac or APB.
Students from Outside the EU/EEA
Students from 33 countries have to use the online CEF procedure offered by the government agency Campus France to apply to a French university and get a student visa. Campus France offers information and advice on different university programs and your application procedure. They also process your application, verify your qualifications, and schedule language tests. They also have worldwide offices you can visit.
- Applying to other institutions: If you want to enroll at an institution other than a university or institute of technology, then you have to use the online Admission post-bac or APBprocedure, even if your country is listed above.
- Applying from other countries: If your country is not on the list, and you want to go enter at the first or second level of university (license) or first year of a health or architecture degree, you must submit an application for preliminary admission (demande d’admission préalable or DAP) to the cultural service of the French embassy or consulate in your home country. The DAP process begins in January of each year.
For any other university-level course (e.g., a master’s) you can apply directly to a French university using the online Admission post-bac or APB procedure.
Foreign Qualifications and Accreditation: What Qualifications Do You Need?
Each university and other higher education institution sets its own admission criteria for its programs and makes decisions based on an individual’s educational background and the requirements of the program.
To enroll for a bachelor’s degree at a French university, you should usually hold a baccalaureate or the equivalent foreign school-leaving certificate, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), British A levels or the US High School Diploma.
To be admitted to a master’s program in France, you usually need to hold a Bachelor’s degree. For more information about the recognition of foreign university qualifications, see ENIC-NARIC France.
Language Skills for Admission to a French University
Most undergraduate courses are taught in French and you will need at least an intermediate level of French. You may be asked for proof of your language skills, such as the B2 (intermediate) certificate in the Diplôme d’Études en Langue Française (DELF) or sometimes the C1 (advanced) certificate Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française (DALF), or be asked to sit a language test. For more information on French language courses and assessments, see the CIEP website.
Otherwise, there are a large number of courses at the postgraduate level designed for English-speaking students. You can find a list of them here.
Cost of Studying in France
International students pay the same tuition fees as French students. The French government subsidizes state higher education so fees are extremely low in French universities. The 2014-15 annual tuition fees at state educational institutions as set down by law are:
- €189.10 for license courses
- €261.10 for master’s courses
- €396.10 for doctoral courses
- €615.10 for courses leading to the diplôme d’ingénieur (engineering diploma).
Tuition fees are much higher at private institutions, especially business and management schools, and are generally between €3,000 and €10,000 per year. Top management schools can charge up to €30,000 a year, however.
You have to support yourself while you’re studying in France: allow for a monthly budget of around €1,000 in Paris and €800 elsewhere.
Student Accommodation in France
University residences (Citiés-U) both on campus and in towns are managed by regional student-services agencies called CROUS/CNOUS. They are the cheapest form of student housing (around €120 per month for a single room) and you’ll need a guarantor. You stand the best chance of securing a room if you hold a French government grant, are on an exchange program, or you’re in your second year of a master’s or doctoral course.
You’ll find private student buildings near most universities in France, with facilities including common rooms, cafeterias, laundry, staffed front desks, garage spaces, and even maid services. Rents are around €600–700 per month in Paris or €400–700 per month elsewhere, and you also need a guarantor. You can also rent privately. Contact the university housing office and student service, or CROUS.
Grandes écoles and some private institutions have on-campus student accommodation, with rents around €250–350 per month.
You may also be able to apply for a grant to help pay for accommodation through CAF (Allocations Familiales).
French Visas to Live and Study in France
Students from the EU/EEA don’t need a visa to come and study at a French university but almost everyone else will. If you are applying through the CEF procedure (see above), they will organize your visa for you.
If you are not, you will also need to organize a visa through your French embassy/consulate once you have an offer of a place from the university. You’ll have to show evidence of your academic qualifications, study plans, and proficiency in the French language (if appropriate) and prove that you have enough funds to support you while you’re studying in France – around €615 per month.
For the first year of your studies, the visa is proof of your residency status, although you will still need to register with the immigration office after you arrive. From the second year onwards you have to apply for a Carte de Sejour. For even more information, see Expatica’s guide to French student visas and permits.
Everyone needs health insurance that is valid in France. Read even more about the requirements for health insurance in France.
After you arrive in France to start your studies, you must register at the university at the beginning of the academic year to complete your enrolment. You’ll be asked to enroll in the national student health plan and you’ll also receive your student ID.
Working While You’re a Student in France
Students from within the EU/EEA can take on paid employment alongside their studies without restriction, as long as your university participates in the student health care plan (social security).
Everyone else can work as long as they have a French residence permit. Students can work a maximum of 964 hours a year. Graduates from master’s programs or above can apply for a non-renewable permit to stay in France for a further year, working under the same conditions. See French student visas and permits.
Tips on Student Life in France
Students in disciplines such as the arts or humanities may find that there are many more classes to attend at a French university compared to a university back home. Lectures can start at 8 am and last for three hours without a break.
Exams can be more about recalling information given in lectures rather than independent learning.
It’s not uncommon for students to have to repeat a year (redoublement) if results aren’t up to scratch.
Most French students choose to go to a university in their own region and many go home at weekends.
List of Top French Universities(Paris)
- École Polytechnique
- École Normale Superieure
- Paris-Sud University
- Paris-Diderot University-Paris 7
- Mines ParisTech
- University of Paris-Sorbonne Paris IV
- Sciences Po Paris
- University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
- University of Paris Descartes
- École des Ponts ParisTech
- École Normale Superieure de Cachan
- University Paris Dauphine
- University of Bordeaux
- Joseph Fourier University
- École Normale Superieure de Lyon
- Claude Bernard University Lyon 1
- Aix-Marseille University
- Montpellier University
- University of Strasbourg