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Study abroad in France: a guide to French universities

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Learn about the French university system, the needed requirements, how to apply, fees, scholarships, housing, and student life to study abroad in France.

If you are interested in studying in another country, you should know that the French system of higher education (enseignement supérieur) is quite popular with students from other countries. It should come as no surprise that France is the destination of choice for approximately a quarter of a million international students who choose to pursue their education in France each year. France is home to numerous prestigious educational institutions, including universities, grandes écoles (which are analogous to Ivy League universities), and specialized schools that provide a diverse curriculum at affordable rates.

After the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, France is the fourth most popular location in the world for students to study abroad at universities and other higher education institutions. Each year, more than 287,000 students from other countries make the journey to France. One-third of French doctorates are given to students who were educated outside of France, and over half of all academic articles are written in collaboration with at least one person who was educated outside of France.

France is dedicated to a policy of treating French and foreign students equally, with tuition costs that are equivalent and extremely cheap for courses leading to national diplomas (degrees), and the same access to benefits, such as housing aid and health insurance. This policy was established as part of France's commitment to its "equality for all" educational philosophy.

Top universities in France

The educational standards at French universities are quite high. The École Polytechnique came in at number 61 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-15, while the École Normale Supérieure placed at number 78. Both of these educational institutions are located in the country of France. The Pierre and Marie Curie University come in at number 103, Paris-Sud University at number 120, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon at number 160, Joseph Fourier University at number 178, and Paris-Diderot University-Paris 7 round out the top 200 institutions in the world (180).

Participate in a university program in another country:

In French institutions, students may choose from around 36,000 distinct programs and courses at both the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. At the undergraduate level, there are a few programs that are taught entirely in English, whereas at the graduate level, the majority of programs are taught in English at least partly. You may look for a list of more than a thousand different shows that are presented in English.

The schedule for the academic year is determined by each school, however, it often begins between the 15th of September and the 1st of October and continues until the end of June or the beginning of July. In addition to official holidays, there are vacations in France throughout February, April, and around Christmas and New Year's.

Universities of various types in France

France is home to over 250 prestigious educational establishments known as grandes écoles, in addition to 83 public universities and a large number of additional research institutes and specialty schools.

The most renowned higher education institutions in France are known as grande écoles. These schools are responsible for the education of many prominent French politicians, public workers, and scientists. The École Polytechnique and the École Normale Superieure, both of which are classified as "grandes écoles," take the top two spots in the global rankings of universities maintained by THE. They typically concentrate on a particular subject, most often business or engineering, but some of them provide instruction in a broader variety of topics. Entry is determined by a series of very competitive examinations. They may either be open to the public or kept behind closed doors. They offer several courses in English and have over 30,000 students from other countries enrolled.

About eighty percent of university students in France attend a public institution, and ten percent of them are students from other countries. Universities in France are open to students who have completed their baccalauréat or an equivalent degree and provide instruction in a wide variety of fields. The French government provides funding for public universities, many of which also provide internship opportunities.

There are also research institutes, schools of art and architecture, colleges of fashion, cinema, performing arts, journalism, social work, and other fields of study, among other specialized institutions.

Higher education and research clusters, also known as PRES (pôles de recherche et d'enseignement supérieur), are collections of many universities, research institutions, and specialized schools that work together on curriculum development, research endeavors, and the provision of resources. There are occasions when the PRES, rather than individual universities, is the one to hand out degrees. Throughout the point of truth, there are around 20 PRES in the country of France.

Qualifications awarded in France

The European Credit Transfer System is used in French university degree programs (European Credit Transfer and accumulation System). According to the framework, one credit represents the amount of work that is expected of the student to complete the modules of the course. These credits may be collected and transferred. In France, students may earn one of three different types of national diplomas, known as diplômes nationaux:

License (equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree) – three years, 180 ECTS.

Two years and 120 ECTS are required for the completion of a master's degree. This degree may either be a research masters for those who wish to continue their education and get a doctorate (Ph.D.), or a professional masters for those who want to join the workforce immediately after graduation.

National doctoral degrees (Ph.D.) – three years, 180 ECTS.

Before taking admission examinations for three-year programs at one of the grandes écoles or more than one of the grandes écoles, students in the grandes écoles are required to complete two years of preparatory study (CPGE or prépa) in a grande école or another institution. After completing their studies for a total of five years, students are eligible to get their school's diploma, which is the same as a master's degree.

Programs for international exchange, awards, and scholarships in France

From the level of a license up to the post-doctorate level, there is a multitude of grants and scholarships available to overseas students.

Grants are made available to foreign students by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. These grants may be applied for directly via the Ministry or through the cultural offices of French embassies and consulates located all over the globe. For instance, the Eiffel Excellence Scholarship Program provides financial assistance to students pursuing masters and doctoral degrees in the fields of engineering, science, economics, and law.

The Erasmus program is an EU project that enables students from one European nation to study or acquire work experience in another European country. France is a participant in the Erasmus program. Non-Europeans are welcome to apply for funds to pursue master's degrees, doctorates, and special cooperation projects under the Erasmus Mundus program. Visit the Erasmus+France website for more details.

Foreign students who have resided in France for at least two years and whose domicile is for tax purposes in France are eligible to receive funding from the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research. These grants are also available for doctorate and post-doctoral research.

Students who are enrolled at local universities may apply for funds via their respective regional councils. These grants are occasionally awarded in conjunction with a governmental research entity like the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) or a private business.

In general, students need to already be registered at the university in their home country and be nominated for an award before they can be considered for a grant. There may be additional awards available as a result of exchange agreements with institutions located outside of France. In addition, individual educational institutions could provide financial aid on their own; inquire about this via the institution's international office.

Through the Fulbright US Student Program, American students can get financial assistance to study in France.

Check out the CampusBourses database for more additional information as well as the ability to look for a grant or scholarship that fits your needs.

Applying to a French university

The steps you need to do are determined by your nationality, where you now reside, what you want to study in France, and where you want to study it, among other factors. You are free to submit applications to any number of different colleges and institutions.

EU/EEA students

You can apply directly to the institution of your choice if you are a citizen of the EU or EEA since you may use the same online post-baccalaureate procedure as French students. This process is known as admission post-bac or APB.

Students from outside the EU/EEA

> Online ‘CEF’ procedure

To apply to a university in France and get a student visa, applicants from one of 33 countries must first complete the CEF application via Campus France, which is an online service provided by the French government. Campus France can provide you with information and guidance on the various university programs as well as the application process. In addition to this, they will handle your application, check your credentials, and organize language exams for you. They also have locations throughout the globe that you may go to.

If you are a resident of one of the countries listed below, please click on the link to start the registration process by establishing your file:

● Algeria

● Argentina

● BeninBrazilBurkina Faso

● Cameroon

● Chile

● China

● Colombia

● Comoros

● Congo (Brazzaville)

● Cote d'Ivoire

● Gabon

● Guinea

● India

● Indonesia

● Iran

● Japan

● Lebanon

● Madagascar

● MaliMorocco

● Mauritius

● Mexico

● Peru

● SenegalRussia

● South Korea

● Taiwan

● Tunisia

● TurkeyUSA

● Vietnam

> Applying to other institutions

Even if your nation is on the list above, you are required to utilize the online Admission post-bac or APB method to enroll in a school that is not a university or institute of technology. This is the case even if your nation is on the list.

> Applying from other countries

If your country is not on the list and you wish to enter at the first or second level of university (license) or the first year of a degree in health or architecture, you are required to apply for preliminary admission (demande d'admission préalable or DAP) to the cultural service of the French embassy or consulate in your home country. If your country is on the list, you are exempt from this requirement. Every year, the DAP procedure starts in January.

You may apply directly to a French university via the Admission post-bac or APB method online if you are interested in pursuing any other kind of university-level study, such as a master's degree.

Accreditation and certifications from other countries: what kinds of credentials do you need?

A person's educational history and the requirements of the program are taken into consideration when admissions choices are made at universities and other institutions of higher education. These institutions also establish their own admissions criteria for their programs.

A baccalaureate or a comparable international school-leaving certificate, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), British A levels, or the United States High School Diploma, is often required to enroll in a Bachelor's degree program at a university in France.

A Bachelor's degree is often required in France to be accepted into a master's program at a French university. Check to visit ENIC-NARIC France if you want to learn more about the recognition of degrees earned at universities located in other countries.

Skills in the French language are required for entry into a French university

You will need to have at least an intermediate level of French to enroll in the majority of the courses offered at the undergraduate level, which are all taught in French. You might be asked to demonstrate that you are proficient in the target language by providing documentation, such as the B2 (intermediate) certificate in the Diplôme d'Études en Langue Française (DELF) or sometimes the C1 (advanced) certificate in the Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française (DALF), or you might be required to take a language exam. Check out the CIEP website if you want more information on the French language courses and tests they provide.

Other than that, there are a huge variety of postgraduate programs that are geared toward students who speak English as their primary language. You'll be able to locate the list of them at this location.

Cost of studying in France

Students from other countries are required to pay the same amount for tuition as students from France. Because the French government subsidizes public higher education, tuition costs at French institutions are exceptionally cheap. The following are the yearly tuition rates that have been established by legislation for state educational institutions for the 2014–15 academic year:

● €189.10 for licensing classes

● €261.10 for master’s courses

● €396.10 for doctorate courses

● €615.10 for courses leading to the diplôme d’ingénieur (engineering diploma).

Private colleges often charge much higher tuition costs, which may range anywhere from €3,000 to €10,000 a year. This is particularly true for business and management schools. However, the annual tuition at some of the best management schools may reach as much as €30,000.

You are responsible for providing for yourself throughout your time spent studying in France; a monthly budget of around €1,000 in Paris and €800 elsewhere is recommended.

Student accommodation in France

Regional student-services organizations known as CROUS/CNOUS are responsible for managing university residences (Citiés-U), which may be found both on campuses and in towns. You will be required to have a guarantor, although they are the sort of student accommodation that is the most affordable (about €120 per month for a single room). If you are currently in your second year of a master's or doctorate, have a grant from the French government, or are participating in an exchange program, your chances of finding a room are significantly increased.

Private student buildings may be found near the majority of colleges in France. These buildings provide students with a variety of amenities, such as common rooms, cafeterias, laundry facilities, manned front offices, parking spots, and even cleaning services. You will need a guarantor in addition to paying rent which is between €600 and €700 per month in Paris and between €400 and €700 per month in other cities. You also have the option of renting privately. Get in touch with CROUS, which stands for the university's housing office and student service.

On-campus student housing may be found on the campuses of various private and public high schools, with rents ranging from around €250 to €350 per month.

There is a possibility that the Community Action Fund may allow you to apply for a grant to assist with the costs of lodging (Allocations Familiales).

French visas to live and study in France

Students from the European Union and the European Economic Area do not need a visa to attend a university in France; however, practically all other students must. If you are applying via the CEF approach (which was described above), they will take care of organizing your visa for you. If you are not, after you have received an offer of a seat from the institution, you will additionally be required to organize a visa via your French embassy or consulate so that you may enter France. You will be required to provide evidence of your academic qualifications, study plans, and proficiency in the French language (if applicable). Additionally, you will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to support yourself while you are studying in France – approximately €615 per month.

Although the visa will serve as verification of your resident status for the first academic year of your studies, you will still be required to register with the immigration office once you have arrived in the country. You need to submit an application for a Carte de Sejour beginning in your second year. See the guide on French student visas and permits that is provided by Expatica for further information.

Everyone in France is required to have health insurance that is valid in the country. Learn much more about the criteria that must be met to qualify for health insurance in France.

Once you have arrived in France to begin your studies, you will need to register at the university at the beginning of the academic year to finish enrolling in the program. In addition to receiving your student ID, you will be required to sign up for the national student health plan that the university offers.

Working while you’re a student in France

Students who are citizens of a country that is part of the European Union or the European Economic Area are free to have a job while they are enrolled in school as long as the institution they attend is a participant in the student health care plan (social security).

Everyone else is allowed to work if they have a valid residence visa for France. A total of 964 hours per year is the most that students are permitted to work. Students who have graduated with a master's degree or higher are eligible to apply for a visa that will allow them to continue working in France for an additional year but will not be renewed. Check out the visas and permissions available to French students.

Tips on student life in France

● Students who major in fields such as the arts or humanities may discover that there are a much greater number of courses available to them at a university in France in comparison to a university in their home country. The lectures may begin at 8:00 in the morning and continue uninterrupted for a total of three hours.

● Exams often focus more on students' ability to retain the knowledge presented in lectures than on students' ability to demonstrate independent learning.

● If a student's grades are not satisfactory, it is not unusual for the school to require them to restart the year (also known as redoubling).

● The majority of students in France choose to attend a college or university located in their home area, and many of them commute back home on the weekends.

List of top French universities


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

Useful links

● CampusFrance: the French government's organization in charge of higher education, providing services to overseas students, and facilitating international mobility.

● Ministry of Higher Education and Research

● CNOUS: the national student-services agency.

● La Mutelle des Etudiants (LMDE): insurance and health care for French students.

● Service-Public: inquiring about employment and residency permits for information.

● Office Francais de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration (OFII): residence and visas.

● Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF): grants and financial help.

● Conference des Grandes Écoles


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