France’s Higher Education system is renowned throughout the world, as evidenced by the growing number of French universities and ‘Grandes Ecoles’ featuring in international rankings each year. It includes outstanding academic institutions, high-standard research infrastructure, and a variety of courses from master's degrees to PhDs, to summer schools, and Executive Education courses in both French and English that are attended by a high percentage of foreign students (21% of students in Paris Region are international).
The higher education system in France
Higher education in France is usually divided into two main types of institutions: Universities and Grandes écoles. Universities are public and free and offer Bachelor, Master, and PhDs.
Grandes écoles can be public or private. What distinguishes them is that students cannot simply apply to study there after high school. They first must prepare for a very competitive entrance examination for two or three years. Students who are admitted will then study at the Grande Ecole for a minimum of three years. Grandes écoles accept also students directly at a postgraduate level, where they teach business, finance, and engineering in English.
Besides universities and Grandes Ecoles, Paris hosts other types of higher-education institutions such as specialized research institutions, American-style Business Schools, up to 80 engineering, management, architecture, and art schools, and hundreds of post-baccalaureate courses, in both French and English.
Public universities offer multidisciplinary teaching, although many of them specialize in specific fields. For example, the Panthéon-Sorbonne University houses the largest arts and humanities faculty in France. It has an international body of more than 10,000 students (out of 55,000 students) and offers Masters in English. The Paris-Dauphine University has an excellent reputation in social sciences. It offers master's degrees and PhDs in English in fields such as Economics, Law, Accounting, etc.
Paris hosts world-class business schools offering Masters, MBAs, Executive Education courses, and summer schools in English.
INSEAD consistently ranks as one of the best business schools in the world. Based in Fontainebleau in the south of Paris, it is attended by an international body of 1,300 students and has campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
HEC Paris, ESSEC Business School and ESCP Europe are the three most prestigious business Grandes Ecoles in France and offer top-ranking Masters degrees, with several campuses across Europe where students can study for one or two semesters. A degree from one of these schools, as well as the networking opportunities that come with it, will open many doors in France and abroad.
Political and Social Sciences Schools
Sciences-Po is a political and social sciences school located in the heart of Paris. It is the breeding ground for future politicians but also offers excellent degrees in business, economics, and communication, including Masters’s, PhDs, Executive Education courses, and a summer school.
If students are more research-oriented, the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Paris School of Economics (PSE) offer research Masters in English in political and social sciences as well as economics and finance.
Paris is home to the best engineering schools in France, most of which are Grandes Ecoles. The ParisTech network is a grouping of excellent engineering schools such as Ecole des Ponts, Ecole des Mines, or Ecole des Telecommunications. These schools offer 1-year and 2-year Masters degrees and PhDs.
Although most degrees are taught in French, some English-language degrees are also offered.
The Institut Polytechnique is a world-class Institute of science and technology encompassing 5 prestigious French engineering Schools - École Polytechnique, ENSTA Paris, ENSAE Paris, Télécom Paris, Télécom SudParis - and offering various Masters in Science and Technology taught exclusively in English.
The University Paris-Saclay has also an excellent reputation for engineering, mathematics, information science, and technology.
Art Schools and Cultural Courses
Les Gobelins is a school of visual communication and arts. Renowned as one of the best schools in the world, it offers courses in Photography, Animated filmmaking, 3D Animation, Motion Design, and Video Gaming. Among the other most famous schools: ENSCI, ranked 1st French school of art and design in 2021, ENSAD, and Strate College.
Among the all-English programs, Institut d’Études Supérieures des Arts offers undergraduate and graduate programs in art collecting, arts management and art history, as well as other schools dedicated to art history and culture, such as Paris College of Art, The American University of Paris, the University of London Institute in Paris, Parsons Paris, the European branch of New York’s Parsons School of Design, etc.
To identify all these schools briefly, CampusArt is a network of French schools offering degree programs in art, music, fashion, design and architecture, hosted by Campus France.
Paris Region’s wide range of English-speaking programs
French institutions are increasingly offering degrees taught in English to attract top international students. There are now more than 600 English-speaking programs in Paris for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and many institutions have been awarded the « Welcome to France » (Bienvenue en France) label ensuring the presence of international student support services.
Campus France provides an online catalog to find out programs taught in English: http://taughtie.campusfrance.org/tiesearch/#/catalog
Paris Region is an ideal place for students to pursue their higher education all the while benefiting from the region’s extensive cultural offering and historical places to visit. To help students get a better understanding of arrival procedures, welcome desks and things to do in Paris Region, Campus France designed a special brochure for international students.
How to apply to higher education in France?
Depending on the student's nationality, country of residence, high school diploma and the level of study he/she wishes to enter, he/she must follow a different procedure. To find out more, contact Campus France, the one-stop shop for all students seeking to study in France.
Campus France helps students prepare for their period of study in France:
- Guidance in selecting institutions and programs,
- Practical tips on planning their stay,
- Information on application and admission procedures,
- Life in France, French courses, housing, …
There are 260 Campus France offices around the world! Contact or visit the nearest office before you arrive: www.campusfrance.org/fr/espaces.
In addition, the Access network facilitates the mobility of foreign students and Phds and their settling in Paris Region. Four local offices, including Science Accueil located in the heart of the higher education and research ecosystem of Paris-Saclay, and ‘Welcome Desk’ days enable them to be as close as possible to the needs of students.
Good to know: the cost of studying in France is among the lowest in the world, as for both French and foreign students, the government subsidizes tuition fees in higher public institutions. To know more about tuition fees in France, click here.
Professional training and in-house apprenticeships
Regardless of their level of study or nationality, students can work to supplement their income, do an internship or work-study in a company in France. Students can even stay in Paris Region to look for a job after their studies. The France Alumni network operated by Campus France is a good way to find a professional opportunity in Paris Region if you have studied in a French university and are looking for an internship, apprenticeship “apprentissage” or a job.
France is also the OECD country with the highest rate of work permits granted to former students. Special conditions apply to non-EU students. For further information, students or companies are invited to contact Campus France or the Access network.
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Olivier AllegretHead of Client Solutions