An Overview of the French Higher Education System

An Overview of the French Higher Education System

An Overview of the French Higher Education System

The French higher education system is hailed as one of the best globally. In fact, in 2018, according to the Study.EU, France ranked fourth in the top EU countries when it comes to education. This is also the reason why many international students choose France as their study destination. 

If you’re thinking of studying in France, here is a quick overview of what the French higher education system is like.

Types of Higher Educational Institutions in France

When choosing a study program in France, international students can either pursue an academic diploma, or a vocational diploma. 

When pursuing an academic diploma, students can choose between France’s three types of institutions, Universities, Grandes Ecoles, and Specialized Schools


Universities in France are public institutions, thus, tuition fees are most often subsidized by the government, and the costs range from being free to being affordable. Universities offer students various types of degrees: academic, technical, and professional, and awarded in various levels, as a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate. A bachelor’s degree in France, at the minimum, usually takes three years to finish. Meanwhile, a master’s degree lasts two to six years, and a doctorate can be completed in three years at a minimum. 

Aside from academic degree programs, universities also offer DUTs (diplôme universitaire de technologie), a two-year vocational degree. 

Grandes Ecoles

Grandes Ecoles include both public and private institutions and can be likened to universities. However, this type of institution typically offers students three-year study programs in applied courses such as business, engineering, and public administration. Before entering a grandes ecoles institution, students must first get a certain score through the institution’s competitive exam, obtain a baccalaureate, and often, have already taken a preparatory course (course preparatoires or prepas).

Specialized Schools

Specialized schools can either be public or private institutions. As the name implies, specialized schools focus on training students for careers in specific fields. For example, in social work, tourism, architecture, and the arts. Students in specialized schools can take licenses and master’s degrees.

The French Grading System

The French also has its own university grading system. Below is its structure and its equivalent in the American Grading System.

American Grading System Score French Grading System
A 16–20 Excellent (Très Bien)
B 14–16 Very Good (Bien)
C 12–14 Good (Assez Bien)
D 10–12 Satisfactory (Passable)
E 10–12 Satisfactory (Passable)
F 0–8 Fail (Insufficient)

Class Formats in French Higher Educational Institutions 

In French universities, there are usually two types of classes students can experience, lectures and mandatory classes. 

Lectures (cours magistraux)

During lectures, a lecturer presents one subject to a group of students, numbering 100 to 1,000 inside an amphitheater. Lectures are non-mandatory. 

Mandatory Classes 

When it comes to mandatory classes or classes for smaller groups, students may study under a tutorial (travaux dirigés). These classes are supposed to complement the lectures to help students deepen their understanding of the lectures. For some students, aside from tutorials, they may also be required to undergo internships or practical or laboratory work (travaux pratiques).

The French higher education system, being one of the best in the world, has produced some of the best institutions worldwide. To learn more about them, check out MSM Unify’s article on Top Universities for International Students in France.


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