French Language Blog

The French University System Posted by on Jan 29, 2018 in Culture, Vocabulary

Last week was the start of my teaching semester. It’s always a fun and yet slightly nerve-wracking time for me, as I get used to my new classes and students. But, typically, the initial anxiety and stress of the beginning of the semester fades quickly, and I look forward to each class session.

Courtesy of Pixabay.

In honor of the start of a new semester, I thought it might be useful to introduce readers to the French university system and, later, to French vocabulary used often in the academic setting. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up using this new vocabulary while registering for classes in France!

In France, degrees are divided up into License, Master, and Doctorat levels. The License level is equivalent to a Bachelor’s program, although it typically takes three years of study instead of the four in the United States. The Master level is a two-year graduate program. However, students still get credit for passing just the first year of courses in many cases (which is called un Master 1). The Doctorat level (equivalent to a doctorate degree) is an additional three years of—typically, largely independent—study (and terminating with a work of original research, or dissertation, known as une thèse).

Most universities in France are public. These schools are referred to informally as la fac. Prices for these schools are typically heavily subsidized by the French government and students typically pay only several hundred euros in fees per year. Private schools are more expensive, of course. Then, there are also les grandes écoles. These schools are highly competitive and elite; typically students can only be accepted into these schools if they pass rigorous entrance exams. Although there is no real equivalent of these schools in the United States, they might be compared to ivy league schools. Les grandes écoles are also typically more expensive than la fac. 

The French university schedule is very similar to other universities across Europe and the US. However, universities typically start a bit later in France than in the United States, with fall semesters beginning often in late September or early October and spring semesters extending until July.

University students have many advantages in France, from access to cheap movie tickets, subway and train tickets, museum passes, and even special restaurants that cater to university students and only cost several euros for full meals. Students in big cities like Paris also have access to student housing for discounted rates.

International students who are interested in studying in France can check out the government website at Campus France for more information about applying for student visas and universities.

Next week, we’ll focus more on academic French vocabulary that might prove useful to you if you do study in France!

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!