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Study in France and French Universities

Why study in France – an overview

Study in France! It is possibly the ultimate romantic European country, renowned for its fashion and cuisine, the glamour of the Riviera contrasting with the wild Camargue, the lavender fields of Aix-en-Provence and the architectural riches of Lyon. From its ski slopes in the Alps to the deserted beaches of Brittany, France offers every type of landscape and potential home-from-home to EU applicants seeking a new experience, an excellent education and an adventure in the second most popular European country for international students.

Benefits of a studying in France

Students enjoy many benefits, from free access to the national museums and libraries, to substantial discounts and free language lessons. What is more, over 250,000 foreign students are currently enjoying the cultural wealth, stunning landscapes and Mediterranean pace of life offered across this geographically and socially diverse educational destination.

EU students do not need a visa or to pay high tuition fees . A bachelor’s degree costs 170 euros a year, a Master’s 243 and a doctorate 380, since public university fees are set by the government. In contrary, private universities are significantly more expensive, with tuition fees ranking from 4,000 to 21,000 euros per year, while the so-called Grandes Écoles – specialist universities – can set their own fees, as can the highly rated business schools, such as HEC Paris, which charges 72,500 euros if you want to take an MBA.

Nevertheless, given the huge number of institutions of higher education in France, numbering in the region of 3500, you will have no difficulty finding a university which fts your interests and your budget.

Table of Contents

The top universities in France, QS 2021

University
National Ranking
Global Ranking
Université PSL
1
52
École Polytechnique, Paris
2
68
Sorbonne University, Paris
3
83
Centrale Supélec
4
138
École Normale Supérieure, Lyon
5
161
Sciences Po
6
242
École des Ponts, ParisTech
7
242
Université de Paris
8
275
Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
9
287
ENS-Paris-Saclay
10
291

As you can see from the above list, nine of the top ten French universities are located in Paris, but if living in a bustling lively capital is not what you are looking for. Moreover, bear in mind that accommodation in Paris is around 1300 euros a month, upwards- then you might also want to consider universities which are situated outside the capital, such as:

University
Ranking
Université Grenoble-Alpes
342
Université de Strasbourg
362
Université de Bordeaux
398
Université de Aix-Marseille
511-520
Université de Montpellier
511-520
Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse
551-560

Remember, too, that Sciences Po has seven branches, in Paris itself, as well as Reims, Menton, Dijon, Le Havre, Nancy and Poitiers.

Can I study in English at a French University?

There are over 1,000 courses taught in English, but 900 or so of these are at Master’s level. You may well consider it worth your while to brush up your knowledge of French, given that this will significantly broaden your options and choice of courses. Remember, too, that some courses are taught in both languages, while others have the odd French module in a mainly English curriculum. Make sure you are clear about the languages used on the course which interests you before you start your application. Many French universities offer support and free language lessons to their international students, so brushing up your French is not only a positive achievement but a useful tool for studying in France.

There are a number of universities which provide bachelor’s level English-taught courses, including:

If you would like some up to date guidance on English-taught bachelor’s courses, then do not hesitate to contact Elab and we will check your preferences and course availability. In addition, our Europa programme offers a comprehensive overview of European universities, so that you can compare what is on offer in France with similar courses in the rest of Europe. Drop us an email or call us, if you believe this could be helpful and want more details or to take part in the programme.

What is a Grande École and can I go there?

There are over 250 Grande Écoles in France and getting a place in one these elite, specialised schools is extremely difficult. Set up in the 18th century, after the French Revolution, in order to create a ruling class prepared and ready to take power and administer the country, the Grand École is a specialised school, which focusses on single subjects such as administration, engineering, politics and commerce etc. Each school takes a handful of students who have passed the incredibly difficult entrance exam, after spending two post-secondary years at a preparatory school, which readies them to compete for a place.

These institutions have produced generations of the French ruling class and meritocracy, and it is highly unlikely that an international student will succeed in getting in, since their focus is squarely on producing French specialists who will serve the state. Grande École fees are in the region of 25,000 euros a year, although each institution, which forms part of a parallel educational universe to the public sphere, is free to set its own fees.

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Study in France – how are French universities organised?

University years start at the end of September/beginning of October and run until the end of June. Students have a two-week Christmas break and extremely long summer holidays. There are two terms in the year.

There are many specialised institutions of higher education which offer bachelor and master’s degrees in art, architecture, tourism, social work etc. – but these tend not to have facilities for doctoral studies.

French universities follow the Bologna Process, so you can carry over credits from one institution to another.

Although the French government recently launched a scholarship scheme for international students, which awards them 1000 euros as long as they are attending a full-time course, this is NOT open to anyone from the EU and is specifically geared towards citizens of developing countries. Nevertheless, you may find merit-based scholarships offered by individual universities.

How to apply to a French university – the process

The French admissions platform is Parcoursup – Parcoursup – Accueil -and all applications are processed through this gateway. It need to be emphasised that you may want Elab’s help when applying to a French university since, as you will see below, it is not particularly straightforward. In 2021, over 810,000 individuals signed up to Parcoursup, of whom 640,000 were applying for a bachelor’s degree.

These applications generated 12 million “wishes”, which form the basis of the process. Each student is allowed 10 wishes, but this is complicated by the fact that some subjects enable one wish to be subdivided into sub-wishes, if the applicant wants to study a core-related subject at a number of different establishments. You can only have 10 sub-wishes for a multiple wish and, in 2021, the average number of wishes per applicant was calculated to be 12.8.As you can see, the process is multi-layered, time-consuming and a little tricky. Call or email Elab if you want to know more, and we will advise and help you through the labyrinth.

There are a number of important dates involved:

  • Sign up and state your course preferences between 20 January and 29 March. Do not rank your choices.
  • Confirm you applications and finish them by submitting the paperwork requested by the individual universities/institutions – this could include an essay, portfolio, CV, transcripts etc. This is done between 30 March and 8 April.
  • Applications are assessed from 9 April onwards.
  • Offers and rejections are sent out between 2 June and 15 July. You may be refused, put on a waiting list or offered a place. If you are placed on the waiting list, you could go up the list as others decline places and offers and may well end up getting in – so do not despair.
  • Between 23 June and 16 September courses which still have places offer them to students who have not found a place. This is similar to the UK’s Clearing system.

How to apply to a French university – the documents


You will be asked for some or all of the following documents:

How will I find accommodation at a French university?


The French government subsidises regional accommodation centres, known as CROUS, and international and domestic students are both entitled to apply for residential lodgings . You will find fees ranging from 400 euros to 200, depending on whether you are in Paris or outside the capital. Unfortunately, the number of university-owned and run residences is very limited and you will probably have to rent a studio or a flat in the private sector.


In order to rent property you will be asked for:

To open a bank account you will asked for your ID, proof of residence (this can be a lease, utility bills etc.) and a deposit to activate the account.

Cost of living in France – is studying at a French university expensive?

Accommodation makes up the largest part of every student’s expenses, and prices vary widely, with provincial towns and smaller cities offering accommodation in the 600-800 per month bracket, or even lower, whereas you need to budget 1300-1500 euros a month if you want to live in Paris.

For instance, to give you an idea of the overall cost of living in France, this is what you can, on average, expect to pay monthly for:

40 euros

20 euros

50 euros

400 euros

9-20 euros

8-10 euros

2.85 euros

26 euros

Study in France – five cheap and attractive university cities

If you are thinking of studying at a French university, once you have chosen the course that interests you, the next most important decision is precisely where you want to be living for the next three or more years. Below is a list of five appealing, stunning university cities, where you budget will stretch further, and you can enjoy a less frantic lifestyle than that found in Paris.

City
Location
Population
Universities And Institutions
Famous sites
Average monthly rent
Metz
North-east; on Moselle River; close to Belgium, Germany and Lichtenstein
260,000
Three
Three Centre-Pompidou; Gothic Cathedral; Porte des Allemands, remains of medieval ramparts; honey-coloured, quaint old town.
400-500
Lille
North-east, part of French Flanders
230,000
10
Voted the friendliest city in France and known for its many cultural events.
500-600
Lyon
Situated on the banks of the Rhône and Saône, in the centre of France, it is ranked second in the country’s livability index (Mercer, 2019).
1,733,000 (including greater Lyon)
30
Renowned for its rich history, cuisine and architecture, Lyon is the second largest urban area in France and features on the UNESCO world heritage list. A stone’s throw away from ski slopes and vineyards, it is a mesmerizing city with a vibrant atmosphere.
400-750
Toulouse
Situated on the banks of the Garonne and 150 kilometres from the Mediterranean, Toulouse enjoys a wonderful climate and is regularly voted best city in France for its lifestyle and atmosphere.
1,000,000
9
Known as La Ville Rose, because of the pink coloured stone used in its picturesque, winding streets,Toulouse is a historically rich and relaxed city.
440+
Montpellier
Situated in the south of France, Montpellier is an easy drive away from Cannes and Marseille and enjoys year-round balmy weather and attractive architecture. Founded in the 10th century it was formerly owned by one family, the Guilhem, and became a famous centre for trade in the Middle Ages.
255,000
6
Dating back to 1220, the prophet Nostradamus studied medicine here! Elegant boulevards, easy-going ambience, beautiful beaches a stone’s throw away, and a perfect climate.
450

Studying in France at a French University – a recap

France is an extremely popular destination for international students, offering a vast range of universities, low tuition fees, cultural and historic riches and a wealth of art and architecture to enjoy. Whether you want to live in the Alps or on the Atlantic coast, to stroll down palm-lined Riviera boulevards or go to small farmers’ markets , you will find exactly what you are looking for in this amazing country.

Elab is here to help you make the best choices of course and university, to ensure you meet every deadline and produce the right documents. What is more, we can maximise your chances of being accepted to the French university of your dreams.

To sum up, call or email us today so we can start working together on preparing your application to study in France.