French Education System

13 minute read
French Education System

Home to around 3,500 institutions of higher learning, France has become an attractive destination for overseas education. To study in Europe is to embrace a culturally stimulating atmosphere in which the vibrant hub of France provides an interesting and striking blend of creative and artistic thinking complemented by the modern education system. The country provides a multitude of French and English language courses encouraging international student participation as well. If you are aspiring to study in France, here is a complete guide on the French education system what it offers to foreign students, its unique characteristics as well as the renowned universities offering a varied range of diploma and degree programs that you can choose from.

Study in France: What’s on Offer?

The academic year in France starts in the middle of September and extends up to the end of June in the successive year. Similar to the US, UK and India, the French education system also practices a cycle of compulsory pre-secondary education which is followed by undergraduate and further postgraduate and doctorate degrees.

Moreover, the postgraduate degrees are divided into taught and research master’s and to pursue PhD courses, students need to complete their research master’s. Duration of courses may vary though largely a bachelor’s degree is offered for a duration of three years and a master’s degree may run for one to four years. Further, the popular areas of interest in which programs are offered include nuclear, space, aviation, economics, pharmacology, sociology, linguistics, and geography, amongst others.

French Education System: Overview

Putting a greater focus on education, the French government has made it compulsory for children belonging to the age bracket of six to sixteen to attend school education. Further, the school system is neatly divided into primary level (école), middle school (collège) and high school (lycée) roughly similar to the prevalent educational arrangement in India.

After graduating from high school, students can choose to pursue higher education through various diploma routes as well. Most of the educational institutions in France are public and therefore focus on providing quality education at an affordable cost.

Stages of the French Education System

Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 (the start of primary school) and 16 (which does not reflect the completion of a cycle – see figure below).

Pre-primary education (ISCED 02), which is provided at “nursery schools” for children aged 2/3 to 6 years. Even though it is optional, almost all children start nursery school at the age of three. As a result, such institutions, together with the elementary level, are an integral part of the French “primary level of education,” which is overseen by the Department of National Education, Higher Education, and Research.

Primary education (ISCED 1) is given in “elementary schools” and is open to children aged 6 to 11. It symbolizes the beginning of obligatory schooling and is secular and free of charge when provided in public schools. Students immediately progress to the secondary level of education at the end of this 5-year term (there are no standardised tests or guiding procedures).

Lower secondary education (ISCED 2) is taught in collèges for four school years (students aged 11 to 15). Collège education is compulsory and open to all students. The Diplôme National du Brevet (DNB) certifies the completion of lower secondary education; nevertheless, admittance to upper secondary school is not contingent on achievement in the DNB. The school suggests the right scholastic path to families after college, based on the pupil’s school reports and specific interests.

Upper secondary education (ISCED 3) is provided at “general and technological lycées” or “professional lycées” and lasts three years (students aged 15 to 18). Upper secondary education offers three educational paths: general (which prepares students for long-term higher studies), technological (which primarily prepares students for higher technological studies), and professional (which primarily prepares students for active working life but also allows students to continue their studies in higher education). The baccalauréat certifies the completion of upper secondary education, and its acquisition is required for admission to further education. Students at professional lycées can study for the Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle (CAP – Professional aptitude certificate) for two years, following which they can either integrate into active working life or prepare for the professional baccalauréat in one year.

Higher education (ISCED 5 to ISCED 8) is provided in educational institutions. These institutions have a wide range of legal statuses as defined by the French Code of Education. Short cycle studies are classified into two groups (Sections de Techniciens Supérieurs and Diplôme Universitaire Technologique). Courses offered in French higher education institutions have varying goals and entry requirements, but the majority of them are organized into three study cycles (Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate) and in ECTS credits, by the principles of the Bologna Process.

French Education System: Explanation

The French education system is divided into three stages: basic, secondary, and higher education.

The majority of primary and secondary schools in France, as well as a considerable number of universities, are public institutions with highly centralized administrations. Primary and secondary school curricula are standardized across all schools for a specific grade.

Primary Education

In France, formal education begins at the age of three, when many children attend kindergarten (maternelle). Daycare (pré-maternelle) is available beginning at the age of two.

While pré-maternelle and maternelle education are not required, all children must be enrolled in school by the age of six.

Primary education lasts five years, from the age of six to eleven (equivalent to elementary school in the United States).

Secondary Education

Following primary school, children progress to secondary school, which is separated into two sections.

The collège is a four-year program for pupils aged eleven to fifteen (equivalent to middle school in the United States). Upon completion, students obtain a brevet des collèges.

Following the collège, students continue their secondary education at the lycée (high school). Students must subsequently pass an examination to obtain the baccalauréat (bac). The baccalauréat is equivalent to a high school diploma in the United States, however it needs additional preparation.

Higher Education

Under the French education system, there are two kinds of diplomas, namely Vocational Diploma and Academic Diploma. While the former focuses on technical education, academic diplomas are similar to the traditional bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Let’s take a look at these two diplomas in detail.

Vocational Diploma

Vocational diplomas are two-year technical degrees which are offered in either in the shape of a DUT (diplôme universitaire de technologie) or BTS (brevet de technicien supérieur). One major point of difference between them is that a DUT is offered by a high school whereas a BTS is a university-awarded course. Individuals can also earn a licence professionnelle by pursuing an additional year of study.

Academic Diploma

In the French education system, academic diplomas belong to three different categories:

  • Universities

Various institutions and universities in France offer academic diplomas relating to professional, academic and technical degrees. To study for a bachelor’s degree in any of the French universities, applicants are required to possess a baccalaureate or its international equivalent. In the case of India, this implies completion of 10+2 schooling. They offer undergraduate, master’s as well as doctorate degrees.

  • Grandes écoles

A handful of public institutions are called Grandes Ecoles which provide specialised courses in copious disciplines such as Engineering, Business etc. Essentially similar to a university, Grandes écoles can be both public and private institutions. To be eligible for the admission test at these universities, an applicant needs to possess a baccalaureate as well as they should have completed two years of intermediate preparatory study. Successful graduates of the university after the completion of their course are awarded with a master’s degree.

  • Specialised Schools

These are field or discipline-based public or private schools which offer professional courses at the bachelor’s or master’s degree level. Fields generally include Arts, Tourism, Social Work, Architecture etc.

Also Read: MBA in France

LMD Framework of French Education System

The license is a three-year course of study that is comparable to a bachelor’s degree in the English-speaking world.

Following the license, students can pursue a master’s degree through a two-year course of study. The master’s degree might be either a professional degree (master professionnel), such as law, business, or engineering, or a research degree (master recherche), leading to doctoral work.

Students with a master’s recherche may continue their studies for three years to get a doctorate (doctoral-degree equivalent). For medical doctors who have received a state diploma in medicine (diplôme d’Etat de docteur en médecine), the doctorat is required.

The LMD framework is the consequence of the Bologna Process, which aimed to standardize university credentials across Europe.

While the prior system no longer exists, you may still hear people refer to their degrees in that manner. The first two years of what is now the license were previously known as the DEUG (diplôme d’études universitaires générales). The licence was referred to as the third year of today’s licence, and the maîtrise was referred to as the fourth year. Today’s master’s degree in research was a DEA (diplôme d’études approfondies) and the master’s degree in business was a DESS (diplôme d’études spécialisées).

Students may also refer to their academic qualifications in terms of the number of years of study they have completed since their baccalauréat.

Must Read: Top Business Schools in France

Diploma and Degree Equivalences

Source: French Learner

There is no official or conventional equivalence between French and American degrees. As a guideline, the following information is provided:

A student with an American high school diploma may be admitted to a higher education institution in France. The institution will evaluate its equivalency on an individual basis.

An American associate degree generally qualifies a student to enter a French college during the first or second year. The institution will evaluate its equivalency on an individual basis.

A bachelor’s degree from the United States may be considered equivalent to a license. Certain institutions consider it to be the equivalent of two or three years of study leading to a DUT, BTS, or license. This may qualify the student for admission to a master’s degree program at a French university. This may qualify the student for admission to a master’s degree program at a French university. The institution will evaluate its equivalency on an individual basis.

A master’s degree from the United States qualifies the student to begin a second master’s degree program in Europe or a doctoral degree program. The institution will evaluate its equivalency on an individual basis.

A doctorate in the United States (PhD) is equivalent to a doctorate in France. The degree qualifies the researcher to undertake a post-doctoral program or to teach in French higher education institutions.

Several universities in France have been highly ranked and are considered amongst the top brass of world institutions. Here is a list of some popular academic institutions in France that are renowned for their quality programs:

Criteria to Enrol in a French University

If you want to enrol in a French university, you will typically need the following documents:

  1. ID photo or driver’s license
  2. High school transcripts (or relevant equivalent)
  3. Copy of passport
  4. A passport-sized photo
  5. Visa
  6. Proof of finances
  7. Copy of birth certificate
  8. Certified translation of the birthplace of your parents
  9. Essay (if asked)
  10. English proficiency results (TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo etc.)
  11. Application fee (if asked)
  12. Any other required document depending on the University

Must Read: France Student Visa: Documents Required, Visa Process

Tuition Fees

Higher education is mostly sponsored by the government, resulting in very low tuition fees. The annual fees for nationals of the EU, EEA, Switzerland, or Quebec range from 170 to 380 euros per year, depending on the level (license, master, doctorate). A master’s degree (in 5 years) can thus be obtained for around €750-3,500. These costs range from 2,770 to 3,770 euros for other international students. Students from low-income households can apply for scholarships, paying nominal fees for tuition or textbooks in exchange for a monthly stipend of up to €450.

Tuition at public engineering schools is equivalent to that of universities, however, it is slightly more (about €700). Private engineering schools, on the other hand, might charge up to €7,000 per year. Private business schools normally charge up to €12,000 per year for bachelor’s degrees and up to €24,000 for master’s degrees, with some elite universities charging up to €40,000 or more.

Students’ health insurance is free until the age of 20, so only the price of living and books must be factored in. Health insurance for students over the age of 20 costs €200 per year and covers the majority of medical expenses.

Grading Scales of French Education System

The grading Scale varies for different levels such as Baccalaureate, Bachelor’s Degree and Graduate scaling grades. The tables below will give you an idea of how the grading system works in France:

Source: https://wenr.wes.org/2015/09/education-france
Source: https://wenr.wes.org/2015/09/education-france
Source: https://wenr.wes.org/2015/09/education-france

Changing Schools in France

You can change schools during the French school year. For changing schools, you must first contact the new school and make sure that there is a seat available. Once the new school accepts you, you can then signal this decision to the current school principal. You will then receive a document known as the certificate de radiation (certificate of cancellation), which will allow you to finalize the new enrollment.

Graduating in France

In France, students must sit the Baccalaureate exams at the end of high school which assess all of their subject areas. Each subject is graded on a scale of zero to 20, and a grade of 10 is required to pass the exam. Around 75% to 80% of students currently leave high school with a Baccalaureate diploma and most go on to study at a French university.

However, only 44% of students who enrol in university go on to complete a degree at a French University. Public Universities in France are open to all and international students are only required to possess a Baccalaureate or equivalent foreign high school diploma.

Admission to the elite higher education institutions in France is highly competitive and students need to take oral and written exams. Furthermore, students need to complete 2 to 3 years of preparatory classes after high school.

Also Read: French Language Course in Delhi

Scholarships in France

From basic education (6 years) and up, low-income families can get state subsidies. Notably, the Allocation de Rentrée Scolaire (ARS) plan can assist with the price of school materials, school lunches, and the journey to school.

Your child may also be eligible for a need-based financial aid scholarship (bourse) depending on family income. Check the Aide Sociale (social welfare) website to see if your family is eligible. Furthermore, high-achieving boursier students can apply for merit grants. It should also be noted that specific schools may provide academic or talent-based scholarships.

National bourse scholarship applications vary depending on whether you are applying to a public or private school, a collège or a lycée. If your child attends a public school, you can complete all administrative procedures using the Scolarité Services education services online. Private schools, on the other hand, should contact the school secretariat or administrative department immediately to complete the relevant forms at the start of the school year.

Must Read: Study in France with Scholarships for Indian Students

Homeschooling in France

Until now, homeschooling was legal in France and parents merely needed to declare it to the authorities every year. However, as of the 2022 school year, a new law by the Government of France strictly limits homeschooling in France. As a result, parents wishing to homeschool their children will now have to get prior authorization and they’ll be granted permission only if they meet any of the following reasons:

  • The child’s state of health or disability
  • A child’s intensive practice of a sport or artistic activity
  • Family’s itinerant nature
  • Situation specific to the child that justifies this educational track


Q1. What is the literacy rate under the French Education System?

Ans. The literacy rate under the French Education System is 99% and the country ranks at #5 as of the 2021 rankings.

Q2. What is the major difference between the French and the English education systems?

Ans. The French education system is primarily secular, with no religious holidays observed. Teachers in England are hired directly by the schools. In France, however, they are appointed by the state/government.

Q3. What does the French education system consist of?

Ans. The French education system is divided into three stages: basic, secondary, and higher education. The majority of primary and secondary schools in France, as well as a considerable number of universities, are public institutions with highly centralized administrations.

Q4. What are some facts about the French Education System?

Ans. The top five French school facts include:
Children begin school at the age of six.
The students do not wear uniforms to school.
The school week is 24 hours long, divided into digestible pieces over the five working days.
Education in the public sector is free.
Lunch breaks in France often run an hour and a half to two hours.

Related Reads:

Education in France and Public Universities in FranceIntakes in France for Indian Students [2023]
UK vs France: Find out the Best Study Destination for International StudentsCost of Living in France: Rent, Food, Expenses and More
Universities in France You Should Know AboutHow to Learn French Quickly? Here are 10 tips to Master the Language

Hence, the French education system encourages the intellectual development of individuals without compromising on educational commitments. If you are aspiring to pursue a course in France, get assistance from our expert counsellors at Leverage Edu and we’ll guide you in choosing the right program and university that aligns with your interests and career aspirations.

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