Widely regarded as a country of great artistic, scientific and cultural significance, studying in France is an attractive prospect for those looking to enhance their employability
More than 20,000 international students were surveyed by Educations.com for their 2019 global study abroad country rankings, with France placed ninth overall and fourth in Europe, ahead of popular destinations such as Germany and the UK.
This is unsurprising as the French higher education system is renowned for its excellence of teaching, high accessibility and award-winning research - with the country having nurtured talent in a range of fields, including maths, anthropology, political science and medicine.
In addition to historical names in the latter field, such as Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur, France is also home to the world's most iconic fashion brands including Dior, Louboutin and Givenchy.
Away from your studies, you'll find plenty to explore in your downtime when living in student cities such as Paris, Lyon and Toulouse. For instance, in the capital you can visit famous museums, art galleries and landmarks such as the Musée du Louvre, Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, while top restaurants, cafés and bakeries will be right on your doorstep.
France is home to more than 3,500 public and private higher education institutions. These include:
- Universities - catering to nearly 75% of the country's 250,000 international students, these publicly-funded institutions offer courses in all areas, from science and sport to humanities and medicine.
- Specialist institutions - including schools of business and management, engineering, architecture and arts and applied arts.
- Grandes Écoles - these prestigious institutions are typically smaller than universities and nurture the talents of only the brightest students. They're highly selective, with students only usually accepted after completing a two-year preparation course and passing an entrance exam.
A total of 31 French institutions appear in the QS World University Rankings 2020, with three making the top 100. Université Paris Sciences et Lettres (Université PSL) leads the way in 53rd position, followed by Ecole Polytechnique (60th) and Sorbonne University (77th).
Business schools in France also perform particularly well against the competition. INSEAD, which has campuses in France and Singapore, is currently fourth in the Financial Times Global MBA Rankings 2020, while HEC Paris appears in ninth position.
From MBAs to Doctoral degrees, ISM faculty students and alumni come together from around the globe to facilitate knowledge sharing, learning and networking.
Ranked 43rd in the international and 10th in the French ranking of the prestigious Financial Times Masters in Management 2019, NEOMA Business holds international triple accreditations in EQUIS, AACSB and AMBA.
Degree courses in France
The French academic year runs from September or October until the end of June, and is comprised of two semesters, a two-week break over Christmas and a summer holiday of at least two months.
Undergraduate degrees in France, known as Licence degrees, take three years to complete and correspond to a UK Bachelors. They're available in a range of topics, from global communications and international economics to art history and sociology.
Unless you hold a French Baccalaureate qualification (A-level standard), you'll need to get in touch with your chosen institution for details on entry requirements and how to apply.
To browse all degree courses taught in English, visit Campus France.
Postgraduate degrees in France are typically divided into four semesters across two academic years. Their increased length means French Masters courses can be less intensive than in the UK.
Courses are delivered through workshops, discussions and independent project work, leading to the submission of a final extended research project or dissertation.
Other types of Masters degrees offered in France are Specialised Masters and Masters of Business Administration (MBA). These prestigious courses have varying structures, stricter entry requirements and are heavily focused on advanced professional training.
Use the Campus France Masters catalogue to search for Masters programmes.
Completing a PhD in France takes around three to four years, although some courses can take up to six. You'll submit a thesis under the supervision of a director, who you'll need to approach and gain the approval of before the course begins.
Once written, you'll have to give a public oral presentation of your thesis, before it's assessed by two rapporteurs.
By studying a French PhD, you'll join a strong network of more than 250 Doctoral schools that provide planning and development support systems to help you in moving to the next stage of your career. As part of your studies, you'll receive an additional 150 hours of training in areas such as business creation, research and communication.
You need a Masters or equivalent, or to be studying one at the time of application, to progress onto a PhD. To apply, submit a research proposal to the Doctoral school of your choice, or check university websites for advertised project assistant posts.
The deadline for PhD applications at public universities nationwide is 31 January each year. Grandes Écoles institutions may set their own application windows.
You won't need to prove your proficiency in French to study a PhD in France, as many courses are offered in English.
Use the Campus France directory of Doctoral schools to search for Doctoral programmes.
If you're looking for a taster of life in France, you might wish to consider completing a student exchange to supplement studies in your home country.
Following the UK's departure from the European Union (EU), the UK's participation in Erasmus+ will be replaced by the Turing Scheme, which will allow students to go on placements and exchanges abroad from September 2021.
The scheme is backed by over £100million worth of funding, enabling thousands of students from schools, colleges and universities to gain study and work experience overseas.
The programme provides similar work abroad opportunities to Erasmus+ but differs in the sense that it will include countries from across the world. Check that your university is involved in the programme and offers the Turing Scheme.
Alternatively, you could enrol on a short programme to learn the language while immersing yourself in the culture. Search available opportunities at Campus France - Programmes.
At public universities, average annual tuition fees in 2019/20 for EU nationals, EEA (European Economic Area) members, plus those from Andorra and Switzerland, were:
- €170 (£157) for Bachelors/Licence degrees
- €243 (£224) for Masters degrees
- €380 (£350) for PhD degrees.
The state has also agreed to pay two-thirds of the cost for non-EU students applying to study for their first Bachelors or Masters degree.
The maximum registration fee you'd be expected to pay in 2019/20 is:
- €2,770 (£2,555) for Bachelors degrees
- €3,770 (£3,478) for Masters degrees.
At Doctorate level, the French government will pay most of the costs for non-EU students, as you're not subject to the new differentiated tuition rates. Therefore, for 2019/20 this was set at €380 (£350) per year.
Tuition fees at private universities, Grandes Écoles and on courses for specific subjects are higher than this - for instance, average tuition fees in 2019/20 for engineering students at public universities was around €601 (£555) per year. Grandes Écoles tend to set their own fees, so contact them directly for specific figures.
Business and MBA students are also subject to much higher fees. For instance, the HEC Paris MBA costs €72,500 (£66,878) for the September 2020 and January 2021 intakes.
Funding to study in France
The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE) offers grants to international students through its embassies, while the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI) provides needs-based finance to those who will have lived in France for at least five years by the end of their course.
The Eiffel Excellence Scholarship Programme, established by MEAE, is designed to encourage students from foreign countries to study at Masters and PhD level, in priority areas such as engineering, science, political science, economics and management, and law.
The scholarship is delivered in the form of a monthly stipend - in 2020, this is €1,181 (£1,083) for Masters students and €1,400 (£1,285) for PhD students and included payment of airfare, medical insurance and a housing subsidy. Some grants also offer language training.
To find out more, contact the international department at your French university, or the French embassy in your home country.
You can use Campus France's scholarship directory to search for other available funding at all levels of study.
Alternatively, many French universities offer their own scholarships and grants, so approach your institution directly to discover what you're entitled to.
While tuition fees are generally low in France, it's important to factor living costs into your study abroad budget, as these can be expensive. You'll need up to €1,000 (£918) per month to get by, including housing, food, transport and leisure activities, while costs in Paris are closer to €1,400 (£1,285).
You'll likely also pay a small fee to join your students' union.
As an international student, you need to show you have these funds to support yourself, prior to any employment you take on once living in France.
You won't need a visa to study in France if you're from the EU. All you'll need is a valid passport or travel ID document and formal proof of acceptance onto your university course, as well as comprehensive health insurance and evidence of your ability to financially support yourself.
Non-EU students will need a visa to enter France. Short term 'Schengen' visas are available, as are visas for sitting entrance exams, but if you're studying in France for longer than six months, you'll need to apply for a VLS-TS visa, which lasts for the duration of your course.
Visit France-Visas for more information.
How to apply
If you're an EU student, you'll apply for a Masters directly to the institution, as French students do. Most universities set a deadline of the end of January in the year you want to start your course.
Be prepared to provide transcripts of your past qualifications and proof of your language proficiency where required, as well as a CV and cover letter. You may also be invited to an interview or have to sit an entrance exam.
Grandes Écoles often set their own deadlines and admissions tests, so you'll need to contact them directly for more information. Due to their elite status and smaller class intakes, the process of applying to a Grandes Écoles is more competitive than a standard institution.
If you're applying for a Licence degree, you'll use the national online platform Parcoursup (in French) to enrol. Registrations typically close in March for courses starting in the autumn.
Find out more about how your circumstances can affect the application process at Campus France.
Hundreds of courses are taught in English across France, which means learning French isn't an essential prerequisite of studying in the country.
However, if you're enrolling onto a French-taught course and it isn't your first language, you'll need to demonstrate your proficiency by taking a recognised language test. The most commonly used tests are the DELF and DALF, awarded by the French Ministry of Education.
You can take these tests in the UK - use the CIEP search feature to find your nearest centre (Royaume-Uni).
Even if your course is taught in English, it's worth having a good grasp of French to help you navigate the country during your stay. Many institutions offer language courses that can be taken alongside your main studies, or you can learn online with platforms such as RFI Savoirs.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Existing higher education qualifications gained in other European countries will usually be accepted by French institutions. Equally, undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications taken in France should be internationally recognised, including by employers in the UK.
For more information on having your qualifications officially evaluated and recognised, see ENIC-NARIC.
Following the UK's exit from the EU on 31 January 2020, this information is likely to change. Please check official sources for the most up-to-date information.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in France.
- Read more about studying in France at Campus France and Erudera.