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Intellectual and creative pursuits have always been part of the fabric of French society.
It's no surprise, then, that the French higher education system is well-known for its long tradition of excellence. In fact, France boasts both the fourth highest number of Nobel laureates in the world, the largest number of international students in mainland Europe and the top modern student city (Paris).
French universities are also well-funded, with successive governments investing heavily in the quality of their country's higher education. This is reflected in the cost of tuition in France, with fee caps making French Masters programmes some of the most affordable in Europe.
As the birthplace of thinkers as diverse and influential as Descartes, Laplace and Monet, France has a proud scholarly tradition that is reflected by the strength of its universities. There are many reasons for France’s popularity with international students – almost 240,000 studied there in 2017-18 – but these are just a handful:
|Masters Study in France - Key Details|
|Oldest University||Successors to The University of Paris (c.1160-1793)|
|Course Length||1-2 years|
|Typical Fees (Domestic / EU)||€256 (standard tuition fee)|
|Academic Year||September to June|
The French higher education system is quite unique, with networks of smaller universities sharing resources as part of larger higher education hubs. This approach lends itself particularly well to postgraduate education and the demands of more specialised degree programmes.
This means that even medium-sized French cities, such as Grenoble, have two or three universities as well as a number of more specialised higher education establishments. In Paris, meanwhile, there are 13 research universities, as well as many smaller institutions.
Historically, French universities were much larger and more independent institutions, controlling their own resources and working to expand their own reputations through teaching and research activities.
This model was similar to that of other top higher education countries (such as the UK) but a series of ambitious (and occasionally controversial) reforms have dramatically reshaped it, leading to the development of one of the world's most unique (but equally successful) approaches to university education.
Instead of developing a smaller number of elite (but isolated) providers, the French government has invested in developing partnerships between local institutions – creating critical masses of excellence with shared expertise and resources.
As part of this, many of France's historic large universities have separated into a number of smaller institutions. You'll see the legacy of this in French university names. Paris Descartes University, for example, is also known as 'Paris 5' (or 'Paris V') – alluding to its heritage as one successor of the 12th century University of Paris.
The result of all this reform has much to offer students, with institutions small enough to be incredibly specialised, but benefitting from their place within larger networks – and the expertise brought by universities and research centres with different areas of focus.
Of course, France is still home to incredibly prestigious individual institutions, including its famous Grandes Écoles – characterised by a highly selective admissions process.
Though they take various individual forms, public higher education providers in France are collectively referred to as Établissement public à caractère scientifique, culturel et professionnel (EPSCP) (Public Establishments of a Scientific, Cultural or Professional Character).
There are over 140 individual EPSCP. The majority are universities, but others are usually deemed to be 'university-grade' institutions, with the power to conduct public research and training and to award academic degrees.
The two main varieties of public university within the EPSCP grouping are:
In addition to its universities, France is also home to groups of elite higher education institutions. The most famous are the country's Grandes Écoles.
These are not part of the main EPSCP category, but nor are they an official grouping of their own.
There is no 'hard and fast' list of Grandes Écoles, but the category is conventionally held to include more specific groups such as the Écoles Normales Supérieures (elite publically-funded universities) as well as high profile business and engineering schools (Grandes Écoles de Commerce and Grandes Écoles d'Ingénieurs).
What unites all of these institutions is their highly specialised nature and incredibly selective admissions process (some Grandes Écoles only admit a few hundred students each year). Most will require applicants to complete preparatory classes and entrance exams known as Classe Préparatoire aux Grandes Écoles (CPGE).
This process normally requires two years of university-level study specifically for the examination programme, or a suitable amount of time on an undergraduate ('License') programme at a French university.
The degrees awarded by Grandes Écoles are generally advanced, taking the form of Masters or equivalent 'graduate level' qualifications.
It is also possible to apply for specific postgraduate study at a Grandes École, provided your existing qualifications are deemed sufficient and you can pass any required entrance examinations.
The modernisation of French higher education and the emphasis on collaboration between institutions has lead to the formation of local networks known as Communautés d’Universités et d'Etablissements (Communities of Universities and Schools).
There are around 27 COMUE currently operating in France. They include public universities, Grandes Écoles and other specialist research and training centres, all of which bring their own particular facilities and expertise to the local network.
As a Masters student you will normally enrol in a specific university (rather than the COMUE it might form part of) but membership of one of these groups can have many benefits for your degree programme, allowing you to profit from the input and opportunities available at partner institutions without sacrificing the specialism and focus of your 'host' university.
Given the history, reputation and popularity of its higher education system, it isn't surprising to see a large number of French universities in global ranking tables. We've listed the top five universities for postgraduate study in France below.
For a more detailed look at current rankings (including leagues for individual subjects) take a look at our full guide to the top postgraduate universities in France.
|University||THE 2019||QS 2019||ARWU 2018|
|Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris||41||50||-|
|Paris Diderot University - Paris 7||=194||=295||101-150|
|École des Ponts ParisTech||201-250||263||-|
|Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.|
University league tables can help you in your search for a Masters degree, but you need to know what to look for. Our guide to university rankings for Masters study can help.
Paris is often named one of the best student cities in the world, but there’s more to postgraduate life in France than the capital! Of course, with around 646,000 students (67,000 of which are international) the Paris region is hard to beat!
It’s worth taking a look at some of France’s other urban areas, and you can browse Masters courses in each of the locations below.
A Masters in France is normally two years in duration. Unlike UK Masters, which are delivered over 12 months without a break, postgraduate programmes in France break down into individual academic years, separated by holidays.
The academic year in France runs for nine months from September or October to May or June. This period is further divided into two semesters, with a Christmas break. Examination periods usually take place at the end of semesters.
French Masters degrees are normally organised into individual modules or 'teaching units' (TU), with the opportunity to focus on different topics within a wider subject area, or approach questions from different angles.
These modules will usually be delivered through practical workshops, theoretical discussion and independent project-work, as appropriate.
Most French Masters programmes also involve a dissertation (or similar extended research project). This will be prepared for with research training (or appropriate practical preparation) and usually forms the culmination of a postgraduate programme.
Since adopting the Bologna Process, France no longer offers traditional 'long-cycle' Masters degrees. However, some full or partial qualifications are awarded that differ slightly from the standard two-year postgraduate Masters degrees described above.
The term 'Specialised Masters' (Mastère Spécialisé) is sometimes used to refer to advanced programmes awarded by Grandes Écoles. Like other Masters degrees, they tend to be four semesters long, but place a great deal of emphasis on advanced professional training and technical expertise.
You can expect a Specialised Masters to be highly intensive, with the aim of providing a greater degree of training and expertise than a more conventional French Masters programme. Applications will also be more competitive.
The Master of Business Administration or 'MBA' was originally developed in America, but France was the first country to offer such programmes in Europe.
French business schools continue to be some of the most prestigious and competitive, with institutions such as HEC Paris being particularly highly regarded.
France is one of Europe's most affordable destinations for postgraduate study. The government fixes tuition fees for public universities at a set rate, with all students paying the same amount. As of 2017-18 the cost of a Masters degree in France is €256 per year.
Private universities (such as the Grandes Écoles) may charge more. There may also be some additional administrative costs for your programme.
Our separate guide to French Masters fees and funding covers the cost of postgraduate study in France in much more detail. There you can view information on tuition fees for different nationalities as well as current student finance and scholarship opportunities.
All holders of a Bachelors degree (or 'Licence') are eligible to apply for admission onto a Masters degree. However, each university is free to set its own criteria and makes decisions on an individual basis. In the case of Grandes Écoles and similar elite universities, application processes can be very rigorous, with only a small number of students making it onto each course.
The following may be additional requirements for admission to a French Masters programme (varying according to the requirements of individual universities and courses):
Other requirements may include evidence of language proficiency, along with satisfactory visa and immigration arrangements for international students.
The normal closing date for applications to a Masters degree at a French university is January 31st in the year you wish to commence studying. Don't worry if you haven't yet completed your undergraduate degree at this point. Universities will be happy to accept a projected result (with or without transcripts of your progress so far).
Note that application deadlines for Masters at Grandes Écoles and other elite institutions may be more variable – particularly for competitive courses with a lengthy selection process.
France is a major recruiter of foreign students and offers large numbers of 'international' degree programmes in English (particularly at the postgraduate level).
However, French is still the main language of instruction and interaction at universities, making it highly advisable to have some French language proficiency when seeking to study abroad in the country.
Universities are free to set their own language requirements, but most will require applicants to sit a language test for any academic programme that isn't in their first language.
For courses in French, the most commonly accepted tests are the DELF and the DALF, both of which are administered by the French Ministry of Education. You can learn more about these in our guide to French language tests.
Note that courses in English may also require a language test for applicants studying in a second language. There are several internationally accepted English language tests for postgraduate study.
The French immigration and visa system welcomes international students – just ask the 235,000 already studying in the country.
All genuine international students can study in France, but actual requirements vary according to nationality:
There are two ways to apply for a VLS-TS visa to study in France:
If you are already present in France (for study or other purposes) you should seek advice from your institution or local Préfecture (the administrative office responsible for your French department).
Regardless of how you apply for your visa, you will normally need to provide the following documents and information:
Depending on your course and circumstances you may also be asked for proof of French language proficiency and accommodation.
Once you arrive in France you will need to validate your visa and receive a residence permit. This is done by sending your visa to the Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration (OFII) along with a Demande d’attestation OFII form (issued with your visa) and copies of identity pages from your passport.
The fee for validating a VLS-TS visa is €60. However, because this is a tax, you will need to pay it in the form of a special 'fiscal stamp'. You can purchase this stamp from various newsagents in France, or from the official OFII website.
You'll need valid health insurance to study in France as a postgraduate, but the good news is that EU and EEA citizens will already be covered if they hold a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Other students may also be covered by existing private healthcare plans or reciprocal agreements between France and their home country. You should be able to check details with your normal healthcare provider, or with a French embassy. You can register for French student health insurance through your university.
If you don't have existing healthcare cover, you'll need to purchase some through the French social security system (Sécurité sociale). Student rates are normally a little over €200 per year (meaning the full cost of mandatory health insurance for a French Masters degree will be €400-500.
A standard Sécurité sociale policy will cover you for up to 60% of any healthcare expenses you incur whilst studying in France (normally this will be refunded to you after paying for services 'upfront'.
If you wish to purchase further cover you can opt in to an additional student healthcare plan known as a Mutuelle. These policies are normally available to students under 28 and cost around €100 per year. Combined with your Sécurité sociale cover they will usually meet the full cost of any healthcare and treatment you require in France.
Some scholarships and other funding arrangements may already include full health insurance cover. See our guide to Masters funding in France for more information.
Want to know more about life for international students in France? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.
As you'd expect from the country that brought the MBA to Europe, employability and professional value are at the heart of the French higher education system.
In fact, most French universities maintain a specialist Bureau d'Aide à l'Insertion Professionnelle (Office for Employability), ensuring that students receive appropriate careers guidance as they graduate.
Individual degree programmes often include practical training and placements (referred to as missions or thèse professionelle) and students are encouraged to use the summer vacation period between the two years of their Masters programme to pursue additional vocational opportunities.
As a member of the EU, France normally allows citizens of all other EU countries to seek employment in the country without requiring a work permit.
If you aren't an EU national, don't worry: as a Masters graduate you're actually entitled to work in France under a separate arrangement.
This is referred to as the autorisation provisoire de séjour (APS) scheme. It entitles graduates of French Masters-level degree programmes to stay in the country for one year after their course ends. During this period you can work for up to 60% of a normal full-time equivalent without a permit.
This permission can be expanded and extended if you find a job related to your degree subject that pays a certain amount more than the French minimum wage. This figure is set centrally – find out more about the APS at the French government's website.
French Masters programmes provide an excellent preparation for further postgraduate study at PhD level. You may also find that your course is associated with a doctoral programme or research centre as part of a wider academic network.
Last updated 02/10/2018