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From Art to Agriculture: Higher Education in France

Higher education in France is renowned for its impressive universities and schools of art. Many international students flock to the country in order to gain a place at one of its top universities, where students can enjoy high-quality teaching for inexpensive fees.

At a Glance:

  • France has a complex system of higher education, with several types of institutions.
  • Students in France pay relatively low fees at public universities.

  • Grandes écoles are prestigious, specialist institutions with very high application rates.

  • Students coming from outside the EU or Switzerland are required to apply for a visa.


France boasts having some of the top universities in the world. The grandes écoles École Normale Supérieure, Paris and École Polytechnique ParisTech both make the world's top 55 at 33rd and joint 53rd place in the QS World University Rankings 2016 to 2017, respectively. This is but one example cementing their reputation as two of Europe’s — and indeed the world’s — leading academic institutions.

Public Universities

The majority of students attend France’s 75 public universities, which offer academic, technical, and professional degrees. Students can study degrees of all disciplines, from agriculture to journalism to European culture. Universities are subsidized by the French national and local government authorities, which keeps fees affordable.

Most courses are offered in French, although some courses can be taken in other languages such as English. Among many other options, students can do degrees in economics, law, some humanities subjects, and mathematics in English. There is also a large international student community in France, as the affordable fees encourage students from abroad to take a degree at a French university.

Schools of Art, Design and Architecture

France has long been renowned for its impressive fine art. It is unsurprising that the country is home to many reputable art and architecture schools for those wishing to pursue a creative higher education. These public institutions are known as écoles supérieures of art, offering nationally regulated diplomas.

Alternatively, other schools require payment of private tuition fees. Such schools have specific degrees according to the institute. Paris also houses one of the best 60 design institutions in the world, Strate School of Design, a prestigious example of France’s private institutes of higher education.

Schools of architecture are also prestigious in France, with 20 national schools regulated by the French Ministry of Culture. Three years of study is rewarded with a degree which is equivalent to a licence — in other words, a bachelor’s degree. A further two years of study allow students to receive a master’s degree, known as diplôme d’État d’architecte. After yet another three years of study architecture students can be awarded a doctorate.

Grandes écoles

Grandes écoles are particularly prestigious universities that specialize in various fields such as engineering, management, as well as veterinary studies or politics. The cost of study varies greatly, depending on whether is the school in question is privately or publicly funded. A basic degree from a grande école is equal to a European Master’s degree and takes around five years to complete.

Grandes écoles are known for their high competition, due to the many applications and high-quality teaching. Upon graduation, students from a grande école can expect an excellent career. Students hoping to pursue a high-ranking career in French politics are expected to have graduated from a grande école. Fortunately for expats, many courses are also offered in English, such as international management.

Low Fees in France

Fortunately, higher education fees in France are not too expensive. Public university prices vary according to the level of study. On average, a bachelor’s degree will cost around 190 EUR annually, while an engineering degree will cost significantly more at around 620 EUR per year, and students of medicine can expect to pay around 500 EUR for the year. Generally speaking, certain specialized degrees are higher in price, and this also applies for master’s degrees. The average master’s degree cost around 260 EUR in 2016.

As mentioned, the prices for public universities are significantly lower thanks to government subsidies. By contrast, the price for studying at a French business school can be as high as 7,000 EUR per year. Fees for a public grande école are usually set at around 600 EUR per year, while private university establishments charge fees of anything between 1,500 EUR to 6,000 EUR per annum.

Education Laws and Education Visas

For those living in the EU or in Switzerland and wishing to study in France, a confirmed place at an institution is required, as well as a passport or travel ID document. For expat students from outside the EU or Switzerland, France has several types of visa:

  • Visa de court séjour étudiant concours: 
    This visa allows students to take entrance exams for a university in France. If the exam is passed successfully, this visa extends to a one-year residence permit, which can then be renewed.
  • Court séjour pour étude (short-stay visa): 
    This free visa is also known as the Schengen visa. It should be applied for by students who are certain that their studies will not exceed three months (e.g. for a language class).
  • Visa de séjour temporaire (temporary long-stay visa): 
    Students who wish to study in France for up to six months may apply for this temporary student visa, and a separate residence permit is not necessary.
  • Visa de long séjour pour études (long-stay visa): 
    Also known as the extended-stay VLT-TS, this visa is necessary for students wishing to stay in France for a period longer than six months. This provides a residence permit throughout your studies, such as a four-year PhD.


In order to apply for your visa, you may need to register with the French national agency for international students, Campus France. However, this requirement varies according to your country of origin.


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