France has long been a center of the arts, science and philosophy, having produced great thinkers and innovators such as Descartes, Voltaire, Foucault, Sartre and Derrida to name a few. Given this cultural heritage, it comes as no surprise that an education in France is internationally acclaimed and attracts 300,000 international students annually. France promises an interactive and stimulating study setting, and its position at the cutting edge of the most disciplines including the arts, technology and business ensures an intellectually probing and inquisitive environment that values education highly. Whether you envision yourself breakfasting on croissants on sun-soaked terraces, or sipping wine in lace-curtained bistros, an education in France is a perfect way to experience this amazing place, assimilate with its vast and diverse culture, and attain a qualification from a country which continually performs well in international rankings of study.
The Higher Education System in France
French universities take on 1.5 million students every year, and approximately 10% of these students are international. It’s not difficult to see why – the diversity and volume of educational programs in France means that you are sure to find one that meets your personal requirements. The universities offer thousands of academic, technical and professional degree programs in every imaginable field.
France utilizes the same three-level higher education system as do the rest of the 29 European countries involved in the Bologna system, facilitating international mobility. The ‘Licence’ and ‘Licence Professionnelle’ degrees are undergraduate, known elsewhere as a Bachelor’s. Master’s and Doctorate (PhD) courses are postgraduate. France implements a credit-based system whereby each module of study is worth a certain amount of ECTS (European credits), which are usually transferable between courses. Attaining 180 ECTS will earn you a Licence, and a further 120 ECTS is required for a Master’s qualification.
Many French universities are public institutions, which keeps fees low and education accessible. However, there also exists in France smaller, more specialized private institutions of higher study. These schools are more selective in their admissions process and usually train students in vocational or professional pursuits such as engineering or architecture. France’s renowned Grandes Écoles fall into this category – these are prestigious institutions whose sought-after graduates often go on to high-powered positions. In order to be admitted to one of the Grandes Écoles, students must have completed 2 years of validated study after graduating the Baccalauréat (the academic qualification taken by French secondary education students) or equivalent – an addition that public universities do not require.
Visas Type in France
Whilst students from within the EU/EEA will only require a valid passport to enter France, international students will need to apply for a visa and/or residence permit to commence their studies. The type of visa required depends on the duration of time you will be in France, i.e. whether you are enrolling in a short course, full-blown degree or an ongoing research project. The various kinds of visa/residence permit that you can be granted are as follows:
- A short stay student visa– Visa de court séjour pour etudes
This visa is valid for a maximum of three months, and therefore suitable for students undertaking short-term courses such as a French language program. It is free to obtain but cannot be renewed, and does not require a separate residence permit.
- A temporary long stay visa – Visa de long séjour temporaire pour etudes
This visa allows you to stay in the country for up to six months. It is also non-renewable and does not require you to apply for a residence permit.
- Long stay visa – Visa de long séjour etudes
This visa is suitable if you are enrolling in a university degree or a course that lasts longer than six months. It is valid for the duration of your study and constitutes your residence permit. The long stay visa is automatically renewed after the first year of study, provided that the student can prove that they are still enrolled in a program. To be granted this visa you will be required to provide information about your academic background, prove your proficiency in either the French or English language, prove that you have adequate finances for living and pay a fee (more details on this below).
- Extended stay research scholar visa
This visa is suitable for those coming to France to take part in research or teach at university level. In order for it to be granted, you will need confirmation of your affiliation to your institution detailing the work you will be doing and the duration. This documentation needs to be stamped by the local prefecture and sent to the French consulate in your home country along with your visa application.
How to apply for a French visa
The application process varies slightly depending on which visa you are applying for. However, all international students should check whether their home country requires them to complete the application process through the CEF procedure (Center for Studies in France). If this is the case for you, you will need to register with CampusFrance – the national body for non-EU students pursuing higher education in France – and go from there.
If this is not the case then you should apply for admission through individual university websites and get your visa from the French consulate in your home country. To do this you will need to provide the consulate with certain documents, including an official acceptance letter from your French institution of study, proof that you have sufficient funds for living (deemed to be 615 EUR per month), proof that you have bought medical insurance with a cover of at least 30,000 EUR, proof that you have organized your accommodation in France and finally an airline ticket or a statement of your intent to purchase one.
Cost of Living in France
The cost of living in France is generally higher than other European countries, mostly due to the prices of living in Paris and other major cities. However, other parts of France, particularly the countryside or Southern France have much lower living costs.
Some average living costs throughout France are:
Meal– 12 EUR
Coffee– 2.62 EUR
Beer– 5 EUR
Cinema Ticket– 10 EUR
Monthly rent– 533 – 674 EUR
Monthly Transport– 56 EUR
Housing Options in France
There are several options for you to choose from when considering your accommodation situation. The cost of rent in France is above the international average of 200-300 EUR per month, however this is obviously variable depending on where you are, and your desired levels of comfort and privacy. Here is some information about the various kinds of housing available to you as a student in France:
The cheapest accommodation available is owned and managed by the Regional Centers of University and Academic Services (CROUS). 13% of the student population live in CROUS owned housing, which can cost as little as 150 EUR per month and up to 600 EUR. There is one CROUS residence per educational region (rather than one overarching body), so when applying for this housing make sure that you are dealing with the residence affiliated with your chosen institution of study. Once you have found the appropriate site, you must submit an ‘international lodging’ application and submit it before May 31st to receive accommodation for the next academic year.
- University-owned accommodation
Specialized schools such as the Grandes Écoles own housing which they rent out to their students. Since these schools are private, application process and costs are variable and you would need to look into individual establishments for further information.
- Student lodging in a residence
There is also the option to live in non-CROUS owned student residences. The cost of this will be higher than CROUS because of the services and amenities included, but lower than a private residence. This is a good compromise if you want to maximize comfort but retain sociability.
- Lodging with private owners
If none of these options appeal to you – perhaps you are a mature student, only enrolled in a short course, or simply value independence and privacy – then you can always rent a room or property through an individual or an estate agent. Renting an apartment costs between 400 and 700 EUR per month on average, although this is hugely variable depending on where in France you are. Outside of the main urban centers you can rent an apartment for approximately 300 EUR per month.
Education is government subsidized in France, meaning that tuition fees are comparatively low. On average, a Licence degree from a public university costs around 200 EUR per year for both EU and non-EU students. However, cost fluctuates depending on chosen program. For example, studying medicine costs around 450 EUR per year, and engineering around 620 EUR. Masters and PhD programs in France are also more expensive, the former averaging 260 and the latter 396 EUR per year. The cost of studying in a private institution is higher – selective schools and Grandes Écoles can charge anywhere between 250 and 20,000 EUR per year.
As an international student, you may be eligible for a scholarship offered by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Eiffel Excellence Scholarship Programme. Some universities offer scholarships worth up to 10,000 EUR to international students who display exceptional academic merit (mainly from Masters and PhD courses).
Once you have identified the program that you wish to pursue, you can begin the application process. You obtain an application from the website of your chosen institution, and you can apply to a maximum of three institutions. On the application you will need to fill out your personal details and provide transcripts of prior diplomas and the results. This is to check whether your results comply with the course’s admission standards, which ensure that students have the academic capability to succeed in their chosen program. Sometimes standardized tests such as the GRE, GMAT or LSAT are required for admission – these are internationally used tests which ensure that applicants are prepared for the challenges of advanced study. Some courses will also require a test of language proficiency if you are a non-native speaker of the language that you are undertaking your degree in – the ‘demande d’admission préalable’ or DAP is the most common for French. You can apply to take this at the French embassy in your home country. Applicants to the Grandes Écoles are chosen based on results obtained at the end of a two-year preparatory course called ‘Classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles’.
The important thing to know about the French application process is that there is no overarching body that deals with admissions. Each individual institution has their own set of criteria for applying, so you will need to make sure that you do the relevant research on the college website and submit your application here directly. Here is a list of all the things that you may need to think about when applying to a university:
- A Campus France authorization
- A copy of your passport
- A passport sized photo of yourself
- Copies of past exam transcripts and graduation diplomas
- A copy of your European health card (for EU students)
- Many colleges charge a fee to submit an application
- A civil liability certificate
- A cover letter
- French and/or English proof of language proficiency
- Proof that you have the financial resources to fund your stay in France