The Grandes écoles
Unique to France, the first Grandes Écoles were established in the early 19th century to operate in parallel with the universities. Their distinction then, as now, lay in offering professional education at a very high level. The Grandes Écoles remain very selective. Together they enroll about 100,000 students.
All Grandes Écoles offer five-year diplomas recognized by the government to be equivalent to the European master.
They may also offer intermediate degrees and specialized diplomas, among them the bachelor (in three or four years), the master of science (in four or five years), the master of business administration, and the recently introduced mastère spécialisé (six years).
The traditional path into the Grandes Écoles was by examination following two years of preparatory classes. Students then earned their degree in three more years of increasingly specialized study. That path has been modified at many schools to better respond to modern professional requirements.
To accommodate international students, many Grandes Écoles now offer admission on the strength of the applicant’s academic record. The degree may be earned in two to five years, depending on the amount of credit the applicant receives for his or her prior academic work. Some Grandes Écoles also admit students directly from secondary school.
France 240 schools of engineering run the gamut of engineering sciences. But they also have some common characteristics, emblematic of the solid quality of the diplôme d’ingénieur, a venerable French degree that is fully equivalent to the European master. The diplôme d’ingénieur is a national diploma that entitles its holder to apply to a doctoral program. Depending on the school in which it is offered, the degree may indicate general expertise in engineering or more specialized study—in agronomy, chemistry, biology, or information science, for example. Public schools of engineering charge tuition of approximately €500 per year.
Business and management
France’s 220 Grandes Écoles of business and management are recognized by the national government and may enjoy other distinctions as well, such as membership in the management section of the Conférence des Grandes Écoles.
Operating at a variety of levels, France’s many schools of business and management offer programs geared to economic requirements and new management practices. Internships and international exchanges play a large role in many programs.
Most of France’s business schools are private; many are affiliated with local chambers of commerce and industry. The annual tuition varies widely but is generally between €3,000 and €10,000.
Many of France’s business schools have attained international recognition by meeting the standards of various accrediting bodies, among them CGE, EQUIS, AACSB, and AMBA. Some forms of recognition apply to the school itself, others to the degree conferred. All signify international recognition.
The Écoles Normales Supérieures
France’s four Écoles Normales Supérieures —located in central Paris, Cachan (a Paris suburb), and Lyon—prepare students for careers in university teaching and research in both the arts and sciences.
International students are admitted on the basis of their academic record (they must hold a bachelor-level degree) and their performance on an entrance examination. European students may sit for a special ENS-Europe admission examination.
Schools of architecture
Postsecondary programs in architecture in France have recently converted to the harmonized European system of degrees based on the bachelor (licence in France), master, and doctorate.
The first cycle of postsecondary study lasts three years and is rewarded with the diplôme d’études en architecture, a bachelor-level degree.
The second cycle lasts two years and leads to the diplôme d’Etat d’architecte, a master-level degree.
The third cycle, lasting three years, leads to a doctorate in architecture.
The nation’s 20 schools of architecture, all of which are overseen by the French Ministry of Culture, also award diplomas recognizing a sixth year of advanced or specialized study in architecture, as well as a professional credential that entitles the holder to practice independently as an architect.
Schools of art
The Écoles supérieures d’art and Écoles supérieures d’arts appliqués are top-notch public institutions that confer national diplomas in recognition of three or five years of study.