International students studying abroad choose France as one of the most popular destinations. France is the 4th most popular country for international students, after the US, the UK and Australia according to Campus France. However, France is the number one non-English speaking destination for international students.
The French government's decision to improve international exchange agreements and attract more international students and researchers, have resulted in an increase in the number of students coming to France in recent years to study.
Thousands of visitors come to France every year to discover a country known for it's rich history and culture, and is one of the world's most visited destinations. However, beyond its reputation as a popular tourist destination, France is also well known for excellence in it's education system, right from it's primary schools through to university or higher education. Many students from Canada and countries from around the world seek entry into some of the most competitive study programs in France, through exchange and/or degree programs.
Are you thinking of studying abroad for a semester? Check our our guide on preparing your departure for France?
Let's take a closer look at the higher French education system, to help you prepare to study in France! The following highlights a selection of the top cities for students wishing to live and study in France.
An Overview of the French Education System
In France, it's the Ministry of Education that establishes the national curriculum across all levels of education, as well as establishing benchmarks for completion, from the brévet to doctoral studies.
Formal schooling in France starts around the age of three, when children usually begin kindergarten or maternelle. Primary school or primaire begins at the age of five up until the age of eleven. Students then go to collège or secondary school, from the age of eleven to fifteen after primaire.
From collège, students opt to go to either a lycée to complete their secondary education, or opt towards a more technical path. At the age of fifteen all students complete the brevet examination, and then some continue to a more vocational school or a lycée.
Following collège most students do continue to the lycée, similar to the Canadian high school and complete their secondary school education. During these three final years, students prepare for the national examination called the baccalauréat (bac) qualification along with preparatory study for higher education programs.
Upon successful completion of three years of study at the lycée and passing of their baccalaureate exams, student's can gain access into France's higher education system, including universities and the Grande Ecoles. Grande Ecoles are highly selective and have very strict admissions policies- only the very best students are accepted into the Grande Ecoles.
Admissions requirements to enrol is the so-called bac+2; meaning you must have an additional 2 years of formal study beyond your baccalaureate in order to qualify for application.
This is a brief overview of the French education system, but depending on the level and subject you wish to study it will more highly specialised according to the subject. It's important to do further in-depth research of requirements before deciding to pursue your studies in the French system.
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Where are the best cities to study in France?
In comparison to other countries, France's higher education system does tend to be smaller in scale and much more specialised. In Canadian universities, you may have a choice of a variety of degree programs in the same campus. For example, at the University of Toronto , at the same campus you can study Renaissance studies and Astrophysics. In comparison, in France may only offer one or two degrees at the same campus. Study programs also tend to be scattered across the country.
As such, it's important to know what subject you are studying in order to make the most informed decision about where to study.
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Bordeaux is one of the largest cities in France and is a popular destination for students in France. As a beautiful port city in Southwest France, it's not only known for it's famous gastronomy and wine, but also as great city for student life.
The University of Bordeaux is one of the oldest universities in France. It is focused on 4 key areas including:
Bordeaux 1: Maths, physical sciences and technology
- Bordeaux 1: Mathematics, Physical Science and technology
- Bordeaux 2: Medicine and Life Sciences
- Bordeaux 3: Liberal Arts, Languages, Humanities and History
- Bordeaux 4: Law, Economics and Management
- The Institute of Political Sciences - which is part of the university but functions autonomously
In addition to the University of Bordeaux, there are number of private and public schools which offer both undergraduate and postgraduate programs in a range of subjects. For example, the Ecole de Communication Bordeaux- or the Communication School of Bordeaux, as well as engineering schools such as CESI Bordeaux ( Campus d'Enseignement Supérieur et de Formation Professionnelle). Depending on your specialisation, there are a number of others including engineering schools, management and business school, and Fine Arts schools among others.
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5. University of Aix-Marseilles
If you're planning to study in France, you might consider heading to Aix-Marseilles.
This city was officially cited as the European Capital of Culture as well as the European Capital of Sport in 2017.
The University itself merged into three separate schools in 2012, making it one of the largest French speaking universities in the world. Aix-Marseilles University is known to have excellent job placement for their graduates.
Although Nantes is one of the smaller cities on this list, it is still one of the most popular destinations for students in France. A small city outside of Brittany, it is home to over 55,000 students. There are three main universities in the area, including the Audencia Business School, Ecole Centrale de Nantes and Nantes Université.
Nantes is well known amongst international students because of its excellent quality of education and diversity. According to the Economist Article, Audencia Business School was ranked as one of the world's best Management schools.
Reasons why we count it as superior for international students is its excellence and diversity in education.
Montpellier is considered to be one of France's fast-growing cities located in the South of France. A beautiful city just miles away from the Mediterranean Sea and with views of the beautiful mountain ranges, it is another popular destination for both international students and French students alike.
There are a number of excellent higher education institutions in Montpellier attracting students from all over the country. The University of Montpellier offers a number of multidisciplinary education programs from Bachelor's to Doctorate degrees. The University of Montpellier is an internationally recognised university, well known for its pioneering research, and amongst the top 10 in the 2018 Shanghai ranking of International Universities in Ecology.
There is also the Montpellier Business school, which is one of the oldest management schools in France. Montpellier itself is known as a hub of technology and innovation, or the 'Silicon Valley of the South of France'.
Earning a doctorate of Medicine in Montpellier, you would be following a centuries-long tradition in the discipline.
Grenoble is located at the foot of the Alps, and is renowned around the world for its excellent science and engineering programs.
This city is known all over the world as one of the handful of locations for the European Institute of innovation and Technology.
It is also popular amongst international students, because of its high quality of education, job placement following studies, and as well as for its high quality of life and rich culture. This is why more than 16% of the student's at the Université de Grenoble come from abroad.
It would be foolish not to include the country's capital on this list of the most popular destinations for students in France.
Besides the most obvious qualities- the unparalleled culture, rich history and lively nightlife, Paris also has outstanding opportunities in higher education, research and development. According to the QS Best Student Cities ranking, Paris is considered the #1 cities for students.
No matter what you wish to study, there are a number of colleges and universities offering programs in Art History, Education, Law, Sciences and Economics, so you're bound to find a program that fits your needs.
Paris has a number of world-class institutions, such as the famous Sorbonne University, the University of Paris, Sciences Po and Ecole Polytechnique to name a few.
The only setback is that because of their popularity, this may make them less accessible and more competitive for international students wanting to study at one of these renowned institutions.
What exchange programs are available?
Canadian Exchange Programs in France
There are a number of exchange programs organised by Canadian universities and institutions of higher education, allowing Canadian students to study for a semester or two at a university in France.
A majority of Canadian universities have agreements with French institutions. Normally the year or semester abroad takes place during the student's third year of undergraduate studies. The semester abroad allows students to transfer credits earned during their semester abroad to a Canadian university.
If you are interested in studying in France, it's important to contact your university exchange program director to find out what programs are available and if transfer credit is accepted. You'll be advised to select a study program which is suitable for your degree program and course of study.
Although a majority of programs are taught in French and thus require an adequate level of French proficiency in order to be able to succeed in your studies at a French institution, there are a growing number of programs offered in English.
If your goal is to improve your proficiency in French by going abroad, there are a number of programs which offer intensive French lessons offered at a variety of levels and locations across France.
Why Should you Study in France?
As a Canadian, living and studying in France even for a month or an entire semester can give you a new perspective and open your eyes to a different culture. If you're not already proficient, then you'll be able to improve your proficiency in the French language, a major asset when seeking job opportunities in Canada.
What have you worked so hard to learn French for?
So what are you waiting for? Go on an excursion abroad! Check out the different student exchange programs that your university has to offer! Earn your bachelor's, master's; your MBA!
Who knows? Maybe you want to intern at Sorbonne university!
To make life easier for you when you arrive, here are a few need-to-know French phrases!
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