Are you considering France as your future destination to get a Bachelor’s degree, but you are still wondering where to start? 

The country has so much to offer, from a rich cultural heritage and exquisite cuisine to internationally renowned universities and thriving student life. If you still haven’t decided on the program you want to pursue or don’t know about French scholarship opportunities, accommodation options, or the cost of living for an international student, then this article is just for you!

To answer all this, we have invited Judith Azema from Campus France Paris to present an overview of the French educational system and all the available opportunities for international students.

Let’s start with some figures

France’s higher education system has a lot to offer to international students. French higher education institutions comprise a total of 2.5 million students, 14% from abroad, in all fields of study. There are more than 3,500 public and private higher education institutions in France: 72 universities, 271 doctoral schools, 227 engineering schools, 220 business and management schools, 45 post-secondary public schools of art, 22 schools of architecture, and 3,000 private schools and institutions.

The quality of higher education in France results from a long-term and continuous political vision. Each year, public authorities invest massively in education and research. This year, France stands out particularly in mathematics with Paris-Saclay University ranking first in the 2022 Shanghai thematic ranking. This policy has enabled France to provide students with one of the best systems of higher education in the world and, above all, one of the most accessible. French universities and Grandes Ecoles offer high-quality curricula without imposing unaffordable tuition and fees.

A wide variety of study programs

One-third of international students at university are enrolled in science programs (33%) and almost a third in humanities (30%). The basic sciences are particularly popular, holding one-quarter of the international student population and an above-average five-year growth (+23% compared to +7% for the whole). Numerous foreign students also choose economics and management programs (16% of the total, although the number of students has fallen by 1%), humanities and social sciences (12%), and law and political science (11%). International students in France’s business schools, France’s second most sought-after institution, have more than doubled over the past five years (+113%), while engineering schools have also developed quite fast (+22%).

With 40% of France’s doctoral students coming from abroad, the doctoral level is particularly internationalized. Within the OECD, France ranks 3rd in hosting foreign doctoral candidates, trailing only the United States and the United Kingdom. More details are to be found in Campus France’s latest publication on international student mobility.

More than 1,700 courses are provided in English in all disciplines and at all levels: 78% at the Master’s level and 85% of these programs being taught entirely in English. “Business and Management”, “Engineering and Technology” and “Sciences, Environment, Health Science” are fields with especially ample offerings.

Scholarships for international students

French public institutions offer a large number of scholarships for foreign students to help them finance their studies and living expenses in France. Some are funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like the Eiffel and Excellence Major programs, while others are funded directly by the French embassy of the student’s country of residence.

The French Ministry of Higher Education and Research also awards scholarships to foreign students, based on social criteria. To be eligible, students must have been residing in France for at least two years and be paying taxes in France. The Ministry also finances doctoral contracts (pluriannual employment contracts for doctoral research) managed by the Doctoral schools.

Campus Scholarships is a website that provides complete information on all the various scholarships offered to foreign students, from countries, regional entities, companies, foundations, and higher education institutions. 

Work opportunities 

International students can supplement their income by working while studying in France, regardless of their study level and nationality. To do so, students who are not European Union nationals must hold a student resident permit.

In France, foreign students can work at their host institution or university. To promote academic success and the vocational integration of students, many student jobs at university are scheduled outside of class and study times. Such jobs include welcoming students at the start of the school year, tutoring activities, organizing cultural or sporting events, support for students with disabilities, etc.

Moreover, they are also able to do internships. Some degree programs require students to complete a successful internship experience. Finally, students can also choose apprenticeships and professional training contracts. An apprenticeship contract is an employment contract of a limited or indefinite duration between an employee and an employer. 

Extracurricular activities

All cultural institutions in France offer student discounts and special pricing for multiple visits. With a student status, one can easily take part in sports, through discounts at athletic facilities and affordable access to athletic clubs and associations that play such a large part in the French student life. Many educational institutions are located in city centers, not far from museums, bookstores, cinemas, theaters, and cafés. 

Also, peer pairing helps international students in France. Across France, civic associations, educational institutions, and municipalities have organized services to help smoothen the arrival, orientation, and integration of international students. 

Campus France promotes the buddy system online platform:

On university campuses, students may find dozens of special-interest associations – cultural, political, athletic, and service-oriented. Some are dedicated to welcoming new students and fostering the integration of international students. Others are student cooperatives that operate cafés or distribute academic resources (e.g., course packs) or used furniture and supplies.

Career opportunities for international students 

French degrees offer many career opportunities in France or abroad. The careers of the alumni from our communication campaign are very diverse: Sandra, a Nigerian alumna, became an entrepreneur in education; Niels, from Germany, holds a Ph.D. and studies climate change across the world while Alyssa, an Australian alumna is an international Communication Officer.

Alumni networks such as France Alumni, a platform for foreign graduates of the French system, are highly-effective tools when it comes to finding work or learning about companies of interest. On the website, numerous partners post job openings and internships in France and around the world. Some other representative groups specialized in careers in France after graduation in such fields as environmental and climate issues or French culinary arts, for instance, making connections with students who took the same academic path.

Still eager to find out more about French universities and opportunities for international students? Join the SRT Webinar Study in France on November 22nd and get firsthand information from university representatives!

Judith Azema
Judith Azema is the Communications Director at Campus France – the French agency for the promotion of higher education, international student services and mobility. Before joining Campus France, Judith went through journalism, became director of development and international relations at a management school in Dakar and more recently, she worked for Sciences Po Paris as editorial and brand director.