Higher Education in Paris -10 things you should know

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As the fourth most popular study destination in the world, and with 12 percent of the student population hailing from abroad, France is definitely on the mind of students planning to study abroad. We present to you 10 important things you should know about France in general and higher education in Paris, in particular.


The French higher education system

France used to have a complicated system of degrees and diplomas, but as part of the Bologna process degrees are being standardized into Licence, Master and Doctorate levels, which correspond to Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees, requiring three, two, and three years respectively to complete.

The large majority of higher education institutions in France are state-funded, meaning there is only a nominal tuition fee of around €200-€400 per year, depending on the level of studies. Many business schools, however, are privately owned, and tuition fees for non-EU students can exceed €15,000 per year.

Under the French higher education system, anyone who has obtained their baccalaureate, or secondary school certificate, is entitled to enroll at a public university, but there are often competitive exams at the end of first year for a limited number of places in second year. 

There is also a parallel system of elite, selective institutions known as Grandes écoles, which have no real equivalent in the English-speaking world, but can be compared to graduate schools. Unlike public universities, they have highly selective entry examinations, and are often semi-private, meaning they can charge much higher fees.

The French academic year corresponds roughly with most other northern hemisphere academic calendars.The autumn semester usually begins in late September, followed by a spring semester starting in early February. In addition to holidays around Christmas and New Year, some universities may have a spring break and holidays around All Saints’ Day (November 1st) and Easter. Exams are normally at the end of each semester, and there are usually three months of holidays in summer, running from the beginning of July to the end of September.

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Student life

As the fourth most popular study destination in the world, and with 12 percent of the student population hailing from abroad, there is often a dynamic cultural diversity on French campuses.

Most universities make an active effort to welcome them; with international students’ offices, student associations and buddy programs to help ease the transition for international students.

There are many benefits extended to students in France including generous discounts for food, entertainment and transportation. Eligibility criteria can vary. Some benefits are only available to student card holders, while others are available to anyone under the age of 26. Many public museums in Paris, for example, have free entry for EU residents under the age of 26. 

Other benefits require the purchase of a student card; for example, the 12-25 rail card issued by the national rail company, SNCF, is valid for one year and costs €50. It offers up to a 60% discount on rail travel throughout France. In 2011, the offer was extended to those up to 30 years of age.



Anyone from an EU or European Economic Area member state won’t need a visa to study and can apply directly to the university or graduate school of their choice. Otherwise, you’ll need a student visa. You can get one either at a French consulate or via Campus France which is an online portal run by the French government and assists students in their university applications: from choosing a university, up to visa processing. They have a number of regional offices around the world and can also provide extensive information on degree programs.

France recently simplified the notoriously tedious process of applying for a Carte de Séjour or residency permit for non-EU nationals. During your first year of studies, you only need to show your visa as proof of your residency status. However, you still need to register with the immigration office within 30 days of arrival and undertake a medical examination to validate your visa. From your second year of studies onwards, you will need to apply for a Carte de Séjour.

Once your visa application has been submitted the waiting period is generally 20 days.

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The Language issue

Many universities now offer either bilingual programmes or programmes taught entirely in English, which is of particular appeal for those wanting to learn or improve their French while specializing in another academic discipline. However, if you decide to undertake a degree programme taught in French, you will need to have at least an intermediate level of French. Many universities require the B2 (intermediate) certificate in the Diplôme d’Études en Langue Française (DELF) or sometimes the C1 (advanced) certificate, (the Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française or DALF), depending on the course.

Find out more about French language courses at the CIEP website.

When it comes to your everyday life, you should remember that, even though the French often understand English, they are not always willing to use it. Trying to use French (even if not even yourself really understands what you are saying!) will work wonders for you. If you expect everyone else to speak English seems disrespectful at times and it will probably not be well received. Learn some basics before you arrive and you won’t regret it! You will feel more welcomed and integrated into this fantastic culture, which will make the entire experience even more fantastic.



The options in Paris range from homestays to studio apartments and, as in everything, it all depends on how much you can spend. The homestay programmes can go extremely well or extremely bad; if you are lucky you will stay with a family that will honestly care for you and teach you how to become like a true Parisienne.

Renting, in plain words, can be a nightmare. Many universities in Paris, do not provide student accommodations even if they do have an accommodations office and can assist students enrolled for higher education in paris. You can try finding accommodation through an agent, just remember to be clear and firm with your wants and read carefully what to sign.

The cost of living in France is similar to other countries in Europe, but living expenses for higher education in paris can be very expensive, and it can be extremely difficult to find housing. There is often a crazy scramble for accommodation just before the beginning of each academic year in early October. If you are in one of the twenty arrondissements (districts) of Paris, prices don’t vary too much so expect to pay something between 600 to 1,000 Euros per month, depending on the location and set up.

The Cité Universitaire Internationale de Paris is a large student residence in the south of Paris with dormitories representing a number of different nationalities. Those whose nationalities are not represented, can make a general application to the CIUP. Be warned, however, that places are limited – and many students apply up to a year in advance to secure a spot. Only students in their third year of university and beyond can apply, and the maximum stay is two years.

Universities outside Paris (and even those located in the suburbs around Paris) often have subsidized student accommodation, either on-campus or nearby. You can also find more information about living in dormitories funded by the national student welfare office, the CNOUS.

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Getting around Paris is really very easy. Paris has a great Metro, bus and bicycle rental system. Most of the time, you can get wherever you need to go within 20 minutes! Learn the basics of the Metro which runs from 5:30 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and until 1:45 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and experiment with the bus—you won’t regret it. If you like biking, definitely check out Velib, Paris’s bicycle share. You can purchase 24-hour, 1-week or 1-year passes at the machines of public bike stations around the city; it is an easy and cheap way to move around, not to mention fun and a good exercise! The metro and buses work on the same ticketing system, for which you can buy 10-ticket books, weekly, monthly, or yearly passes.


Financial assistance

The French government offers a large number scholarships each year to international students pursuing higher education in Paris. These are normally advertised on the websites of French embassies and consulates around the world. Campus France also has a search engine for scholarships and grants. (Don’t forget to check WeMakeScholars.com for scholarships opportunities!) 

Students whose universities are part of the Erasmus programme can apply for the scheme through their universities. While the scheme is largely limited to universities in the EU, there are a number of non-EU universities who are also involved.

Means-based rental assistance is available to anyone with a valid French visa or Carte de Séjour (residency permit), including non-EU citizens, and are managed by the Caisses d’Allocations Familiales(CAF).


Earning some extra money

There is a free Paris magazine in English advertising jobs of all types, mostly part-time or casual, that can be found in newsstands and cafes, especially if they are run by English speakers.

There is also a great demand in Paris for tutors of English and other languages. You can advertise on websites or through your host university. Finally, if you ask at your host institution, many have internship programmes with companies both during term and over the summer.

Students are legally allowed to work up to 19.5 hours per week during the term, and full-time during the holiday period. Non-EU citizens no longer need to apply for a separate work permit, and can work as long as they hold a valid student visa or residency card, except for Algerian students, who are covered under a separate agreement. 

Students who have completed a Master’s are also eligible to apply for a six-month temporary work permit to allow them to find a job after their studies; unfortunately, this provision was recently tightened and many applications were refused.


Bank accounts

The major French banks are HSBC, LCL and BNP Paribas but there are of course many others to choose form. French bank accounts normally offer Internet banking, but be aware that money transfers may take 3-6 days depending on your country and bank so, if you need money urgently, you might face some problems. Before opening your bank account try to do a little research beforehand; check the interests, check if there transaction fees and very importantly, if fees apply when you make international transactions. Depending upon the university you are attending, some banks will  offer you deals and bonus programmes for opening an account with them.  

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Out and about

There are a few simple rules that every foreigner should learn before arriving in France. One, always say Bonjour when entering a shop or restaurant. It will make you look polite to locals. Two, do not talk at the top of your voice in your native language in public spaces. It will undoubtedly single you out as foreigner and attract pickpockets. And number three, mind your belongings and don’t wave them around in public. The pickpockets in Paris, like in most big cities, are professionals.

Try to socialize as much as possible! There are many extra-curricular activities and social events organised by student unions, or Bureau(x) Des Etudiants (BDE) but also by the students themselves (look out for the notorious Erasmus parties)

If you didn’t already know, alcohol is quite expensive in Paris. A cocktail can cost anywhere from €8-16 depending on where you decide to drink it. So, if you like drinking look out fo the ones with happy hours. If you are lucky, you can find bars in Paris with €4 pints and €5 cocktails.

France has many supermarkets offering all the basics as well as prepared food. You’ll come to know these places as Monoprix, Franprix and G20. While these are great every, don’t forget to try out local markets and small shops. Paris is full of incredibly fresh markets offering amazing fruits, vegetables and more at great prices. Support local farmers, try local products and immerse yourself to the local cuisine. It is also a great way of practicing your French!

One final tip: Higher education in Paris can be the experience of a life time;  Make the most of it! Socialize, be open to meeting new people, trying new things, get out of your comfort zone. This is the time to make forever-lasting friendships and expand your horizons. Enjoy it!


#STAFF PICK: Find & apply for the latest scholarship opportunities in France

Written by

Chrissy is European programmes manager of European Education and Learning Institute, Greece. An Educator passionate about supporting students on making choices about learning, employment, training and personal development. Loves nature, travelling and learning new stuff!


One thought on “Higher Education in Paris -10 things you should know

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