France's education system has a well-deserved reputation for excellence, from primary school through the baccalaureate and beyond.

Thus it comes as no surprise that many an international student would seek entry into their competitive study programmes, if only for a semester.

Have you been thinking of taking a gap year abroad? How about planning a departure for France?

Let us dissect France's higher education system in the hopes of giving you a concise look at the learning model that has long been the envy of the international academic community.

And then, we'll highlight select cities for your consideration.

The university system in France can be complicated
Earning your degree in France is easy if you understand the education system! Source: Pixabay Credit: deMysticWay

Earning a Diploma in France

It should be understood from the outset that the French government's Ministry of Education sets forth all curriculum to teach for all levels of learning, as well as the benchmarks for completion.

With that being clearly stated, let us bypass primary school criteria and slide right into collège, when the evolution from pupil to student actually takes place.

Collège loosely corresponds to our secondary school framework. Pupils start their studies at this higher level at around 11 years old.

At this stage of their education, they are exposed to secondary course materials, with a twist: their academic development will be directed either to further studies in a Lycée, or towards a more technical path, culminating in a brevet.

The French brevet more or less corresponds to our GCSE.

After sitting that exam, brevet students have the option of moving on to a vocational school or abandoning formal education altogether.

Meanwhile, those groomed for further academic study will enrol in either a classic or a technical lycée.

This is most likely where you, seeker of international education, come in.

Lycée students spend three years preparing for their baccalaureate exam, which is roughly equivalent to British A Levels. The same general topics are taught as in collège, albeit at a higher level, and lessons in philosophy are mandatory.

Knowledge of the French language would help you tremendously

With your bac in hand, you now have entry into any of France's universities, and the potential for enrolment in the Grande Ecoles.

Those schools are very selective in reviewing applications; admission is granted only to the best of the best.

One firm requirement to enroll is the so-called bac+2; meaning you must have 2 years of formal study beyond your baccalaureate in order to qualify for application.

Now that you have an overview of how intricate the French education system is, let us focus on the type of school most international students find their success at: public universities.

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The Best French Cities to Study In

Compared to other countries, France's houses of higher learning tend to be much smaller, and much more specialised.

Whereas in English universities, you have a choice of more than one degree programme on the same campus, universities and colleges in France may only offer one or two degrees.

And they tend to be liberally scattered in every province, region and city across the country, from Strasbourg to Cannes.

Without knowing which subject you would master in, we could hardly point you to the best schools in France, could we?

However, we can point you to the best cities for students, and discuss those abroad programs.

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5. Bordeaux, and it's Universities

Nicknamed Sleeping Beauty, this port city in the southwest of France kicks off our list of best French cities to study in.

Not the least because of the culture and climate, but also for the city's reputation in academic circles.

A very good reputation, we might aver!

The University of Bordeaux is among the oldest in France and, until recently, had been split into four distinct schools:

  • Bordeaux 1: Maths, physical sciences and technologies
  • Bordeaux 2: medicine and life sciences
  • Bordeaux 3: programmes include liberal arts, languages, humanities and history
  • Bordeaux 4: law, economics and management
    • Institute of Political Sciences is considered a part of this campus, even though it functions autonomously

Besides these renowned institutes, Bordeaux has a number of public and private schools for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

These include engineering schools, management and business school, and school of fine arts, among others.

One reason that makes Bordeaux so attractive for students is the welcome they are treated to at the start of each academic year.

Would you like to be present to meet the faculty at their orientation event, called Grande Festival de Rentrée, in September?

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Might you attend a French uni in Bretagne or Aquitaine?
The best unis for international students are not in the heart of the country! Source: Pixabay Credit: FotoshopTofs

4. Aix-Marseilles University

If you're planning to study in France, you might consider this metropolis, located on the Mediterranean.

Officially cited as the European Capital of Culture, it has maintained that reputation, and added the distinction of being the European Capital of Sport in 2017.

What Marseilles unis are famous for is preparation for job placement after graduation.

The 2012 merging of its three separate schools has resulted in Marseilles being the largest university in the French-speaking world, with the largest budget.

3. Nantes

This relatively small city outside of Brittany has a university almost as world renowned as the ones in Bordeaux, but not quite as big.

Reasons why we count it as superior for international students is its excellence and diversity in education.

For a comparatively small city, Nantes houses several schools, among them Audencia, ranked by The Economist as the world's best Management school.

2. Montpellier

Where Nantes and Rennes are geographically close, Montpellier is close both in size and qualities sought after by any scholar who wants to study abroad.

Situated on the Mediterranean, its sunny clime and stunning architecture are only two reasons why someone wanting education abroad would seek scholarship at University of Montpellier.

Another would be for prestige: this institute is known as one of the oldest – not just among European countries, but throughout the world!

Besides sunshine and veneration, this city has an active nightlife that is particularly attractive to international students.

If you wanted to earn your doctorate of Medicine in Montpellier, you would be following a centuries-long tradition in the discipline.

1. Grenoble

This city, located at the foot of the Alps, is an important university center for science and engineering programmes.

This city is known all over the world as one of the handful of locations for the European Institute of innovation and Technology.

However, intercultural students ranked this city highest because of all of its desirable qualities: in education, in job placement; for its culture and quality of life.

The numbers prove it: more than 16% of Grenoble University students come from abroad!

What about The Sorbonne? What about the University of Paris?

Indeed, each of those represent excellence as an institute of international education. However, their very renown make them virtually inaccessible to the student from abroad, even on a scholarship.

Granted, tuition fees are low and, upon demonstrated need, students may merit financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants.

It is generally the incidental costs of studying abroad, such as housing and textbooks that drive up the cost of international studies.

Besides costs related directly to studying, the applicant must be approved for a student visa and cover the costs of filing financial aid paperwork.

Don't just take our word for it! You can review this French universities poll, wherein foreign students enrolled in European universities have divulged their preferences.

What about exchange programs?

Dutch priest Erasmus was all about globalism
Dutch Philosopher Erasmus advocated for globalism centuries before the concept became a buzzword! Source: Wikipedia Credit: Albrecht Durer

Invoking Erasmus

This internship program is named after the Dutch philosopher and Renaissance Humanist who advocated eloquence and clarity in education, so that citizens could engage in the wider, global community.

To participate in this program, you would elect immersion, on campus and classroom, for up to a year abroad.

The successful candidate can apply to any university in the European union save for those in Switzerland, the only non-participant country.

Your time spent on campuses abroad will count toward your courses in your alma mater.

Incoming students do not pay extra tuition for this fellowship, and the program even provides funding for housing and incidentals.

You would have a choice of host families!

Erasmus alumni report a higher civic awareness and a more global mindset, to say nothing of the lifelong friendships forged away from home.

For more information on qualifications and application deadline, or to talk with an advisor about applying, you might seek out your student services office.

Does your campus have an international student center, or an international affairs office?

Studying in France can give you a new perspective on your social responsibility, give you an opportunity to meet people who think like you, and put intensive focus on your French language skills.

What have you worked so hard to learn French for?

Go on an excursion abroad! See what international student exchange programs have to offer! Earn your bachelor's, master's; your MBA!

Who knows? Maybe you want to intern at Sorbonne university!

Rest assured that, all the while, you will be making use of the language and absorbing French culture which can help you advance quickly in your French lessons.

To make life easier for yourself when you arrive in France, here are a few need-to-know French phrases!

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