Comprehensive guide of studies in France

Hello everyone, while I'm currently a French student in France, I think it would be useful to make a guide on studies in France. 

Our educational scheme is complicated for any foreign student, and missing the big points could lead you do very bad financial mistakes.

To make this post clear, we'll start from the high school, then we'll see the different options available to join IB/PE/HF in France. 

Here, the standard is to have a Master degree after 5 years of education (or 6 with a gap year).

You also have to know that you need to speak French almost fluently to be targeted. 

It's a pretty long post, and I'll make to you some "education paths" at the end, depending of where you are in your cursus.

1) High School

If you ever worked with French people, you might have heard about the baccalaureat (high school diploma) they earned. Yes, in France, your diploma and your school matters a lot. Way more than in the US and the UK.

The "bac", as we said, was once divided in 3 majors :

-Scientific (S), maths, biology, physic, chemestry major : this is the bac the majority of French in Finance have (85%)

-Economics ans social sciences (ES) : social sciences, economy (not uni econ with maths and model, just basics theory), history of economics, geopolitics. I's say 14% of finance guys have it.

-Literrature (L) : Not a lot of them go in finance, except if they join an ENS.

Now, the students have the possibility to choose their subjects one by one.

2) The undergrade studies

In France, there are not a lot of people who works in Finance without a master degree.

There is a reason to that : the French university, globally, is weak.

Here, we believe (rightly or not, it's not the debate of the day) that everyone should be able to study almost for free. Yes it's true, in France, you can make you education, from 6yo to PhD, almost for free.

Another belief in France : you should be able to make undergraduate studies no matter your grades in high school or what you want to study. The universities make almost no selection on the first year students, and that's why the failling rate is so high.

It means that the universities have to accept more students, with less ressources. No need to make a movie on why it doesn't work very well (exept for some top univerisites, I'll talk about them later).

So, if you want to work in finance, you have either passed an old bac S or ES or a new bac with maths, econs, physics or biology.

Now, let's talk about the French Grandes Ecoles.

3) The Grandes Ecoles

The grandes ecoles (GE) model is almost unique.

They're quite old (18th century) and have been created, outside the universities, to breed, create, the "elite of the country".

The GE don't teach subjects like medicine, law or pure economics.

They create technical leaders, able to rule the industry, the administration and the army of the country.

The whole purpose of the Grande Ecoles is to have the best students, and to achieve that they do two things : to make it simple, they take the best students who survived in the university (15-20% of the french finance guys), but they have another unique tool : the classe preparatoires.

4) The classes preparatoires

You just graduated in econs, maths, physics, any engineering field from a good/top university, and you think you know what suffering means ?

It's nothing along what the "prepa" students face.

2 years (or 3) of intensive courses, in either maths/econs (for B schools) or maths/physics, or physics/sciences (engineering schools), and at the end, a top spot for the best schools in the countries. 2 years, at working from 8am to 1am, 6/7 (even 7/7), at being humiliated by teachers, and at the end an exam for the entrance based on writting and oral assesments.

In prepa, you won't be an expert in anything, but you'll be insanely good everywhere.

The prepa are almost all free.

And if you know you want to do finance, it's the way to go : the better the school is, the higher the number of place for prepa students is high and for non prepa students is low.

In France, you have 2 kind of GE : the business schools and the engineering schools.

5) The engineering schools :

They prepare you to be engineer, in any field.

For finance, some funds in Paris won't recruit you if you aren't from an EG or even if you didn't did a prepa.

The ranking is like this :

Tier 1 :

-Polytechnique : the best scool in the country, the most prestigious. 

Tier 1.5:

-Centrale Supelec

Tier 2 :

-Mines/Ecole des Ponts Paritech/Telecom Paris

Tier 3 :

Ensae /Centrale Lyon/Arts et Metiers

Tier 4

The rest

A lot of these school are publis (in Polytechnique, you're even paid).

In France, the gap betwen the engineering school isn't as high as the one for the business school.

At the end of your journey here (3 or 4 years with a gap year), you will have a master degree in a specific field and a French Diplome d'ingénieur.

Secure a place in the tier 1 to 2, and you have a pretty good chance to make it. The schools aren't well known internationnaly (for you maybe, but not for the majority of poeple), but to put you in the context, the guys who miss the Tier 1/tier 3 either choose make a third year, or they join universities like Oxbridge in maths/physics because they MISSED Polytechnique.

6)The business schools

They prepare you to work in management roles, in almost any fields (marketing, HR, accounting, finance, audit, business dev...).

There are like 250 business school in France, but a lot of them are bullshit.

If you want to join one, you should join the Programme Grande Ecole (PGE), or if you already have a degree, a Msc in Finance. There are only 5/6 Msc which worth it, the rest won't give you an advantage.

Don't do any bachelor programs : they're almost all craps, and here to finance the PGE for the others students. Maybe the ESCP or ESSEC one might worth it, but don"t take a loan for that.

A business school cost like 15-20k/year (0 for the gap year).

The ranking is like this :

1) HEC : the 2/3rd best school in France, absolute top target in Paris no matters what you did before.

1,5)ESCP/ESSEC : yes some kids here argue about them, but in Paris, with a prepa, top target.

2)EM Lyon, EDHEC : the "top 5". Have good internships, good networking and you can be fine

3) Audencia, SKEMA, Grenoble : Have good internships, good networking, luck, grind and you can secure a spot if you join a good specialisation.

4) The rest

As I said, the gap is bigger here. The difference between tier 1,5 and 2 is huge.

7) Universities :

As I mentioned, there are some good universities.




Dauphine is a good brand in bachelor (we say licence) and master, while assas and sorbonne are good in licence but don't place that well in master.

A lot of kids join them in licence, then go in a Programme Grande école when they graduated.

A licence is 3 years, when you study in a field (econs, management sciences, accounting, maths...), then you have the possibility to apply for "parallele admission" to grandes ecoles program. As you didn't suffered like the prepa kids, you don't have the same number of places.

8) Others :

You also have two others elite programs in France  : Sciences Po and the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS).

Sciences Po is a geopolitics/politics/administration school, which recruit top students straight after the bac. They deliver a bachelor (3 years) then a master (2 years). If you can join Sciences Po, do it. Sciences Po is target in IB and Consulting in Paris and allows you to join the best business school after the bachelor.

The ENS is a special school. You can join it after a prepa or a licence or a bachelor at Sciences Po. It's more focus on academic research, in all the universitary fields,but the level is very high (top 2/3 institution in the country) and it can lead you to top institutions worldwilde (every good researcher knows and respect ENS).

9) Paths

For each situation, the choice is ranked.

I) I'm a high school student who wants to study in France

1) Do an undergrade study in your country and join in Master/PGE.

2) Prepa -> Business school or Engineering school or ENS (but you'll be eaten alive if you don't speak French fluently).

3)Sciences Po -> Sciences Po or top B school

4) Top university licence ->Business School / Engineering school

5) Licence -> Business School / Engineering school -> too hard, as the teachers don't care about the student

I) I'm a student with a degree who wants to study in France

1) Join a tier 1/2 PGE program or a top Engineering "Diplome d'ingénieur" Program

2) Join a Msc at HEC, ESSEC, ESCP, EM Lyon or a Master at Sciences Po

3) Join a master degree at Dauphine or a tier 3 PGE program

4) Pray

Sorry if I was too long and for the orthog mistakes, but I hope it will help some of you to understand better how studies work here.

Have a good day !!!!

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Most Helpful

I) I'm a student with a degree who wants to study in France

1) Join a tier 1/2 PGE program or a top Engineering "Diplome d'ingénieur" Program

2) Join a Msc at HEC, ESSEC, ESCP, EM Lyon or a Master at Sciences Po

3) Join a master degree at Dauphine or a tier 3 PGE program

4) Pray

Overall great post, some thoughs

Have to point out that EDHEC > EMLyon for Finance / EMLyon > EDHEC for consulting

Would rank Dauphine 225 above EDHEC in France but maybe not for London

Very big gap between top 5 and top 8 (basically top 3 for large, top 5 for mid, other for small)

IESEG is rising fast, kinda impressive tbh

If you are French and do not want to go through prepa, the best path if you have money is to go do a bachelor abroad (top UK undergrad LSE, UCL, Imperial, Warwick, etc or Bocconi and likes) and then a MiM (called ASTI path). French bachelors are placing more and more people but not on par with internationals as of now


J'ai vu passer des beaux parcours mais ça requiert souvent de passer par un MiF bien classé. Dépend de tes objectifs, pour du small-mid ça se fait bien (même sans MiF), pour du large ça me semble tendu hors banques françaises.

J'ai tendance à penser qu'un BBA/Bachelor top 5 est mieux pour plusieurs raisons :

- Plus de gens visant une carrière en finance donc réseau direct (camarades de classe) plus important, entraide (ou pas)

- Meilleur réseau d'alumni en finance / brand name de l'école. Même si pas dans le programme GE, le nom peut aider à passer les screening

- Evite de perdre un an dans l'hypothèse où tu fais un MiF quoiqu'il en soit

J'ai eu des retours plutôt positifs sur l'IESEG, très flexible en termes de semestres. Faut juste faire gaffe à pas faire la césure à la fin comme certains font parce que d'expérience ça peut te nuire en termes de recrutement d'avoir 3 stages d'affilés


To make it clear french bachelors are shit. Absolute top is Polytechnique, ENS, HEC Paris and CentraleSupelec. Best students go through the prepa. Engineering students are generally the best students (it is much harder to get in the best ones compared to HEC or ESSEC). The rest is second tier towards the top recruiters and top executives.   


bachelors were shit 10y ago yes ! Nowadays, the placements can be great. Actually the vast majority of the top tier MiF are filled with bachelor from top 5 (hec,essec,escp,eml,edhec) and then afterwards you can obviously have a top tier job in IB in Paris. From personal network I know bachelors that in france are doing internships or full time at : GS, Millenium, Lazard and others french banks (SG, BNP & SG) and large-mid cap boutiques. stay up to date :))


Hello OP, thanks for making this thread, France is the main country where I would like to do a Master degree so this is incredibly helpful.

If you don't mind, can I ask were you studied and if you would be open to receive some further questions via PM?

Thanks in advance


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