Higher Education in France and the United States

Higher Education in France

General organization

Take a look at the graph below to understand the organization of French higher education.


Different types of institutions

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La Sorbonne

There are a lot of public/private schools in France for higher education. The public schools are financed by the French government, so tuition is nearly free.

Schools are classified into four groups :

- Universities

- les "Grandes Ecoles"
They are uniquely French institutions. They are extremely selective and offer a very high standard of education.
Students have to go through a highly competitive process to enroll in those schools : preparatory classes.
Learn more about different kinds of Grandes Ecoles (ENS, Engineering Schools, Business Schools, Veterinary Schools) here.
Classes are in French even though some "grandes écoles" are now offering classes in English.

- Technical schools

- Specialized schools
That is : schools of architecture, schools of art, social sector schools and paramedical schools.

The LMD organization in French universities

French universities are currently in the process of harmonizing their degrees with those of other European countries, by adopting the LMD System (Licence/Master/ Doctorat).

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Schéma système LMD

Each degree is obtained by European Credit Transfer and the Accumulation System acquisition (ECTS).

- a licenceis obtained by 180 ECTS credits (3 years).

- a professional master’s degree. is obtained by 120 ECTS credits (5 years).

- a doctorat is obtained by 480 ECTS credits or 180 ECTS credits after the master’s degree (8 years).

Comparison between French and American higher education

American colleges and universities are very different from French institutions. Thus, it is quite hard to compare the two systems, here are some points of comparison :

High School Diploma
This diploma doesn’t necessarily allow an American student to enter a French college or university. This is not the equivalent to the French "baccalauréat". The admission depends on the American school where the diploma was earned, the number of credit hours and the type of field studied.

Associate’s Degree
This American diploma is most of the time equivallent to a DEUG (2-year diploma) or to some French diplomas such as BTS or DUT : it depends on which university granted the diploma and on the classes taken and the number of hours spent on each subject as well as the grade obtained.

Bachelor’s Degree
This American diploma is similar to a "licence" in most cases.

Master’s Degree
The American diploma is similar to a "Master II" in France, in most cases.
If the student has written a dissertation in order to obtain a Master’s degree, French universities consider the student as postgraduate. Without a dissertation, the student must prepare a Master’s degree.


The French doctorate is similar to the American one.

Equivalent diplomas between France and the United States

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Ancien diplôme

There is no official system of equivalent diplomas between France and the United States, but you can find here some information about recognized degrees in France and in the US.

Recognition of foreign qualifications in France

There is no offical rule about the equivalence between foreign qualifications and French qualifications delivered by the Education department, but you can find heresome information about levels of education.

Recognition of French diplomas in the United States

In the United States, there are private services of degree evaluation, that evaluate how the degrees granted in the French educational system will be evaluated by American universities. These private companies look at all the classes you took, the number of hours for each class and the grade you got before deciding what is the American diploma equivalent to the French one you got. They are paying services. You will find more information about foreign degrees recognized by the American education system on the Department of Education website.

For further information, please visit Frenchculture.

Last modified on 18/01/2019

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