Have you ever been told that someone attended a grande école or has a kid in CE1 and didn’t have a clue of what they meant? In this article, we will explain the basics of the French education system, which consists of three stages: primary, secondary, and higher education.


Enseignement primaire (primary education)

Schooling is compulsory in France from ages 3 to 16. Kids start attending maternelle (kindergarten, ages 3-6), or optionally pré-maternelle at age two. After that, they attend école primaire (primary school) for five years:

  • Year 1: cours préparatoire (CP), ages 6-7
  • Year 2: cours élémentaire 1ère année (CE1), ages 7-8
  • Year 3: cours élémentaire 2ème année (CE2), ages 8-9
  • Year 4: cours moyen 1ère année (CM1), ages 9-10
  • Year 5: cours moyen 2ème année (CM2), ages 10-11


Enseignement secondaire (secondary education)

Secondary education is divided in two levels:

  • Collège: it consists of four years of study (ages 11-15)
  • Lycée: made up of three years (première, seconde and terminale, ages 15-18).

After finishing the lycée, students prepare the baccalauréat, also known as bac, an exam that allows them to enter higher education.


Enseignement supérieur (higher education)

High school graduates may choose between a vocational degree and an academic degree. Vocational degrees (DUT and BTS) are technology-oriented two-year programs offered by high schools and universities. As for academic degrees, there are three types of institutions that award them:

  • Universities: public institutions that offer studies organized in licence, master and doctorat levels (more on that later).
  • Grandes écoles: public and private institutions that admit students who have passed an entrance exam. Potential students often take a two-year preparatory course (cours préparatoires or prépas) after their baccalauréat. Grandes écoles offer specialized degrees in fields like business, international relations or engineering at licence and master levels.
  • Specialized schools: public and private institutions that offer degrees in specific fields like art or hospitality at licence and master levels.


Licence, master and doctorat

The licence consists of three years of study and is equivalent to an undergraduate degree. If graduates intend to pursue their studies, they can enroll in a master, a two-year program. There are two types:

  • Master profesionnel: intended to prepare students for professional life.
  • Master recherche: for students who wish to pursue doctoral studies.

A doctorat is a three-year course. After finishing their dissertation, those who hold a doctorat may access post-doctoral programs or apply for teaching positions in higher education institutions.

Here at French in Bordeaux we understand that learning French goes far beyond grammar and vocabulary. It’s just as important to become familiar with our culture. Follow our blog for more articles on French society, traditions, and way of life!

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