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What to Expect When You Study in France

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Guest post: Holly & Summer Read

As British citizens living abroad since the age of seven, our education has been predominantly in our second language. At the end of our high-school years in France, it was finally time to take the big leap, and settle on a university. Of course, we were in no way obligated to remain in France to continue our studies. To be truthful, our choice was partly based on the fact that, at the age of 18, we just weren't ready to leave our family behind and move to a different country. We decided to remain in France, and attend university here.

Three years on, we got our degrees in performing arts at the University of Poitiers with honors. It's been quite an adventure, and we've had time to reflect on the good and the bad times of our university experience. We've put together a list of things you should consider before studying in France: we studied at the free university of Poitiers, this article will therefore be based on our experience studying at a free university here in France.

Free universities in France – pros and cons

Yes, that's right. We paid next-to-nothing for our degree. A student card costs around €5 per year, and the maximum tuition fee some must pay per academic year is around €190, which is covered if you are eligible for a student benefit program (which most people are). We're extremely happy not to be in debt. France has a huge selection of ‘free’ universities all across the country. Of course, depending on which course you would like to take, studying at a free university may not always be an option; you may have to go to a private university. That being said, there are still so many different courses available.

A free degree does sound pretty tempting, right? Let's look at some of the pros and cons. The pros: no student debt, the possibility of dropping out without the worry of money. The cons: small budgets, lack of funding.

Free universities by their nature will not receive the same budget or equipment as a private university. This means that, yes, you will still receive a good, university-level education, but there is a lack of funding in certain areas. Without going into details, you should know that you pay for what you get, and sometimes, the standard at a free university will not be as high as other, more expensive universities. This could apply to anything: the classes, the management, the teachers, the university buildings and equipment... It’s always a good idea to check where the university in which you wish to study is ranked in the worldwide academic ranking of universities, just to get an idea.

International exchanges

We were lucky enough to take part in an international exchange trip to Canada in our fifth semester, and it was one of the huge benefits of studying at a free, French university.

Most French universities offer the Erasmus or international exchange programs to students. This means that, if you're eligible and accepted into the program, you can go on an exchange for one semester (four months) or a year (eight months). Yes, this applies to paying universities too. But at free universities, it's worth mentioning because you could go to a non-free-university abroad, and you will not pay tuition, as your free university will cover it. As you can imagine, it’s absolutely worth doing!

Course timetables

One of the things that clearly sets apart the French education system from the rest of the world is the timetables. This not only goes for school, but for university as well. During your course, you may have to attend up to 24 hours of classes each week. It's crucial you take into account that you do not chose your classes. You choose your course, and your major, but you are not in control of which classes you'd like to attend: your timetable is already set for you. This may trouble a great many people, as you lose the freedom to study classes of your choice. The classes are presented to you in the course program, so you can understand beforehand what exactly you will be studying.


There's nothing quite like the stress of upcoming exams. At our free university, you would have two exams per class: an oral exam during the semester (a presentation by yourself or with classmates in front of the whole class) and a final written exam. This may send a wave of panic through people: you don’t have a lot of chances to fail. Each exam is graded on a scale of 20. You must receive an average of 10/20 to pass the class, and an all-round average of 10/20 to pass the academic year. The majority of students in our year would receive between 9-12/20 in exams. The grading system is incredibly strict: only a very small portion of people will get over 70% in an exam. Of course, this varies depending on which course you do.

Student-teacher relationships

Before studying in France, you should know that the relationship between students and teachers may be extremely different to what you are used to. There is a different mind-set in this area compared to most universities; there is pretty much no relationship between students and teachers. In our experience, the teachers come, teach their class, watch presentations and grade exams, but very, very few make an effort to learn more about their students, or debate and discuss with them. There are exceptions, of course! But in general we would recommend not having too many expectations about the student-teacher relationship.

You should also know that there is very little room made for discussion within the classroom: most teachers will teach their class, and leave. Debates and discussions between students and teachers is mainly done during the oral exams. There are few official 'office hours', so if you do wish to discuss something with a teacher, some of the time you will speak to them quickly after class, but mostly by email. 

To conclude on a positive note, the best thing about the majority of French universities is that anyone can apply. Universities in France admit all students into their programs, with little to no tuition fees. The goal is to offer free education to as many people as possible. Even if the university you choose is not internationally famous or full of the latest facilities, you’ll usually still have the opportunity to study abroad and learn another language – all without the fear of student debts. 

Holly and Summer

21-year-old bilingual twins Holly and Summer Read run an online fashion/lifestyle blog named The Twins’ Wardrobe. Recent performing arts graduates, they are currently based in France, and are very passionate about books, cinema, photography and fashion. 

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Good blog

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I m Abera Getachew from Ethiopia. I have BA degree in psychology major with sociology minor from Jimma University and MA degree in Counseling Psychology from Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. I want to pursue my PhD in Marriage Counseling/Clinical psychology or related field in your university.The median of education is English language. How can i get scholarship to study in France/Germany

Hi Abera, you can study a PhD for free at any public university in Germany, while PhDs in France can cost as little as 400 euros a year at a public institution. To find out more, please have a look at our articles on how to study a PhD in Germany and graduate study in France.

Unfortunately I don't know of any scholarships particularly relevant to your field of interest in Germany or France, but we've listed scholarships to study in Germany and scholarships for France here. For more advice, you might like to download our guide on how to find and fund a PhD abroad. Hope this helps! 

Hello ! Its sidra zafar from Pakistan .I have completed my 12 year education in 2014 then i did english language course and also achieved an ielts band score of 6.5. Now i want to persue a bachelor career in one of the europe countros loke germany or france which would provide cheap cost to study....

Hi Sidra, you can study a bachelor's degree for free at any public university in Germany, and France is quite an affordable option as well! Please take a look at our complete guides on how to study abroad in France and how to study abroad in Germany - these should help to get you started!

HI, i am from Pakistan . I want to do masters in family , child counselling . i have no background in psychology . please guide me is there any university which can take me for this program and i need scholarship while studying as well .

Hi Aleema, you might be able to study a masters in family/child counselling despite not having studied psychology, depending on the university's preferred entry requirements. I can't recommend any particular universities, but here's a link to our ranking by faculty for social sciences - from there, you could browse the official websites of universities that interest you, to see if you're eligible. We've listed a range of scholarships to study abroad in different countries here. Hope this helps! 

How can I join you?

Hi Madina, if you'd like to study in France, our complete guide should help to get you started, covering admission requirements, applications, typical tuition fees and costs, how to get a student visa and more. :)