System of French engineering schools
Things to know
Admission to the French Grandes Ecoles
The Grandes Ecoles, at the highest level of French higher education, represent a specificity of the educational system which is not very much known abroad. They are very selective and prestigious schools of higher education. These institutions some of which are linked to universities, exist in the engineering, agricultural, applied and physical sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, management, and so on.
Students usually enrol after the competitive entrance examination. The enrolment concerns those French students who have consistently obtained the highest grades throughout the last few years of their secondary studies.
There are mor than 240 institutions accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, which are authorized to deliver the diplôme national d’ingénieur.
Basic requirements for admission to preparatory classes for the Grandes Ecoles
The preparation for the competitive entrance examination may be given in French high schools or in specialized private institutions. The classes in which this preparation is offered are called classes préparatoires.
The basic diploma which is required in order to be admissible for preparatory classes leading to admission in a Grande Ecole is the baccalauréat général which is obtained after 7 years of secondary studies. The high school student will have chosen one of the three academic cirricular within the baccalauréat général: a scientific curriculum, a literary curriculum or an economics and social sciences curriculum.
The competitive entrance examination and its preparation
The admission to each Grande Ecole is strictly limited annually by the Board of each institution in connection with the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the sponsoring ministries.
This competitive entrance examination requires intensive preparatory work. A student seeking entrance to one of these schools may complete the work in two years. But three years is not unusual for preparation of the exam after completion of the baccalauréat général.
It is important to note that the academic quality of these classes préparatoires is of the highest level. They are renowned for the intense amount of work expected from their students as well as for the severity of their grading system which is based on a scale of 0 to 20.
They are usually several Grandes Ecoles specializing in the same fields of studies. Access to the majority of these schools is extremely difficult. The competition is very severe while the study curriculum is vast and the level of instruction high.
Duration of studies and career openings
The usual duration of studies in the Grandes Ecoles, like ENSMA, is 3 years (after the two years of classes préparatoires), including several internships in companies amounting to a total of at least six months (at ENSMA the average duration of internship periods is 10 months).
The teaching in the Grandes Ecoles is of a very high level and is directed towards the preparation of a professional career. This teaching is more based on a theoretical and more general approach. For instance, at ENSMA, the students are trained in aeronautics, transport, mechanics and energy. The training is said to be “polytechnical” though students are able to choose “major subjects” during the last year of their attendance at the school (i.e. aerodynamics, energetics, heat transfer, structures, materials, computer science and avionics).
In all the professional sectors of the French economy, employers often show a tendency to give preference to graduates of the Grandes Ecoles over graduates from the French universities.