1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Explain french ''Grandes écoles'' to me

  1. Sep 1, 2014 #1
    The best establishments for higher education(I'm interested in only mathematics or/and physics) in France are not the universities but ''Les grandes écoles'',like l'Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS for short),and l'Ecole Polytechnique. They produce a lot of great mathematicians,and have a very competitive and selective selection process. My questions are :
    -What the level of education do they offer ?
    -What do they generally assume you already know (how much math or physics?)?
    -How hard is it to get there?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    There's some discussion on it at Wikipedia

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandes_%25C3%25A9coles [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Sep 2, 2014 #3
    You might want to read Report from the Interior by Paul Auster, a memoir in which he gives an account of his year at a French university on exchange from Columbia. He was not a happy man! His main problem was that he couldn't study the advanced courses in French literature that French students were taking, instead he was diverted to a course for foreigners that was nothing more than a "glorified Berlitz course". He actually dropped out of Columbia over the matter, but had the contacts to get back in! One might hope that Mathematics/Physics courses would not do this, but I'd check before going!
  5. Sep 8, 2014 #4
    You need to be fluent in French.

    Then you want to make sure you high school diploma will allow you to enter higher education (in this case, a Classe Préparatoire) in France. If not, find out what you can do about this.

    There are multiple tracks. The first year is more general than the second. The popular ones for physics and engineering are MPSI and PCSI, with the 2nd year being either MP, PSI, or PCSI (for the ones more interested in chemistry). M = maths, P = physics, C = chemistry, SI = sciences de l'ingénieur/engineering science.

    It's a lot of work. You have classes full time. It's just like secondary school, but more intense. It's not like university, where you'll have multiple free blocks between classes. You'll have regular exercise sessions called Kholle, where you'll need to solve problems on the board. They simulate the oral exam conditions of the concours.

    Now the concours. After your two years (or 3, if you didn't get the schools you want and want to retake the 2nd year - btw, if you fail the first year, you're out), it's time for the concours. Different concours make different sets of grandes ecoles available to you. You'll have written exams. If you get high grades there, you then do the orals. Then you get a choice of schools based on your rank.

    It goes something like that. Bear in mind that I did not attend a classe prépa or a grande ecole. I only strongly considered it. The prépa is very, very cheap. Tuition is free, and if you stay "on campus", it's around 2k euros/year for room and board for the whole year, excluding holidays.

    I'm glad I didn't. I'm elsewhere in Europe. It's still a large amount of work, but I have more freedom and control over what I do. But it comes with a price, and that price is that I can't have the other way...i.e...a more structured program where I will have teachers on my back, expecting me to perform. Here, I am on my own.
  6. Sep 8, 2014 #5
    Mépris are you French ? There are, effectively, alternative, for example at ENS http://www.ens.fr/admission/entrer-a-l-ens/?lang=en

    In french http://www.ens.fr/admission/entrer-a-l-ens/ we can read (Tout étudiant de niveau L2 français ou étranger peut concourir. : "Any student of L2 level, French or foreigner, can pass the entrance concour to the school").

    Last edited: Sep 8, 2014
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook