A quick and easy reference guide
When you arrive you will need to find your way around the French higher education system, so we have prepared this quick reference guide to help you along the way.
Lectures [CM] and Classes [TD]
Some subjects involve two different types of teaching methods: lectures [CM] and classes [TD], whereas other subjects (mostly the so-called “additional” ones), only take the form of lectures. In subjects involving both teaching methods, the lectures and classes make up a whole and contribute to your studies in a different, but complementary fashion.
Lectures last for around two hours and take place in a lecture theatre [amphithéâtre] in front of a large number of students. They form the theoretical teaching base of the subject.
Classes [TD or TP]
Classes are given to small groups of students and build upon the the theoretical knowledge from the lectures.
How does the French higher education system work?
The Baccalauréat is the exam that marks the conclusion of secondary education. Students sit this exam in the final year of secondary school [lycée]: a study period which is the equivalent of the upper sixth or twelfth grade and is sometimes referred to as “classe Terminale”. Following successful completion of the Baccalaureate, students are eligible to apply to universities and thereby enter the higher education system.
The French higher education system (in accordance with agreements signed between France and its European partners) is divided into three main parts. This tripartite system is the Bachelor - Master - PhD system and in France it is referred to as LMD [Licence, Master, Doctorat].
Bachelor’s degree [Licence / Bac+3]
This is a three-year course made up of six semesters in the chosen speciality (e.g. Law). Each semester corresponds to a workload equivalent to 30 ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits. Therefore, one academic year of studies in the higher education system is the equivalent of 60 ECTS credits. (Bac+3 = a further three years of study after the Baccalaureate).
First year [L1]
This is the first year of a Bachelor’s degree course and is divided into the following semesters (S): S1 (semester 1 of higher education studies) and S2 (semester 2).
Second year [L2]
This is the second year of a Bachelor’s degree course and is divided into the following semesters: S3 (first semester of the second year, but third semester of higher education studies in general, hence S3) and S4 (second semester of the second year, but fourth semester of higher education studies in general).
Third year [L3]
This is the third year of a Bachelor’s degree course and is divided into the following semesters: S5 and S6. Students who successfully complete this course of six semesters are awarded a Bachelor’s degree [Licence] in their chosen speciality.
Master’s degree [Master]
This postgraduate degree marks the next level of studies and students who follow this path will specialize in one of their subject fields. The Master’s degree is a two-year course made up of the Master 1 and Master 2 (4 semesters : 120 ECTS credits). Most Master’s courses offer 3-6 month internships.
Master 1 [M1]
This is the first year of the Master’s degree course. It is divided into the following semesters: S7 (first semester of the Master’s degree but seventh semester of higher education) and S8. Any student holding a relevant Bachelor’s degree is eligible to apply for the M1.
Master 2 [M2]
This is the second year of the Master’s degree course and, like all other years, it is divided into two semesters (S9 and S10). This course allows students to specialize in a particular field (e.g. Law) and successful admission is dependent on two criteria: students must (i) hold a Master 1 and (ii) pass the entrance examination. In most universities, Master 2 specialities are taught in small groups and are vocational in the sense that they prepare students for particular careers or for clearly defined research paths.
PhD [Doctorat / Bac+8]
For the PhD course, students must prepare a doctoral thesis [Thèse de Doctorat] in their chosen speciality, under the supervision of an appointed Professor, and in a university research department. (Bac+8 = eight years of study after the Baccalaureate).