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5 Ways Going to University in France Will Surprise You

Guest post by: Andrea Bouchaud

As the home to many world-renowned universities as well as being a cultural, linguistic and historical hub–bub, France is a natural choice for study abroad students. But before you pack your suitcase, there are a couple of things you need to know about going to university in France. Let’s take a look at 5 Ways Going to study in France Will Surprise You:

Photo Credit: Benh LIEU SONG

  1. Grades: The grading system for French universities is based off of twenty possible earned points, not one hundred, but that doesn’t mean that you can earn a 20/20 as your highest grade. French grades are best explained by the well-known vignette of The Divine Code. The Divine Code explains that 20 is reserved for God (or King in some versions), 19 for professors. No student gets a 20 - ever. It’s not you; it’s the system. Instead of 20, students aim for a 15. At most French universities, 15% of your grade is calculated on your participation, oral presentations, weekly summaries, and the devoir sur table (an in class assignment, usually an essay). The remaining 85% is a huge test taken at the end of the semester. Depending upon your study abroad program, you may be exempt from this test.
  2. Class Structure and Credits: The average class credit at a French University ranges from three to five credits. French college classes are worth more credits because they are divided into two sections or séances that meet from one to three hours per week. These 2 séances are the cours magistral (commonly known as CM) or lecture and the travaux dirigés (commonly known as TD) or lab.
  3. College Environment: The French college environment is just like French culture: formal. Students refer to professors as monsieur, madame or mademoiselle- no last name. As French professors are not always PhD prepared, you don’t refer to them as doctor or ask them their education level - this is rude. Another thing that is a no-no in a French classroom is constant questions. A French college classroom is one of learning from the professor, not one of interaction. Have questions for your French professor?  Ask them after class! The typical French professor doesn’t share his/her email with students so after class discussion is the way to go. Respect for the professor and classroom is crucial in a French university and adds to the formal environment. French students are expected to not interrupt the learning process so they bring notebooks to class, not a laptop. You’ll also notice that no cell phones buzz, no food eaten during class, no whispered conversations, and no leaving class. This formal college environment is a very important part of the French college experience. But it’s not just in the classroom. The lack of a university book store and sports teams also solidify the formal learning environment of a French university.
  4. Information Technology: The typical French student doesn’t rely on the internet as the main way to communicate with professors or keep current on campus activities. Flyers and the free Guide de l'étudiant (student campus guide) are still preferred methods over online communication. Although many aspects of the French college experience are old-school, your French professor will expect your rédactions or term papers to be typed.
  5. Parlez-vous français? One of the main reasons you’re studying abroad in France is to improve your French. Taking university classes in French can be extremely difficult but it’s the best way to really beef up your language skills. Your French professor won’t accept your rédaction in English so having at least adequate French skills is a must for your French study abroad.

Studying abroad in France is a great experience for many majors but cultural immersion and language fluency are key to a successful study abroad. Knowing these 5 tidbits of French university life in advance will help you to have a smoother and easier transition for your study abroad. Bonne chance!


Having studied abroad in Paris for a year, Andrea Bouchaud understands that living in the City of Light isn’t always easy. Her hands on experience with French culture and language immersion as an American student inspired her to write 2 books- Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris (2013) and The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored (2014) both on Amazon’s Kindle Store. Connect with Andrea at


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