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The Education System in France

Figure A-6. Levels of education in France, by age and year of schooling: 2013

Levels of education in France, by age and year of schooling: 2013

NOTE: Education levels are defined according to the 1997 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97). Ages represent the typical age at the beginning of the school year. Numbers in bold print indicate ages of universal enrollment (i.e., an enrollment rate of over 90 percent). Numbers highlighted represent the age at which compulsory enrollment begins through the age at which compulsory enrollment ends. No meaning should be inferred from width of subdivisions. Duration of first university degree program is generally 4 years in France.
SOURCE: Miller, D.C. and Warren L.K. (2011). Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2011 (NCES 2012-007). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


  • Common name: École maternelle
  • Ages of attendance: As early as age 2 through age 5
  • Number of years: 1 to 4
  • Start of universal enrollment: Age 3
  • Compulsory: No


  • Common name: École élémentaire
  • Ages of attendance: 6 through 10
  • Number of years: 5
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes, begins at age 6

Lower secondary:

  • Common name: Collège
  • Ages of attendance: 11 through 14
  • Number of years: 4
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes
  • Entrance/exit criteria: Yes; the diplôme national du brevet is the exit exam for lower secondary, but it doesn't determine whether or not a student will attend lycée and is not required in order to enter lycée.

Upper secondary:

  • Common name: Lycée Enseignement professional—Vocational upper secondary school
  • Enseignement technologique—Technological upper second-ary school
  • Enseignement général—Academic upper secondary school
  • Ages: 15 through 17 (graduation generally at age 18)
  • Number of years: 3
  • Universal enrollment: Through age 17 (most students turn 18 during the last year of upper secondary school)
  • Compulsory: Through age 15
  • Entrance/exit criteria: In order to enter upper secondary education, the principal, on the advice of the class council and discussions with the family, decides whether a student can progress to lycée. Students take a national examination, the baccalauréat, during the last year of secondary school, which determines entrance to university.

NOTE: All three types of upper secondary school (enseignement professional, technologique, and général) qualify a student to enter university, although certain tracks are more likely to lead to university: the academic branch (enseignement général) typically leads to university and other forms of higher education; the technological branch (enseignement technologique) may also lead to specialized technological or professional forms of higher education; and the vocational branch (enseignement professional) more often leads to the labor force and/or job training.

Postsecondary and tertiary:

  • Common name: IUT, STS, université, grande école
  • Ages of attendance: Varies
  • Number of years: Varies according to degree or program
  • Universal enrollment: No
  • Entrance criteria: In order to enter into higher education programs in France, students are required to have passed the baccalauréat or an equivalent. Entrance to the university is nonselective, meaning that students who have passed the baccalauréat are entitled to enter. There are, however, competitive entrance exams for the grandes écoles.

Common programs (short fields):

  • DUT (University degree in technology): Taken at the University Institute of Technology (IUT). Two-year program in mostly vocational subjects. Student may choose to continue on toward a license (see section below).
  • BTS (Higher technical diploma): Two-year program taken in higher education departments of lycées (STS, Institute for Higher Technical Studies); more specialized than a degree from IUT, but also in mostly vocational subjects.

Common degree programs (long fields):

  • Licence: 3-year bachelor's degree.
  • Master 1: Degree following the licence. Requires 1 additional year at university.
  • Master 2: Follows the Master 1. There are two kinds of Master 2: "Master professionnel," which is vocational; and "Master research," which is designed to prepare students for doctoral research.
  • Medical doctor/dental/pharmacy: Degree programs taken at the university. Programs vary in length and can lead to degrees such as the Diplôme d'etat de docteur en médecine, diplôme d'etat de docteur en pharmacie, and diplôme d'études spécialisées.
  • Doctorat: Research-based graduate degree program at a university, leading to a doctorate. Usually requires 5 years of study beyond the Master.
  • Diplôme grande école: Competitive degree programs (students must pass a selective entrance exam) in academic subjects, science, commerce, management, engineering, business, and architecture. These are typically 5-year programs and are taken at the grandes écoles.


Eurydice. (2013). Eurydice Highlights: The Structure of the European Education Systems 2012/13. Brussels: Eurydice. Retrieved March 22, 2013, from

Marlow-Ferguson, R. (Ed.) (2002). World Education Encyclopedia: A Survey of Educational Systems Worldwide, Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1996). Education at a Glance 1996: OECD Indicators. Paris: Author.

Robitaille, D.F. (1997). National Contexts for Mathematics and Science Education: An Encyclopedia of the Education Systems Participating in TIMSS. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.