3. Grandes Écoles in France

There are approximately 250 grandes écoles where the country’s future elite are taught. These are the most prestigious higher education institutions in France.

The main grandes écoles are those of the Ecoles d'ingénieur and Ecoles de commerce.

There are also more specialist (and prestigious) Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), Institut d'Etudes Politiques (IEP) and Ecoles Nationales Vétérinaires (ENV).

The qualification awarded in the main schools are either Diplôme d’ingenieur or Diplôme de Grande Ecole.

The pass rate at end of five or six years is nearly 100%.

Only a few hundred students are admitted to each of the grandes écoles each year. Nevertheless, they have strong European and international links and endeavour to recruit on an international basis.

Students wishing to enter normally need to undertake a two year preparatory course, concluded by a highly competitive nationwide exam. Then follow three to five years of study.

The preparatory course is called Classes Préparatoires aux Grandes Ecoles (CPGE).

The CPGE is normally a two-year qualification in preparation for the entrance examinations to the grandes écoles and undertaken in specialist sections and classes of a lycée.

The standard is equivalent to the first two years of university. Those who take the preparatory classes but then decide not to pursue their studies at a grande école are, therefore, normally then able to obtain exemption from the first two years of university undergraduate education.

Similarly, those attending an undergraduate course at university are also permitted to transfer to a CPGE course, provided they are considered to have the aptitude for the studies.

The amount of work required each week is very high, and only those obtaining good marks in the BAC are accepted onto the courses. Those considering this route need to be able to handle the stress that is likely to be caused, although those who attend report a high level of satisfaction with their studies.

There are three streams of study that can be followed, either Economics and Commerce, Literature, or Science.

Access to preparatory classes is subject to a favourable report from the lycée. Only a few lycées offer preparatory classes.

To get more information you should make contact with the Proviseur at a lycée, or their Centre d’Information et d’Orientation (CDI or CIO).

The formal process of application is made via the internet between 20 January and 20 March each year. It is possible to make application outside of these dates, but it may well be the case that the choice of places may not be available.

Financial assistance is available for students participating in CPGE course in the same way as is available to all students in higher education, with the addtional availability of 'merit' grants for those who obtain très bien in their BAC examination, and who would otherwise qualify on income grounds for a mainstream university grant.

National entrance exams (called concours) into the grandes écoles are held during April and May each year.

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