If you have been dreaming of studying in Europe, chances are you have considered France at some point. France is one of the most influential countries in the world, with a culture that has helped shape fashion, food, industry, and the arts for several centuries. Its cities are enduring symbols of grandeur and sophistication, captivating the millions of tourists who visit every year.
But as a student in France, you have the chance to go beyond the tourist highlights. Whether you want to experience the bustling city life of Paris, the laid-back beauty of the south, or the remote beauty of an Alpine town, a study abroad program in France will give you an insight into that je ne sais quoi that makes the France so...well, French.
Most foreigners only have eyes for Paris, but it’s worth having a look at the other major French cities to find the one with the perfect climate, scenery, and atmosphere for you.
Most people’s first choice for study in France will probably be Paris. It’s one of the most famous and iconic cities in the world, and the opportunity to immerse yourself in that chic Parisian lifestyle is a huge draw for international students. Paris can be exactly as romantic, fascinating, and culturally enriching as you imagine, but be warned: your student budget will severely limit your exposure to high fashion and cuisine.
Grenoble benefits from an exceptional location at the foot of the Alps, but it is the city’s excellent innovation hubs that make it an attractive location for students. It has been voted France’s best student city several times, thanks in part to its huge student population (about a third of residents attend a local university). It is perfect for outdoorsy folks, ski enthusiasts, and students of engineering and the sciences.
Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace (now Grand Est) region of France, known for its unique Franco-German culture and architecture. The result looks like something out a fairytale: colorful half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, and a majestic medieval cathedral. Strasbourg is picturesque and historical, but it is also a modern city, with a large student population and unparalleled transport links to Central Europe.
Students flock here for exceptionally sunny weather, great beaches, and glamorous French Riviera lifestyle, but Nice’s rich history (spanning back to the Ancient Greeks) and cultural highlights are also big draws. You are also extremely close to both Monaco and Italy, although trips along the Riviera do tend to be on the expensive side.
Most major French cities see a high influx of both tourists and international students, making them relatively easy to navigate and settle into. The language and cultural barrier become more pronounced as you go into more rural areas.
How to Choose a Study Abroad Program in France
It all depends on what matters to you. Some students choose based on climate (going for somewhere sunny and southern like Nice or Marseilles), some decide based on cultural attractions (such as the world-class museums of Paris or the famous wine industry of Bordeaux), and some prefer to choose based on a city’s reputation in an academic subject (for instance, Grenoble for engineering or Toulouse for aviation).
There is a marked difference between living in Paris and living anywhere else in the country. Paris is extremely expensive, and space is a luxury. Student accommodation is often a “chambre de bonne”, a single room within a local family’s house. Private student residences are increasingly popular, but these are often a more expensive option.
Your visa needs will depend on the length of the course. If you are studying for three months or less, you will need a visa de court séjour pour études (short-stay student visa). For a stay between three and six months, you will need a visa de long séjour temporaire pour études (temporary long-stay student visa). Neither of these require a residence permit.
For anything longer than six months, you need a visa de long séjour études (long-stay student visa). This acts as a residence permit in itself and involves some more detailed paperwork. Your university should be able to provide some guidance if you need it.
EU and Swiss nationals do not require a visa to study in France.
Social Life & Student Culture
Most major French universities have a good mix of local and international students, meaning you’ll be able to both mingle with fellow foreigners and make friendships with French people. Universities often have an active social calendar and plenty of opportunities to meet new people.
French higher education tends to be quite intense, with little room for slacking or partying. Some courses have hours similar to a school schedule, and large amounts of coursework are usually needed. This is not a downside: the standard of education you will be receiving will be exceptionally high, but you will need to be prepared to work for it.
Health & Safety
Most French cities and towns are quite safe, especially if you stay in central areas. That said, it is always a good idea to avoid walking alone at night unless you are in an exceptionally busy part of town. In Paris, the main thing to watch out for is pickpocketing, so learn to clutch your bag and stay aware of your belongings, especially on the Metro and around tourist attractions.
France has an excellent public healthcare system, and social security covers all basic healthcare costs while you are studying in the country. All you need to do is register with your university and with the social security system. This can easily be done online.
Most French universities are public and have very affordable tuition costs. Private universities and Grandes Écoles, the most prestigious and selective institutions in the country, are usually more expensive.
Typical Program Cost
Tuition fees at public universities are quite low, making study in France a comparatively affordable option. Bachelor’s degrees cost €189.10 a year, master’s degrees cost €261.1, and PhDs cost €369.10. Undergraduate engineering degrees cost €615.10 a year and medical degrees vary, averaging about €400 a year.
Private universities are considerably more expensive, costing anywhere between €1,500 and €6,000 a year. They are, however, the minority, and most of the country’s best universities are public. The Grandes Ecoles, have fees ranging between €3,000 and €10,000.
Given the affordable cost of public higher education in France, most students can afford to pay their tuition fees without additional funding. That said, there are several scholarships available to international students (see below).
There are almost 700 scholarships across all levels and categories of study in France, most of which are funded by the state and open to international students. The best way to find out which ones are available to you is to get in touch with the universities you are interested in attending.
Most Grandes Écoles have scholarships for international students that pass the entrance exams.