Studying in France – 6 of the best French universities for international students

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Studying in France is a wonderful opportunity for international students. French universities boast an enviable global reputation and a well-funded, innovative education system that offers a big welcome to students from around the world. 

According to one study, over 90% of international students would recommend studying in France.

In 2020, French universities hosted 358,000 international students. The plan is to welcome 500,000 by 2027, making this a great time to consider studying in France. 

So, whether you’re interested in a student exchange program like Erasmus or signing up for a complete degree course, this list showcases 6 of the best French universities for international students. Selected for their standout academic reputations and attractiveness to foreign learners.

Got questions about studying in France? We answer some of the biggest questions at the end of our list.

Université PSL – Paris Sciences et Lettres Université

There are over 70 public universities in France and around 3,500 higher education institutes (including the elite Grande écoles).

Narrowing down a list of the best French universities is a near-impossible task: academic programs offered, location, and entry requirements all play a part for anyone considering studying in France.  

But the first entry in our guide to the best French universities for international students was an easy choice.

Université PSL is the highest-rated university in France and the 44th highest in the world according to the QS World University Rankings (2022).

Known for its prolific research output, it consists of 11 associated Known for its prolific research output, it consists of 11 associated colleges that teaches over 17,000 students.

The oldest college dates back to 1530. Responsible for educating many luminaries, including 28 Nobel laureates, it is a distinguished university situated at the heart of Paris.

As you might expect from a French university that counts Marie Curie and Jean-Paul Sartre amongst its alumni, entrance requirements are rigorous. Yet, its reputation and location helps it pull in over 4,000 international students.

Unlike some French Universities, a comprehensive menu of academic disciplines is offered, from arts and humanities to pure science courses.

Why choose Université PSL for studying in France? Study at the best teaching institution in France in the heart of the city of love. A high proportion of international students, a diverse program of courses, and its contribution to research offer an opportunity to become the next intellectual giant to study there.

Sciences Po – Paris Institute of Political Studies

Paris often features near the top of any list of cities to study in. Some of the most prestigious academic institutions in France are found there – SorbonneÉcole Polytechnique, and the University of Paris.

It is also one of the great cultural capitals of the world. It would be easy to focus exclusively on French universities in La Ville Lumière (City of Lights). But this is our last – there is much more to studying in France than Paris.

Sciences Po is an institute renowned for teaching political science. No surprises there. But it also offers an extensive academic program of social sciences, including history, sociology, and law.

Once a finishing school for future leaders of France – six of the previous eight French presidents attended – it has broadened its scope since the 1990s to be less elitist and welcome a more diverse body of students.   

The biggest selling point for international students is the extensive postgraduate curriculum and the exceptionally high proportion of international learners. Out of 14,000 students, approximately half are non-residents.

Add to the mix an enviable location on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, places at this French university are highly sought after.

A QS global ranking of 261, it truly shines in social sciences, with a Times Higher Education Ranking placing it second best in France.

Why choose Sciences Po for studying in France? It excels at teaching social sciences and preparing future leaders. A big international student presence at a buzzing location in Paris, this an in demand French university.

Université Montpellier

The University of Montpellier is a huge institution, teaching around 49,000 students. Founded in 1220, it is also one of the oldest universities in the world.

With a global reputation for innovative research, it sits near the top of world rankings for teaching ecology, agriculture, and biotech (Shanghai rankings).

Offering 455 teaching programs, including 150 undergraduate courses, it welcomes around 7,000 international students.

A leading French university – 16th in France according to the QS rankings – it is a dynamic establishment that is a short hop away from the stunning Mediterranean coastline.

Why choose Université Montpellier for studying in France? For cutting-edge ecology studies, which can only grow in importance as an academic discipline. And to be involved with exciting, innovative research in a culturally-rich, sun-drenched region of France.

Université Grenoble Alpes

If the bright lights of Paris and the southern charms of Montpellier don’t appeal to you, the idyllic Alpine location of the University of Grenoble might be for you.

Another French university with a long, storied history stretching back to 1339, this institute has a 60,000 strong student body that is schooled mostly on a single enormous campus overlooked by the imposing Alpine peaks.

Consistently ranked among the top dozen universities in France (10th in the latest QS rankings), it hosts over 8,000 international students.

Offering a broad academic program across the arts and sciences, it has a leading reputation in the fields of political science, physics, and computer sciences.

It has long been popular with foreign students. Amongst alumni, it counts such diverse notables as Jacqueline Kennedy and Park Geun-Hye (11th present of the Republic of Korea).

Why choose Université Grenoble Alpes for studying in France? Aside from the stunning views of the Alps (bring your skis), this highly-rated university offers a wide range of study options, a bustling campus life, and a sizeable international enrolment.

Université de Nantes

Situated in one of France’s greenest cities with a reputation as a great place to live, Nantes university has over 560 years of history and 37,000 students.

Nantes is the perfect student city: eco-friendly with an extensive public transport network, good nightlife, an airport, and proximity to the vineyards and chateaus of the Loire valley.

Birthplace of Jules Verne, this once-thriving port has long looked outwards and has a reputation as a hotbed of industrial unrest and resisting authority that dates back to the French Revolution.

Revived in 1970, having been abolished during the revolution, the modern Université de Nantes has firmly established itself as a leading French university.

Offering a broad array of courses for studying in France, it stands out in the fields of business, economics, and clinical sciences.

11% of the students are international. And while this is not the highest-rated university in France (24th in the 2022 QS ratings), it is a good all-rounder in a student-friendly city. It even offers a small number of courses taught wholly or partially in English.

Why choose Université de Nantes for studying in France? Internationally excellent in several academic fields, it is a modern university in a city boasting an exceptional quality of life.

Université de Strasbourg

Having taken a brisk tour of leading universities in Paris, the South, and the West of l’Hexagon, we round out our list with an entry from the east of France.

One of the higher-rated French universities (11th in France, 451 globally – 2022 QS rankings), this seat of learning sits at a gateway to Northern Europe.

A historically contentious region, this university owes its founding to a Lutheran German, Johannes Sturm.

Today, it celebrates its place at the heart of Europe, with 20% of its 52,000 students coming from abroad.

Teaching a wide spectrum of disciplines, this French university has a stellar reputation for research. 19 Nobel laureates are numbered amongst the alumni, including Karl Ferdinand Braun who lectured there and is credited with pioneering wireless telegraphy, alongside Guglielmo Marconi.

Why choose Université de Strasbourg for studying in France? Strasbourg is a beautiful, historic city that is home to the European Parliament.  A respected university with strong research credentials, it welcomes a high proportion of international students wishing to study in France and be at the heart of European politics and culture.

Studying in France – Some useful Info

France offers a lot to students seeking a quality education and the life-enriching experience of studying abroad. Many universities excel in the international rankings.  

But before you pack your passport and translate your academic qualifications, here are a few things to consider.

Do I need to speak a high level of French?

Short answer. Yes.

Most French universities expect prospective students to attain at least B1 (intermediate level) in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

A small number of courses are offered in English, although these tend to be at postgraduate level and very limited in scope.  

Costs of studying in France

Among the factors that make studying in France attractive, the low course fees is one of the biggest.

French courses are highly subsidized by the state, even for international students.

If you’re a citizen of the European Union, you can study at French universities for the same cost as French residents. This benefit also extends to residents of the EEA (European Economic Area), Switzerland, and Andorra.

But even non-EU students can study at a French university for lower costs, typically around 1/3 of the actual cost of the course. The best resource for checking prices is Campus France.

Here’s a sample of what EU & EEA students may pay annually:

€170 – Bachelor degree (known as licence)

€243 – Masters degree

€380 – Doctorate

Non-EU annual costs:

€2,770 – licence (bachelor degree)

€3,770 – Masters

What is required for studying in France?

To gain a place at university, most French students study the 3-year Baccalauréat (BAC) at a lycée.

Equivalent qualifications are required from other countries, such as Advanced Level (A levels) from the UK or the European Matura.

Academic equivalence is complicated. But Campus France can help. It is the official French government site to promote studying in France.  

Don’t overlook the non-academic requirements. These include:

  • A valid student visa
  • Successful university application
  • Campus France confirmation (necessary for 33 non-EU countries)
  • Proof of French (and sometimes English) language proficiency
  • Proof of financial support
  • Any other requested documents to support your application, including academic qualifications (translated)

Are degrees from French Universities internationally recognized?

Yes. There is no universal framework for recognizing academic qualifications outside the European Union. Within the EU, ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) recognizes qualifications within member countries.

But although the terminology and titles may be different, graduate and postgraduate qualifications from French Universities are widely considered to meet international standards.

How long are French university courses?

Course lengths in France are similar to those of other countries.

An undergraduate degree (licence) is typically three years of full-time study.

A postgraduate masters is a further two years of study. And a doctorate requires another three years at a French University.

The academic year runs from September/October to May/June.

What can I study in France?

With 600+ different undergraduate study programs, and even more postgraduate option, there is an endless choice for studying in France.

Just about every subject is offered somewhere in France. But there are a few areas where France sets a globally high standard. Amongst them, philosophy, economics, ecology, hospitality, aviation, social sciences, and fashion.

Engineering schools in France have a leading reputation.

MBA courses in France are world-class.

If you are considering studying in France, there is probably a course that matches your ambitions. Hopefully this guide has helped you think about the opportunities this life-enriching experience offers.  

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