Graduate Study in France: Guide for International Students

Graduate Study in France: Guide for International Students

Laura Bridgestock

Updated March 4, 2021 Updated March 04

This article is adapted from the QS Top Grad School Guide, available to read online here.

France is one of the most popular study destinations in Europe, with its capital Paris currently ranked fifth in the QS Best Student Cities index, having previously sat in first place for four consecutive years. While few would dispute the city’s position among the world’s most iconic, cultured and generally delightful urban centers, its cross-channel rival, London, is currently taking the top spot in the list.

However, a closer look at the results reveals that Paris has an impressively large selection of universities ranked at international level, combined with a high quality of life, large and international student population, solid reputation among employers, and – crucially – a much stronger score for “affordability”, than most comparable student hubs. This last is due not so much to the local cost of living – in fact Paris is notoriously expensive – but to the fact that tuition fees at universities in France are relatively low, for both local and international students.

Read on to find out more about studying in France at graduate level, including information on average tuition fees.

Universities in France

In the QS World University Rankings® 2019, one French university is ranked among the world’s top 50: Paris' very own Université PSL which closes the list at 50th place. A further 10 French universities appear in the top 300, and a total of 17 are in the top 500. Almost half of these are members of the prestigious academic community of the capital, but the rest are spread much more broadly around the country. Lyon, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Marseille and Montpellier all claim at least one university in the global top 500.

Top 10 Universities in France

Based on the QS World University Rankings® 2019


World rank


Université PSL



École Polytechnique ParisTech



Sorbonne University





Gif-sur-Yvette, Metz, Rennes

École Normale Supérieure de Lyon



Sciences Po



Université Paris-Sud



Ecole des Ponts ParisTech



Université Grenoble-Alpes



Université Diderot Paris 7



Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne



Discover more of the top universities in France >

France’s relatively low tuition fees certainly don’t mean students can expect any less for their money. Indeed, French universities are often known for providing small class tuition, particularly among the selective grandes écoles, for which admission is more competitive and overall student numbers fairly small. This is reflected in some of the world’s strongest scores for faculty/student ratio (number of full-time academic staff relative to student enrolments), one of the indicators assessed in the QS World University Rankings. The Université PSL, for example, along with Ecole Polytechnique is ranked just outside the global top 20 on this indicator, and is joined by École Normale Supérieure de Lyon in the top 50.

To find out which French universities perform best for your subject, see the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Why choose graduate study in France?

In a 2017 survey conducted by Study in France, a national agency which promotes French higher education overseas, the quality of training was among the most-cited reasons for choosing to study in France, along with opportunities to improve French language proficiency and interest in French culture. Overall, 64 percent of 14,245 surveyed international students chose France as the second most attractive country to study in, while 92 percent who did choose to study in France would recommend it. 

The same survey reflected the increasing impact of global politics on the changing perceptions of international students – 76 percent of respondents chose the US as an attractive country to study in prior to the presidential election, and 54 percent chose the UK before Brexit.

France is home to some of the most highly regarded business schools in Europe, and is also one of the world’s major business hubs – adding to its appeal for students with an interest in the “FAME” (finance, accounting, management and economics) group of subjects. The world’s fifth largest economy, France is the headquarters for global leaders in sectors including cosmetics, electronics, automotive and aerospace. The “La Défense” area of Paris remains Europe’s largest purpose-built business district, and as of 2013 France had more Global 500 company headquarters than any other country in Europe (fourth in the world, behind the US, China and Japan).

The French “art de vivre”

Significant as the French economy may be, the country’s culture is arguably just as globally pervasive and influential – and many of those attracted to graduate study in France will be largely motivated by the prospect of immersion in the French language, lifestyle and cuisine. As well as being a useful language for anyone seeking an international career, French also holds an appeal beyond the purely functional, regularly topping lists of the world’s most beautiful languages. More widely, the French “art de vivre” (art of living) holds a special place in the hearts of many.

This appeal is reflected in international tourism figures. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, France welcomed over 82 million overseas visitors in 2016, substantially more than any other country (the US and Spain came second, with over 75 million). Attempting to list all the reasons for the country’s popularity would take too long; suffice to say its attractions include some of Europe’s most popular ski slopes, acclaimed art galleries, historic monuments, celebrated foods and wines, and picturesque landscapes that range from dramatic cliffs to sun-trap beaches, and from peaceful vineyards to awe-inspiring mountain ranges.

Those who choose to study in France have the opportunity not only to visit some of the country’s most famous urban and rural sites, but also to immerse themselves in daily French life and culture.

Applications, costs and funding for graduate study in France

As mentioned earlier, France represents a relatively affordable option for international students, thanks to low tuition fees. At public universities, fees are set nationally. For 2018-19, the annual fee for a master’s program is €243 (approx. US$282), while a doctoral program costs €380 (~US$441). At private institutions, fees are usually higher; according to Campus France, the typical range is between €3,000 and €10,000 per year (approx. US$3,500-11,600).

Funding options available to international students include grants via the EU’s Erasmus+ program, grants from the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (including the Eiffel Scholarships for master’s and PhD students), awards from individual universities and funding provided via regional councils, usually in partnership with public research agencies such as the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). More scholarships to study in France can be found here.

Doctoral students can also apply for a contrat doctoral, which means they legally become an employee of the university, receiving a regular salary in return for research and teaching work. This is around €1,400 per month, and can be higher for those who take on additional tasks.

The application process varies depending on your nationality and the type of institution and program you are applying for. Those from certain countries (listed on the Campus France website) are required to apply using the online CEF procedure. Those from countries not covered by this system should apply directly to each institution. Depending on the language in which the program is taught, students may be asked to submit proof of proficiency in either French or English, either through evidence of having completed an earlier degree in the relevant language, or by taking a language test such as the DELF, DALF, IELTS or TOEFL.


Want to meet representatives of leading grad schools from France and around the world? Join the QS World Grad School Tour, coming soon to a city near you.

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This article was originally published in January 2015. It was updated in August 2018. 

This article was originally published in August 2018 . It was last updated in March 2021

Written by

The former editor of, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'


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