6 Lessons Learned from Grad School in France

As I approach the end of my Master’s program, I decided to reach out to other international students living in Paris to get a feel for their particular experience as graduate students en France. Along with my own thoughts, I included the lessons learned from other students in similar situations. So, if you’re planning to move to France for grad school, these are my top six lessons to ease your transition.


1.”You have to be able to relinquish the North American rigidity that comes with having completed post-secondary studies in Canada.”

You will not receive a course syllabus on-time or ever and you may not be given study guides or program timetables. “French institutions work at the pace of a slow cooker.” Oftentimes, professors assign work without giving any specific format or questions to which one should respond. At times this lack of structure can feel like you’re floating around without an anchor, however, this type of system can also have its benefits. “I learned that deadlines are just suggestions and that my professors were lenient with late work as long as it was done properly.” So, depending on your institution, you can work at your own pace with less associated stress.


2. There is no campus life.

If you did your undergrad in countries like Canada or the U.S., a university campus is like a small town complete with gyms, stores, libraries, cafeterias, parks, fast food outlets, etc. In France, it’s really just a building in the middle of the city. In Canada, campus life is multifaceted and can have a profound impact on your overall university experience. School clubs, sororities or frats, intramural activities, sports and other social events really add to the overall experience of university life. In France, social activities are few and far between, consisting of  smaller-scale events or parties, very different from the types of social gatherings common in Canadian Universities.

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3. Your school day is like a work day 9am – 6pm

The French  emphasize practical work experience. Your school day is usually 9am – 6pm and you don’t have the opportunity to choose your classes or timetable. You choose a specialization (Mention) and must attend all the classes within that specialization. As opposed to studying theory or concepts for an entire year, most French students do a study then work cycle throughout their course of study. If you’re doing an internship with a company, it’s important to know your rights as an intern, otherwise, you can be taken advantage of, especially if you’re an international student and unaware of the rules regarding internships.


4. Course content was very Eurocentric

Naturally, the professors in France have a very Eurocentric approach to teaching, however it can still be surprising to see major international schools not have a more international or broader perspective of certain topics. This can vary with the institution but sometimes even when programs are advertised as “English-taught” it’s more than likely you will still need to be versed in some French to fully understand the content or professor…Beware!


5. Save money on food by eating at CROUS!

The French have a lot of support for students with a major one being the Centre régional des œuvres universitaires et scolaires (CROUS) restaurants. CROUS restaurants are scattered across the city usually located near schools and offer meals for €3.25! The meals aren’t gourmet cuisine but they’re great value for the price. You will never find this in Canadian schools where food is actually more expensive for students on campus.

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Crous restaurants (Photo by Crous Rennes Bretagne)


6. Graduation ceremonies

In Canada and the U.S., graduation ceremonies mark the end of your studies and are a celebration of the grind. Receiving your degree or diploma is a grandiose event filled with a long ceremony, usually photographers, and family and friends cheering you on. In France, most universities don’t host graduation ceremonies. Instead, you can simply check your grades online and go pick up your diploma. Though, more and more international schools are trying to host graduation ceremonies, but it’s just not a very common thing in France.


Bonne rentrée!