The grandes écoles (French for great schools) of France are higher education establishments outside of the mainstream framework of the public universities. They are generally focused on a single more or less broad topic, have a moderate size, and often are quite selective on the selection of their students. They are often regarded as prestigious, and form the channel most French managing directors and executives come from.


Preparatory classes

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The Lycée Louis-le-Grand, in Paris, is one of the most famous lycées providing classes for preparing for grandes écoles. (Here, on the right side of the rue St Jacques; on the left, the Sorbonne.)

Often, grandes écoles recruit students not after the end of their high school, but after two or more years of initial higher education. For the most part, this education takes place in special preparatory classes, known as prépas, that dispense undergraduate university-level education at an accelerated pace. Prépas are located in a number of select high schools throughout the country; some of them, such as Louis-le-Grand and Henri IV in Paris, are famous in their own name.

There are four main categories of prépas:

There is some specific jargon in those classes. For instance, the students in mathématiques spéciales are called taupins (which could be roughly translated as the "moles") because they often wear glasses and never go out. Hence, the year of mathématiques spéciales is called the taupe, which could be translated in the context as the "mole hole". One integrates a school when one succeeds in passing the competitive exam to that school. If you integrate a school after two years of prépa, you are 3/2; if you repeat a year, you are 5/2. Indeed, the most prestigious engineering school in France is the École Polytechnique, often dubbed X, as the unknown variable in mathematics. The integral of X between 1 and 2 (the numbers representing years of study) is 3/2, and the integral between 2 and 3 is 5/2. Public preparatory classes do not admit 7/2s, outside of exceptional cases (illness...).


Grandes écoles can be classified into several broad categories:

Écoles normales supérieures

They train researchers, professors and may also be a starting point for high administrative careers. There are four of them:

Their competitive entrance exams are about the most selective. They recruit mostly from taupes, biology prépas and khâgnes.

The normaliens, as the students of the several ENS are known, keep a level of excellence in the various disciplines in which they are trained. Normaliens from France and other European Union countries are considered civil servants in training, and as such paid a monthly salary, in exchange for an agreement to serve France for 10 years, including those of studies.

Engineering schools

There is a broad spectrum of engineering schools, many recruiting after taupes. Things may be a bit confusing since many schools have a lengthy official name (often beginning with École Nationale Supérieure), a shortened name, an acronym and, for the most famous, a nickname (and often a nickname for their students).

The engineering schools include :

To confuse things even more, schools with similar curricula as the Parisian ones have been established; thus there is, for instance, an École Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications de Bretagne in Brittany. They are generally less prestigious than their elder sisters. Other schools include:

The École Nationale de l'Aviation Civile (civilian air academy) also recruits taupins.

Biological and agricultural engineering

Business schools (Écoles de commerce)

French business schools are privately run, often by the regional chambers of commerce. Among the most prestigious are:

Military officer academies

While École Polytechnique is run by the Ministry of Defence and its French students are reserve officers in training, it is no longer a military academy and few of its students embrace a military career afterwards.

Political and administrative schools

These schools train students for certain civil service and other public-sector positions. However, many students who undertake studies in these schools do end up working in the private sector. It should be noted that some of the above engineering schools have special curricula for civil service training.

See also

External links

de:Grande école fr:Grande école ja:グランゼコール pl:Grandes Écoles


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