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Grande école

For the film released in 2004, see Grande École (film).

The grandes écoles (literally in French "higher schools") of France are higher education establishments outside the main framework of the French university system. The grandes écoles select students for admission based chiefly on national ranking in competitive written and oral exams. In contrast, French public universities have a legal obligation to accept all candidates of the region who hold a baccalauréat. Usually candidates for the national exams have completed two years of dedicated preparatory classes, although this is not always the case. The grandes écoles do not have large student bodies (5,000 at the largest establishment; most have a few hundred students each year). They have traditionally produced many if not most of France's high-ranking civil servants, politicians and executives, as well as many scientists, writers and philosophers. Some grandes écoles concentrate on a single subject area, such as engineering, sciences or business.

Classification as grandes écoles


The phrase 'grandes écoles' originated in 1794 after the French revolution,[1] when the National Convention created the École Normale Supérieure, the mathematician Gaspard Monge and Lazare Carnot created the École Polytechnique and the abbot Henri Grégoire created the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers.

The model was probably the military academy at Mézières, of which Monge was an alumnus. The system of competitive entry was a means to open up higher education to more candidates based on merit.

Some schools included in the category have roots in the 17th and 18th century and are older than the phrase 'grande école' dated 1794. Actually, their forerunners were civil servant schools aimed at graduating mine supervisors (École des mines de Paris established in 1783), bridge and road engineers (École royale des ponts et chaussées established in 1747), shipbuilding engineers (École des ingénieurs-constructeurs des vaisseaux royaux established in 1741) and five military engineering academies and graduate schools of artillery established in the 17th century in France, such as the école de l'artillerie de Douai (established in 1697) and the école du génie de Mézière (established in 1748), wherein mathematics, chemistry and sciences were already a major part of the curriculum taught by first rank scientists such as Pierre-Simon de Laplace, Charles Étienne Louis Camus, Étienne Bézout, Sylvestre-François Lacroix, Siméon Denis Poisson, Gaspard Monge.

During the 19th century, a number of higher education Grandes écoles were established so as to support industry and commerce, including École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Étienne in 1816, Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris (today ESCP Europe, founded in 1819), École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures (École centrale de Paris) in 1829, École des arts industriels et des mines (École centrale de Lille) in 1854 and École centrale lyonnaise pour l'Industrie et le Commerce (École centrale de Lyon) in 1857.

During the latter part of the 19th century and in the 20th century, other Grandes écoles were established so as to further develop education in newer fields of sciences and technologies, including École nationale supérieure des télécommunications (1878), Hautes Études Commerciales (1881),[2] École supérieure d'électricité (1894), Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales, ESSEC (1907) and Supaero (1909).

Since then, France has had a unique dual higher education system, with small and middle-sized specialized graduate schools operating alongside the traditional university system. Some fields of study are nearly exclusive to one part of this dual system, such as medicine in universités only or architecture in écoles only.


There is no standard definition or official list of grandes écoles. Legislation related to grandes écoles generally uses the term "classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles". The term "grandes écoles" is not employed in the Code of Education, with the exception of a quotation in the social statistics. It generally employs the expression of "écoles supérieures" to indicate higher educational institutions that are not universities.

The Conférence des Grandes Écoles (Grandes Écoles Conference) is a non-profit organization (under the French law 1901). It uses a broad definition of the concept of "grandes écoles", which is not restricted to the school's selectivity or the prestige of the diploma. The members of CGE have not made an official or "accepted" list of "grandes écoles". For example, some engineering school members of the CGE cannot award state-recognized engineering degrees.

In practice, the "G16+" is a group of 23 grandes écoles which cooperate on work placement matters. Its membership includes government service, engineering, and business schools that are generally considered to be the most prestigious in their fields. Most of top French executives, in business, politics and the administration, graduated from ENA, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, ENS Ulm, Mines ParisTech and ENPC. Since the second half of the 20th century, business schools such as HEC and ESSEC have become more and more visible producing some highly prominent executives.

Methods of admission to the grandes écoles

Admission to the “grandes écoles” and “French universities” is very different. Public universities are obliged by law to admit any student having completed the baccalauréat who lives within the university's geographic area, including if the baccalauréat is not related to the field of study chosen by the student.

By contrast, to be admitted into one of the French "grandes écoles", most students study in a two-year preparatory program in one of the CPGE before taking a highly competitive national exam. The national exam includes written tests during several weeks that challenge the student on the intensive studies of the previous two years. Most of the students are nationally ranked according to their results.

Each year a certain percentage of students do not achieve a place in the ranking. The failing students are generally allowed to repeat the second year or will continue the studies in one of the local universities.

During the summer, the successful students from across the country sit a final selective exam (which may be in Paris or anywhere in France) for the school of choice. It usually consists of oral exams (1 hour/oral exam), during which individuals are given a problem to solve. After 20 minutes of preparation, the candidate presents the solution to a professor, who challenges the candidate on the answer and the assumptions being made. Afterward, candidates receive a final national ranking which allows each – if ranked – to finally apply to the grandes écoles of choice. The national ranking determines whether admission to the grandes écoles of choice.

Preparatory classes to the grandes écoles (CPGE)

Classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles (CPGE) or prépas (literally preparatory classes for the grandes écoles) are sometimes nicknamed the "royal way", because it is the way most students get into the most prestigious schools.

Taking the preparatory classes, either in literature, sciences or management (generally two or three years) are the traditional way that most students gain sufficient ranking to enter the most prestigious grandes écoles. Most of them are held in state lycees (high schools); some preparatory classes are private and expensive. Admission to preparatory classes is based on the student's academic report from previous work. Many students register in more than one class to maximize their chance of admission. Some of the classes are very selective and claim success in their students' gaining admission into the top schools.

The goal of preparatory classes is to prepare the student to match the academic level expected to pass the competitive recruitment examination of the main grandes écoles. Students who are not admitted to a grande école are given the option of repeating the second year of preparatory classes and attempting the exam the following year.

There are five main categories of prépas:

  • Science These prepare for the engineering schools and teach mathematics, physics, chemistry, and technology. They are broken down in sub-categories according to the emphasis of their dominant subject: they are mainly focused on mathematics and either physics (MP), physics and chemistry (PC), engineering science (PSI), technology (PT)
  • Lettres humanities preparatory class, essentially for the Écoles normales supérieures (students can also compete to enter business schools, but represent a small minority of those admitted). There are two main sub-categories: "Lettres", in either "A/L" (with Greek and/or Latin) or LSH (with geography), and B/L (with mathematics and social sciences).
  • Prépa économique et commerciale mathematics and economics. These prepare for the competitive entrance exams to the French business schools, and are subdivided between science (mathematics) and economics tracks - a third track also exists for students with a "technological", i.e. applied background.

Below is a quick description of two other ways to get into one of the "grandes écoles" :

Recruitment at baccalauréat level

Some schools are accessible after a selection based on the education results of the two last years of lycée and/or the baccalaureate results. For example there are the five schools of the INSA network, the three Universités de Technologie, the five engineering schools of the ENI group, and the twelve engineering schools of Polytech Group. It is also possible to join these schools in third year after a preparatory class or university and then the recruitment is based on a contest or the student results.

The top 5 of these Grandes Ecoles according to the French magazines l'Express and l'Etudiant are in 2010 : INSA - Lyon, UTC - Compiègne, INSA Toulouse, CPE Lyon and INSA Rouen.[3]

Most of them simply include the two-year preparatory class in their program while others like INSA Toulouse chose the LMD to start the specialization earlier. Most students choose to get their licence, master or doctorat close to home.

These years of preparation can be highly focused on the school program so students have a greater chance to succeed in the admission exam or contest in their school if there is one, but they are not prepared to take the examinations for other schools so their chance of success in these other examinations is low.

The advantage is that instead of studying simply to pass the admission exams, the student will study topics more targeted to their training and future specialization. The main advantage is that students choose their specialty more according to their interests and less according to their rank. (Indeed, the rank obtained after standard preparatory classes determines a list of schools with their specialties).

Some Grandes Ecoles, like some of the Lille Catholic University (ISEN, HEI, ICAM) have partnerships with CPGE in order to have their students follow the same program (Mathématiques supérieures) as that of the CPGE. Teachers come from the CPGE for the school's students. This prevents the students from specializing prematurely, so their program of study can still be a generalist engineer training. It also allow the student to follow a less stressfull and more open-minded formation.

The selection process during the first preparatory year is considered as less stressful than in a standard first preparatory class. Nevertheless, the selection percentage can be the same as during standard preparatory classes. These schools also recruit people who did not manage to follow the programs of CPGE.

Parallel admission

In many schools, there is also the possibility of “parallel admission” to grandes écoles. Parallel admissions are open to university students or students from other schools. The prépas years are not required to sit the entrance exams, provided that the candidates performed well in their previous studies. This method of recruitment is proving increasingly popular, with many students choosing to go first to university and then enroll in a Grande école. Some grandes écoles have dual diploma arrangement in which a student can switch establishments in the last year to receive diplomas from both establishments.


The grandes écoles can be classified into several broad categories:

Écoles normales supérieures

These schools train researchers, professors and may be a beginning for executive careers in public administration or business. Many French Nobel Prize and Fields Medal laureates were educated at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Lyon or Cachan.[4] There are three ENS:

  • the École Normale Supérieure of Paris, nicknamed "Ulm" from its address rue d'Ulm (Ulm Street) (sciences and humanities);
  • the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon in Lyon (sciences and humanities);[5]
  • the École Normale Supérieure de Cachan in Cachan, Paris (sciences, engineering, social sciences, economics and management, foreign languages).

These schools' entrance exams are extremely selective. They recruit mainly from taupes, biology prépas and khâgnes.

Until recently, unlike most other grandes écoles, the écoles normales supérieures (ENS) did not award specific diplomas. Students who completed their curriculum were entitled to be known as "ENS alumni" or "normaliens". The schools encourage their students to obtain university diplomas in partner institutions while providing extra classes and support. Many ENS students obtain more than one university diploma. 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 agreeing to serve France for ten years, including those spent as students.

List of graduate engineering schools (grandes écoles d'ingénieurs)

Engineering institutions

Many engineering schools recruit students after scientific preparatory class. Many schools have a lengthy official name (often beginning with école nationale supérieure or école supérieure), a shortened name, an acronym and often a nickname for both the schools and their students. Many are also joint graduate schools from several regional universities, sometimes in association with other international higher education networks.

Other Grandes ecoles with multiple specializations:

  • Supélec (ESE, formerly École supérieure d'électricité) in Gif-sur-Yvette, Rennes, and Metz, fusing with École centrale Paris starting from 2013.
  • the Institut Supérieur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace (ISAE) was formed from a merger of two institutes known as Supaéro and ENSICA) in Toulouse;
  • the "EPF – École d'ingénieurs" (EPF) known as "École Polytechnique Féminine", was only for women until 1994.
  • the Institut national des sciences appliquées (INSA) network is the largest engineer training group in France has grandes écoles of applied technology within regional universities: in Lyon, Rennes, Toulouse, Rouen, and Strasbourg.
  • the Universités de technologie (UT) group: Compiègne (UTC), Troyes (UTT); Belfort-Montbéliard (UTBM);
  • the "Ecole des Hautes Etudes d'Ingénieur" (HEI)in Lille;
  • the "Ecole Ingenieur du Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers" (EI CNAM)
  • the "Écoles Nationales Supérieures d'Ingénieurs" (ENSI), which encompasses approximately 40 engineering schools, including;
    • the École nationale supérieure d'électronique, d'électrotechnique, d'informatique, d'hydraulique, et de télécommunications (ENSEEIHT, nicknamed N7), considered the largest ENSI, with more than 400 graduates every year. It is one of the schools of the INP Toulouse;
    • the ENSICAEN);
    • the École nationale supérieure d'ingénieurs de Bourges (ENSIB);
    • the École nationale supérieure d'ingénieurs de Poitiers (ENSIP);
    • the École nationale supérieure d'ingénieurs de Limoges (ENSIL);
    • the École Nationale Supérieure d'Ingénieurs en Génie des Systèmes Industriels (ENSGSI);
    • the École Nationale Supérieure d'Ingénieurs en Informatique Automatique Mécanique Énergétique Électronique (ENSIAME);
  • the Institut polytechnique de Grenoble: includes the Grenoble Institute of Technology, and the Grenoble INP (formerly INPG) which has six departments (ENSIMAG, ENSE3, Phelma, ESISAR, Génie Industriel, Pagora);
  • the Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine: includes the EEIGM, the European School of Materials Sciences and Engineering, the École Nationale Supérieure d'Agronomie et des Industries Alimentaires (ENSAIA, the National School of Agronomy and Food Sciences), the École Nationale Supérieure d'Électricité et de Mécanique (ENSEM, the National School of Electricity and Mechanics), the École Nationale Supérieure de Géologie (ENSG, the National School of Geology), the École Nationale Supérieure en Génie des Systèmes Industriels (ENSGSI, the National School of Industrial Systems Engineering), the École Nationale Supérieure des Industries Chimiques (ENSIC, the National School of Chemical Industries), the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Nancy (ENSMN, the National School of Mines of Nancy) and the École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Nancy (ENSA Nancy, the School of Architecture));
  • the École Nationale Supérieure des Sciences Appliquées de de Technologie (ENSSAT);
  • the Ecole Nationale d'Ingénieurs (ENI) network is an engineer training group:
    • the ENIB);
    • the École Nationale d'Ingénieurs de Metz (ENIM);
    • the École Nationale d'Ingénieurs de Saint-Etienne (ENISE);
    • the École Nationale d'Ingénieurs de Tarbes (ENIT);
    • the École nationale d'ingénieurs du Val de Loire (ENIVL);
  • the Ecole Speciale de Mecanique et d'Electricite also called ESME Sudria in Paris since 1905
  • the École supérieure d'ingénieurs de recherche en matériaux et en InfoTronique (ESIREM).
    • the Centre des études supérieures industrielles (CESI);
  • the École Supérieure d'Ingénieurs de Luminy (ESIL);
  • the École Supérieure d'Ingénieurs de Rennes (ESIR);
  • the École centrale d'électronique (ECE Paris);

Grandes écoles of acturial sciences, statistics and econometrics:

  • the Institut de Science Financiere et d'Assurances (ISFA);
  • the Institut de Statistiques de l'Université de Paris (ISUP);

Grandes écoles of chemistry:

Grandes écoles of physics:

Grandes écoles of information technology and telecommunications:

  • the École nationale des sciences géographiques (ENSG - géomatique).

Grandes écoles of applied physics and technology or civil and industrial engineering:

  • the École Nationale des Travaux Publics de l'État (ENTPE, nicknamed TPE, civil engineering);
  • the École nationale supérieure de mécanique et d'aérotechnique (ENSMA, or ISAE-ENSMA, mechanical engineering), member of the ISAE group with the Institut Supérieur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace;
  • the École Supérieure des Techniques Aéronautiques et de Construction Automobile (ESTACA, mechanical engineering);
  • the École spéciale des travaux publics, du Bâtiment et de l'Industrie (ESTP, civil engineering);
  • the Ecole des ingenieurs de la Ville de Paris (EIVP) ;
  • the Institut Supérieur de Mécanique (SUPMECA) ;
  • the École Nationale Supérieure de Mécanique et des Microtechniques (ENSMM);
  • the Institut supérieur des matériaux et mécaniques avancées (ISMANS);
  • the École nationale supérieure de techniques avancées de Bretagne (ENSTA Bretagne, formerly ENSIETA), training French military engineers (25%) and civilian engineers (75%);
  • the École nationale de l'aviation civile (ENAC), civilian air academy, also recruits Taupins.

Grandes écoles of biology and natural sciences:

  • the other Écoles nationales supérieures d'agronomie (ENSA : Paris (APT), Montpellier (SupAgro), Rennes (AgrocampusOuest), Toulouse (ENSAT), Nancy (ENSAIA), Bordeaux (Sciences Agro));
  • the École nationale supérieure de géologie (ENSG), whose graduates are Géoliens;
  • the Ecole et Observatoire des Sciences de la Terre (EOST), whose graduates are Eostiens;
  • the École de Biologie Industrielle (EBI), whose graduates are Ebistes;
  • the École d'Ingénieur de Purpan (EIPurpan), formerly École Supérieure d'Agriculture de Purpan (ESAP);
  • the École nationale supérieure d'horticulture (ENSH)

Business schools (grandes écoles de commerce)

Most French business schools are partly privately run, often by the regional chambers of commerce.

French business schools are considered some of the best in Europe; in a Financial Times ranking, 6 out of the top 10 European Master in Management programs originate from French business schools (Excluding those originating from the UK).[6]

Political and social sciences grandes écoles

Sciences Po Paris has long trained the French and international political and economic elite: specifically three present and past French presidents (François Hollande, Jacques Chirac and François Mitterrand), thirteen past or present French prime ministers, twelve past or present foreign heads of state or government, and a former United Nations Secretary-General. An exceptionally large number of French politicians and virtually all diplomats have attended Sciences Po since its inception. The school delivers a generalist program centred around political sciences, history, sociology, economics but also communications, finance, business, urban policy, management, and journalism.

Grandes écoles without preparatory classes

Some schools are accessible after a competitive entrance exam directly after the baccalauréat. Often, students of these schools will progress to an administrative school.

These schools include:

Administrative schools

These schools train students for civil service and other public-sector positions. Some students in these schools do end up working in the private sector. All are very selective, the most selective being the École Nationale du Patrimoine, which enrolls about 1.5% of its candidates with a minimum of a master's degree. A large cohort of its alumni joins working in government and many have served in the cabinet. Most students follow a one year dedicated training course to progress to IEJs – Instituts d'études judiciaires (French law schools), IEPs – Instituts d'Études Politiques like Sciences Po - or other dedicated programs. Most of these schools are reserved for French or EEA citizens only:

  • ENA), whose alumni are known as énarques and generally take up high-level management positions in government, ministries, political parties and institutions;
  • magistrates;
  • École Nationale des impôts (Clermont-Ferrand)[7] (ENI), which translates as "National Tax School";
  • École nationale du patrimoine (ENP), which trains curators;
  • École nationale supérieure des sciences de l'information et des bibliothèques (Lyon) (ENSSIB), which trains library and information managers
  • École nationale supérieure de la police (high-ranking police officers (not to be confused which ENSOP, which trains middle-ranking officers);
  • [1]), trains managers of hospitals and other leaders and technical experts in public health and health care.

Military officer academies

While École Polytechnique, also known as X, is run by the French Ministry of Defence and its French students are reserve officers in training, it is no longer formally denominated as a military academy. A small number of its students progress to military careers, while between a fifth and a quarter progress to working for the State's technical administrations.

Influence in French culture

The top rated schools are truly elitist: the students of the top grandes écoles equal to around 1% of French higher education nationwide and fewer than 5,000 students graduate from them every year. This dozen of schools, which the French praise for being "généralistes", i.e. interdisciplinary, have traditionally produced most of France's high ranking civil servants, politicians and executives and many scientists and philosophers.

  • The top twelve engineering schools listed in the l'Etudiant magazine rankings only admitted a total of 2,100 students in their 2009 class.
  • The top three business schools (HEC – ESSEC – ESCP Europe ) 2012 incoming class has a total of less than 2000 students.[8]
  • Sciences Po Paris admitted around 1,200 students in its 2009 incoming class.[9]
  • Ecole Normales Paris (Ulm), Cachan and Lyon offer admission to only 340 students.
  • ENA's incoming class has 110 students, among which 30 foreigners.

This is a total of 5,250 students admitted to the most prestigious Grandes Ecoles in 2009, roughly the same as 2008. 5,250 represents roughly 1% (1.05%) of the number of people graduating from French high schools (500,000) each year.

Since 1975, the Comité d'études sur les formations d'ingénieurs studies the questions of training and job placement for engineers graduate grandes écoles.

See also


Other countries


External links

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