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L'Ecole Polytechnique

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L'Ecole Polytechnique

"Polytechnique" redirects here. For the film, see Polytechnique (film).
This article is about the French institution. For the Canadian engineering school, see École Polytechnique de Montréal. For the Swiss institute, see École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
École Polytechnique
Motto Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire
Motto in English For the Homeland, Science and Glory
Established 1794
Type Grande école, formally Military college
Ingénieur Général Yves Demay
Students 2,888[1]
Postgraduates 940 (500 polytechnic engineers, 439 masters)[1]
Doctoral students 572[1]

Palaiseau, France
48°42′47″N 2°12′32″E / 48.713°N 2.209°E / 48.713; 2.209Coordinates: 48°42′47″N 2°12′32″E / 48.713°N 2.209°E / 48.713; 2.209

Colours Red, Yellow
Nickname X
Affiliations ParisTech

The École Polytechnique (commonly known as Polytechnique or by the nickname X) is a French public institution of higher education and research, located in Palaiseau near Paris.

Polytechnique is considered to be one of the most selective and prestigious French grandes écoles,[2][3] and is renowned for its four-year[4] postgraduate « Ingénieur Polytechnicien » degree in science and engineering.[5] Known for its extremely competitive entrance examination, students are usually admitted after two years of highly-selective university-level preparation in mathematics and physics. In addition to the 2,000 polytechnic engineer students, the institution welcomes about 439 master students and 572 doctoral students, for a total enrollment of 2,900.[1]

Polytechnique was established in 1794 by the mathematician Gaspard Monge during the French Revolution,[6] and became a military academy under Napoleon I in 1804. Today, the institution still runs under the supervision of the French ministry of Defence. Initially located in the Latin Quarter of central Paris, the establishment was moved in 1976 to Palaiseau on the Saclay Plateau, southwest of Paris.[7]

Polytechnique is a founding member of ParisTech, a grouping of leading Paris-area engineering colleges established in 2007. Since 1995, Polytechnique has admitted a significant number of international applicants to its polytechnic engineer program,[8][9] and 20% of each cohort are foreign students.[10] Polytechnique is ranked among the best universities in the world. Among its alumni are two Nobel prizes winners, one Fields Medal, three Presidents of France and many CEOs of French and international companies.


Polytechnique has more than 200 years of tradition:[7]

  • 1794: The École centrale des travaux publics is founded by Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge, during the French Revolution, at the time of the National Convention. It is renamed "École polytechnique" one year later.
  • 1805: Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte settles the École on Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, in the Quartier Latin, in central Paris (48°50′52″N 2°20′57″E / 48.847747°N 2.349043°E / 48.847747; 2.349043 (1805 location)), as a military academy and gives its motto Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire (For the Nation, science and glory).

    • 1814: Students took part in the fights to defend Paris from the Sixth Coalition.
    • 1830: Fifty students participated the July Revolution.
    • 1914–1918: Students are mobilised and the school is transformed into a hospital. More than two hundred students were killed during the war.
    • 1939–1945: Polytechnique is moved away to Lyon in the free zone. More than four hundred polytechnicians died for France during the Second World War (Free French, French Resistance, Nazi camps).
    • 1970: The École becomes a state supported civilian institution, under the auspice of the Ministry of Defence.
    • 1972: Women are admitted to Polytechnique for the first time.
    • 1976: The École moves from Paris to Palaiseau (approx 25 km / 15 miles from Paris)
    • 1985: The École starts awarding Ph.D. degrees.
    • 1994: Celebration of the bicentennial chaired by President François Mitterrand
    • 2000: A new cursus is set in place, passing to 4 years and reforming the polytechnicien curriculum
    • 2005: The École starts delivering Master's degrees.
    • 2007: The École is a founding member of UniverSud Paris and ParisTech.


    Early locations

    In 1794, Polytechnique was initially hosted in the Palais Bourbon. One year later, it moved to Hôtel de Lassay, an hôtel particulier in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.

    Montagne Saint-Geneviève (1805-1976)

    Palaiseau (from 1976)

    A 15 km from Paris, the campus of the École Polytechnique is a privileged setting. It offers about 164 ha (including 120 ha of green space) teaching facilities, student housing, food services and hospitality and an exceptional range of sports facilities dedicated to the 4,600 people who live on a daily basis campus. The nearest RER station is Lozere(RER B) in zone 4.[11]

    Organization and administration

    Military status

    Polytechnique is a higher education establishment[12] run under the supervision of the French ministry of Defence, through the General Directorate for Armament[13] (administratively speaking, it is a national public establishment of an administrative character).

    Though no longer a military academy, it is headed by a general officer (as of 2012, by a General engineer of Armament, whereas previous directors were generally Army generals), and employs military personnel in executive, administrative and sport training positions.[14] Both male and female French undergraduate polytechniciens are regular officers[15] and have to go through a period of military training before the start of studies.[16][17]

    However, the military aspects of the school have lessened with time, with a reduced period of preliminary military training, and fewer and fewer students pursuing careers as military officers after leaving the school. On special occasions, such as the military parade on the Champs-Élysées on Bastille Day, the polytechniciens wear the 19th-century-style “grand uniform”, with the famous bicorne, or cocked hat, but students have not typically worn a uniform on campus since the elimination of the “internal uniform” in the mid-1980s.

    Activities and teaching staff

    Polytechnique has a combined undergraduate-graduate general engineering teaching curriculum as well as a graduate school. In addition to the faculty coming from its local laboratories, it employs many researchers and professors from other institutions, including other CNRS, INRIA and CEA laboratories as well as the École Normale Supérieure and nearby institutions such as the École Supérieure d'Électricité (Supélec), the Institut d'Optique or the Université Paris-Sud, creating a varied and high-level teaching environment.[18]

    Contrary to French public universities, the teaching staff at Polytechnique are not civil servants (fonctionnaires)[19] but contract employees operating under regulations different from those governing university professors. An originality of Polytechnique is that in addition to full-time teaching staff (exercice complet), who do research at the École in addition to a full teaching service, there are partial-time teaching staff (exercice incomplet) who do not do research on behalf of the École and carry only a partial teaching load.[20] Part-time teaching staff are often recruited from research institutions (CNRS, CEA, INRIA...) operating inside the École campus, in the Paris region, or even sometimes elsewhere in France.

    Academic Profile

    The Polytechnicien studies


    The Polytechnicien program is broader than typical French university studies, often including topics beyond one's specialty. This focus on breadth rather than depth has been hotly debated over the years, but it nevertheless forms a characteristic of the Polytechnicien program. It is particularly useful for cross fertilization purposes between different fields, as graduates from Polytechnique most often have abilities in several disciplines; for example, they must follow at least six different topics during their second year. Humanities and sports are also mandatory parts of the curriculum, adding to the differences with most French university programs.


    The admission to Polytechnique in the polytechnicien cycle is made through a very selective entrance examination, and requires at least two years of preparation after high school in classes préparatoires. Admission includes a week of written examinations during the spring followed by oral examinations that are handled in batches (séries) over the summer.[21]

    About 400 French students are admitted each year. Foreign students, having followed a classe préparatoire curriculum (generally, French residents or students from former French colonies in Africa) can also enter through the same competitive exam (they are known as “EV1”). Foreign students can also apply through a “second track” (“EV2”) following undergraduate studies. In total, there are about 100 foreign students each year and 64 nationalities are represented.[10] Some foreign students come for a single year from other top institutions in Europe and the United States.[22]


    Four years of study are required for the engineering degree:[23] one year of military service and scientific "common trunk" (respectively 8 months and 4 months), one year of multidisciplinary studies, and one year of specialized studies (“majors”). With the X2000 reform, a fourth year of studies, in another institution than Polytechnique, was introduced.

    First year

    The curriculum begins with 8 months during which French students undergo civilian or military service. In the past, military service lasted 12 months and was compulsory for all French students; the suppression of the draft in France made this requirement of Polytechnique somewhat anachronistic, and the service was recast as a period of “human and military formation”. All the French students spend one month together in La Courtine in a military training center. By the end of this month, they are assigned either to a civilian service or to the Army, Navy, Air Force or Gendarmerie. Students who are assigned to a military service complete a two-month military training in French officer schools such as Saint-Cyr or École Navale. Finally, they are spread out over a wide range of units for a five-month assignment to a French military unit (which can include, but is not limited to, infantry and artillery regiments, naval ships and air bases).[24] While French students stay under military status during their studies at Polytechnique, and participate in a variety of ceremonies and other military events, for example national ceremonies, such as those of Bastille Day or anniversaries of the armistices of the World Wars, they do not undergo military training per se after having completed their service in the first year.[24] They receive at the end of the first year the full dress uniform, which comprises black trousers with a red strip (a skirt for females), a coat with brass buttons and a belt, a small sword and a cocked hat (officially called a bicorne).

    Francophone foreign students do a civilian service. Civilian service can, for instance, consist of being an assistant in a high school in a disadvantaged French suburb.

    Then, a four-month period begins in which all students take the same five courses: Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science and Economics.

    Second year

    The second year is a year of multidisciplinary studies. The set of disciplines spans most areas of science (mathematics, applied mathematics, mechanics, computing science, biology, physics, chemistry, economics) and some areas in the humanities (foreign languages, general humanities...). Students have to choose 8 courses in at least 6 different disciplines.

    Third year

    In the third year, students have to choose an in-depth program (programme d'approfondissement), which often focuses on a discipline or sometimes an interdisciplinary subject. This year is ended by a research internship (3 months to 5 months).

    Fourth year

    The fourth year is the beginning of more specialized studies: students not entering a Corps de l'État must join either a Master's program, a doctorate program, another ParisTech college or institute such as the École des Mines de Paris or ENSAE, or a specialization institute such as Supaéro in Toulouse or ENSPM in Rueil-Malmaison. The reason for this is that the generic education given at Polytechnique is more focused on developing thinking skills than preparing for the transition to an actual engineering occupation, which requires further technical education. Increasingly, students chose to spend their fourth year studying in a foreign university. About a quarter of 3rd year students chose this path in 2008. American universities are a favourite, but the École Polytechnique has agreements with universities in a large set of countries.

    Class rank and career path

    Grades of the second year of the curriculum are used to rank the students. Traditionally, this exit ranking of the school had a very high importance, and some peculiarities of the organizations of studies and grading can be traced to the need for a fair playing ground between students.

    For French nationals, the ranking is actually part of a government recruitment program: a certain number of seats in civil or military Corps, including elite civil servant Corps such as the Corps des Mines, are open to the student body each year. At some point during their course of study, students specify a list of Corps that they would like to enter in order of preference, and they are enrolled into the highest one according to their ranking. The next stepping stone for Polytechnique graduates, or polytechniciens, on this path is to enter one of four technical civil service training schools: the École des Mines, the École des Ponts et Chaussées, the ENST, or the ENSAE, thus joining one of the civil service bodies known as the grands corps techniques de l'État. Those who pursue this path are known as X-Mines, X-Ponts, X-Télécoms and X-INSEE, respectively, with the X prefix, for Polytechnique, identifying them as particularly elite members of their corps.

    Since the X2000 reform, the importance of the ranking has lessened. Except for the Corps curricula, universities and schools where the Polytechniciens complete their educations now base their acceptance decisions on transcripts of all grades.

    Tuition and financial obligations

    For French nationals, tuition is free as long as the full curriculum is completed, and a salary is received throughout the school years at the level of a reserve officer in training. French students, through the student board (Caisse des élèves or Kès), redistribute some of their salary to foreign students, most of whom also benefit from grants.

    There is no particular financial obligation for students following the curriculum, and then entering an application school or graduate program that Polytechnique approves of. However, French students who choose to enter a civilian or military corps after Polytechnique are expected to complete 10 years of public service following their admission to the school (i.e. their 3 years at school count towards their time of service). If a student enters a Corps but does not fulfill those 10 years of public service (e.g. resigns from his or her Corps), the tuition fees are due to the school. Sometimes, when an alumnus quits a Corps to join a private company, that company will pay for the tuition fees which are then called the pantoufle (slipper).

    The master program

    Polytechnique organizes various Master's programs, by itself or in association with other schools and universities (in the Paris region, École Normale Supérieure, Université Paris-Sud, Université Paris VI, École Supérieure d'Électricité (Supélec), other member institutions of ParisTech, Toulouse area and foreign partner universities) on a wide variety of topics. Access to those programs is not restricted to polytechniciens, although they are invited to join them and they make up one half of the students. The following Master's programmes are offered:

    • Applied Mathematics (Mathematics and Modelling – Probability Theory and Finance – Probability Theory and Aleatory Models)
    • Chemistry (Molecular Chemistry)
    • Complex Information Systems (Design and Management of Complex Information Systems)
    • Computer Science (Fundamental Computer Science)
    • Economics (Quantitative Economics & Finance [M1] – Economic Analysis and Policy – Economics of Energy, Environment, Sustainable Development - Economics of Markets and Organizations)
    • Mathematics (Analysis, Arithmetic and Geometry)
    • Mechanics (Multiscales and Multiphysics Modeling of Materials and Structures(M4S) – Materials and Structural Mechanics - Sustainable building Materials – Fluid Mechanics: fundamentals and applications – Oceans, Atmosphere, Climate, Space Observations)
    • Molecular and Cellular Biology (Structural and Functional Engineering of Biomolecules)
    • Physics and Applications (Fundamental Concepts in Physics: Theoretical, Quantum, Solid State, Liquid & Soft Matter Physics - Optics, Matter and Plasmas – Materials Science and Nano-Objects – Fusion Sciences - Quantum Devices - Nanosciences - High Energy Physics)
    • Sciences, Technologies, Society (Project, Innovation, Conception – Network Industry and Digital Economy - LoPHiSS/Science of Cognition & Complex Systems)

    and Polytechnique takes part in two degrees awarded by ParisTech:

    • Nuclear Energy
    • Transportation and Sustainable Development: Master ParisTech – Fondation Renault

    About 50% of Master's students come from abroad.

    The doctoral program

    The school also has a doctoral program open to students with a master's degree or equivalent.[25] Doctoral students generally work in the laboratories of the school; they may also work in external institutes or establishments that cannot, or will not, grant doctorates.

    About 35% of doctoral students come from abroad.

    Research centers

    Polytechnique has many research laboratories operating in various scientific fields (physics, mathematics, computer science, economics, chemistry, biology, etc.), most operated in association with national scientific institutions such as CNRS, CEA, or also INRIA.


    Student life

    Students are represented by a board of 15 students otherwise called "Kes", elected in December by promoting each newly arrived on campus. Kes manages the relationships with teachers, management, alumni and partners ParisTech. It publishes the weekly students, Infokes and animates the life of promotions during the year. Students benefit from a great freedom of initiative to initiate cultural, artistic, social or sporting associations over a hundred students, called "binets."

    Campus life is punctuated and cultural events, performances, lectures, exhibitions and events of all kinds. These student demonstrations are usually held in the evening and are open to the public. The AMIX, Association of Master's students of the École Polytechnique. X'Doc brings together students from the graduate school of the École Polytechnique.[26]

    Henri Becquerel (X1872), Nobel Prize in Physics 1903.
    André Citroën (X1898), founder of Citroën.

    Notable alumni and academics

    Many Polytechnique graduates occupy prominent positions in government, industry, and research in France. Among its alumni are two Nobel prizes winners, three Presidents of France and many CEOs of French and international companies. Of the fifty most important and best-performing corporate enterprises in France, nearly half are headed by a Polytechnicien.[27]

    International rankings

    In international rankings, Polytechnique is often placed among the best universities of the world.

    The Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai Rankings, places Polytechnique in 2010 at 201-300 worldwide, and 8-13 in France.

    The THE-QS World University Rankings and its successor QS World University Rankings[28] (From 2010 two separate rankings are produced by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings) have placed Polytechnique 36th in the 2011 rankings, #2 among French institutions, behind École Normale Supérieure.

    Year Rank (Change)
    2005 10
    2006 37 (Decrease 27)
    2007 28 (Increase 9)
    2008 34 (Decrease 6)
    2009 36 (Decrease 2)
    2010 36 (Steady 0)

    The Polytechnique ranking in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings is 39th in 2011 and #1 among French institutions.[29]

    The International Professional Ranking of Higher Education Institutions, published by the École des Mines de Paris, which looks at the education of the Fortune 500 CEOs, ranks Polytechnique 7th in the world in its 2011 ranking (1st being Harvard University), #2 among French institutions behind HEC Paris.[30]

    Year Rank (Change)
    2007 4 (Steady 0)
    2008 15 (Decrease 11)
    2009 14 (Increase 1)
    2010 12 (Increase 2)
    2011 7 (Increase 5)

    Polytechnique is known for its extremely competitive entrance exam.[31] It is the most selective French engineering school.[32] In rankings by French newspapers, Polytechnique almost always secures first place among French institutions.[33] According to salary surveys its graduates are among the highest paid of all French graduates.[34]

    Notes and references


    • "In France, the Heads No Longer Roll", New York Times, Sunday, 17 February 2008

    See also

    External links

    • Official website
    • Online alumni community (French)
    • Ecole Polytechnique Scholars Program, description of the École Polytechnique on Caltech website

    Template:Conférence des Grandes Écoles Template:Établissement public à caractère administratif Template:ParisTech

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