“Parlez-vous français?” If oui, and if you’re a rising senior looking at international options, applying to universities in the land of croissants and châteaus may be right for you. And why not? France has some of the best universities in the world: this year (2014/15), 41 French universities were included in the QS World Rankings, and 11 of them made the World Top 250, such as the world renowned institutions École Normale Supérieure and École Polytechnique ParisTech. What’s more, France has some of the lowest tuition rates in Europe and the world– fees typically average under $1,000 USD per year (for domestic AND international students!).
It’s probably smart to form a list of institutions you’re interested in and visit–after all, if you do decide to go to university in France, you will be making a commitment to living and learning 6+ hours (by plane) away from home, and, if you’re not a native speaker, you’ll be surrounded by a different language, which could make cultural and linguistic barriers more difficult. While French cities are as vibrant, bustling, and multicultural as any other international cities, should you choose a university settled in the French countryside, you could be in for a huge culture shock.
This especially goes for students who don’t speak French. A select few French institutions such as Science Po Menton actually teach mostly in English (if you don’t speak well, all of your core courses will be offered in English, and some electives will be in French), however, you’ll still be surrounded by French in your day-to-day dealings. Before you apply, make sure you are comfortable with that. If you don’t speak a lick of French, it would be wise to pick up a summer class or start taking some lessons on Duolingo. You’ll definitely be using the skills you pick up.
Accommodation is slightly different, too. At most US colleges, you’ll likely be staying in university housing (dorms) and living with a roommate. In France, most students live in government subsidized student flats that are not owned by the university. While the university housing service can help you find a flat, the university has no control over it. That also means that in a city like Paris where there are dozens of universities, your flatmates could be studying at all different universities. If you don’t want to live with flatmates, you can also choose a single flat. There are a lot more options, but the experience is certainly different than the one offered at most US institutions.
Let’s talk more about those lovely low fees, too. The average French university student reported that they spent about 5,300 EUR per year at university–including tuition, housing, food, and other necessities. Yes, there is no financial aid available to international students in France, and the FASFA isn’t applicable, but considering most US institutions are upwards of $30,000 USD per year, French tuition doesn’t look bad at all. And all that money you save on the essentials can go towards those spring break trips in Italy, of course!
Although you will be in a vastly different daily environment, and will be enjoying a very different culture, there is no better time to get out of your comfort zone than in your university years, and no better way to do that than go to France. With some of the best weather in Europe, some of the world’s most delicious foods (and home to one of the world’s most exquisite cuisines), and some of the world’s best art/literature/architecture/philosophy/you name it, you can experience some of your best years in the land of the iconic Eiffel Tower.