A degree system harmonised across the European Union

Types of courses

In the university system, courses are usually organized into modules. Some of these are mandatory and some are elective. To earn a degree, students must complete a certain number of modules. Once a module has been completed, it counts toward a degree.

French university courses are of two basic types :

  • Lecture courses (known as cours magistral) are held in halls seating from 100 to 500 students. The professor presents the subject, and the students take notes. Many professors prepare and distribute course outlines or lecture notes to help students prepare for exams. Attendance is not checked, but is certainly recommended so that you can keep up with the material.
  • Study sections (known as travaux dirigés (TD) or travaux pratiques (TP)) consist of small groups of students. In these seminar-style sections, students apply and deepen their understanding of the material presented in the lecture hall. Attendance is mandatory. Study sections at grandes écoles are based heavily on projects and case studies.

Assessing student performance

Grades are given out based on:

  • Short tests given throughout the semester that allow professors to check what students have learned in each unit;
  • Examinations, which cover all of the material presented during the semester and are given at the end of each semester, generally just before the February break and again in June, before the summer break. 


The French academic system uses a 0 to 20 grading system with 0 being the worst and 20 being the best.  

Earning academic credit

French higher education employs the "LMD system"—licence, master, doctorate—now used throughout the European Union. The system is designed to facilitate student mobility within Europe and around the world.

In Europe, credits earned for academic study are awarded under the European Credit Transfer
System (ECTS)
. A full year of academic work represents 60 ECTS credits.

Licence: 6 semesters (3 years) completed and 180 ECTS credits earned

Master: 4 more semesters completed and 120 additional ECTS credits, for a total of 5 years of study and 300 ECTS credits earned

Doctorate: Usually obtained after 16 semesters (8 years)