Going to school in the US and in France, a different experience

School - Education - France - US - Cultural differences - www.MyFrenchLife.orgThe school experience is part of everyone’s childhood. It contributes to shaping our personality, building our group of friends, and choosing our goals in life.

But the experience can be quite different depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on. Two countries like France and the US that appear to have a similar education model will in fact offer two very different journeys to children and teenagers.

“Passe le Bac d’abord!” (“Get your high school degree first!”)

Most French children go through Maternelle (kindergarten), Ecole primaire (Primary school), Collège (Junior high) and Lycée (High school). While grades in France go from 6e to Terminale, in the US they “go up”, from 6th grade to 12th grade.

School - Education - France - US - Cultural differences - www.MyFrenchLife.org

Most teenagers finish high school around the age of 17 or 18. French students will then take the Baccalauréat, the final exam that marks the end of your high school career, and determines whether you can go further in your studies.  This exam is a very big deal in France. It traditionally opens with the Philosophy exam and is widely covered by the media in June of every year.

In the US, it seems that the SATs taken by the students in high school are less important, while being admitted to a good college or university remains the goal to reach.

Going to college in the US, a real investment

Colleges and universities in France are usually very cheap, especially if you are being granted a scholarship. They are also easier to get in to, as long as you have your Baccalauréat and a decent record.

Private business or engineer schools are much more  costly, but many say that the education they provide isn’t much different to that offered by public universities, with their main advantage of a better network for the future professional career.

In America, parents save for many years so they can afford to send their kids to a good university, where the tuition cost itself can reach $50,000 per year.

School traditions

I found that in American high schools, extra-curricular activities are given much more credit and importance, especially when applying to college.

School - Education - France - US - Cultural differences - www.MyFrenchLife.org

In France, it seems that a stronger accent is put on the subjects studied, with languages being particularly prestigious.  It is also possible to choose a speciality much earlier than it is in the USA.

The American school and college system also has specific traditions that don’t exist in France, such as a high school prom, the graduation ceremony, or the experience of campus life.

Have you experience going to school or college in both France and the US? What other differences have you noticed? Share your experiences below!

Image credits:
1. Ecole – Salle de classe, by Marianna via Wikimedia Commons.
2. Harvard Campus © Jennifer Bourne
3. Greenhills 09, by Wervin 15 via FLickr.

About the Contributor

Jennifer Bourne

Born and raised in France, I became a New Yorker at heart when I moved to the US. Social media and online research are my specialties. Movies and TV series are my conversation starters. While I try to make the best out of my New York life, I stay in constant research of all things French. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

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  1. Judy MacMahon Feb 10, 2014 at 8:59 PM - Reply

    Hi Jennifer. Have you read Laurel Zuckerman’s ‘Sorbonne Confidential’ it’s a real (expat) insider view to the French education system. You can read more here! And I recommend the book as a great read. http://ow.ly/3h5ath.

  2. Sara Kermani Sep 24, 2020 at 3:28 AM - Reply

    I remember the French (early 1980s) elementary school cafeteria experience was like a true high end restaurant style dining experience. That, and coming from a Persian household has had an immense impression on the way I cook for my family. In the USA, mothers price themselves on not doing the cooking and taking shortcuts and I could never get into “School Spirit” when i attended school in California in the late 80’s and 90’s. It seemed like a fake cultural construct. Thankfully, school spirit took a backseat at the University.

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