higher education in france

Classes Préparatoires : Introduction

Classes Préparatoires, what are they?

Ahhhh, “classes préparatoires” (also known as “prépa” in French)! It’s the path to higher education that is presented to us by our teachers as the path of excellence, but also the path of difficulty and hard work. But what are CPGEs really? What is the purpose of prépa?

A “classe préparatoire” is actually a two-year preparatory course for entrance exams to higher education institutions such as engineering schools, business schools, or the ENS (École Normale Supérieure).

The entrance exams take place at the end of the two years and are completely separate from continuous assessment.

Glossary of “Classe Préparatoire” terms:

  • Khûber: To retake your second year in order to retry the entrance exam if you’re not satisfied with the result.
  • Bicarrer: To retake your second year after already having repeated it… oops! (It’s not uncommon…)

It is often said that “prépa” is a continuation of high school as it covers the same subjects but in greater depth.

Classes Préparatoires, what are the possible study formats?

As a post-high school program, there are several paths within Classes Préparatoires that are adapted to different high school diplomas:

Economic and Commercial prépas prepare students for entrance exams to business schools and the ENS (École Normale Supérieure):

  • Prépa ECE for students with a Bac ES (Economics and Social Sciences)
  • Prépa ECS for students with a Bac S (Sciences)
  • Prépa ECT for students with a technological Bac
  • Scientific prépas prepare students for entrance exams to engineering schools, the ENS, and national agricultural or veterinary schools:
  • 7 paths in the first year: Prépa MPSI, Prépa PCSI, Prépa PTSI, Prépa BCPST, Prépa TSI, Prépa TPC, Prépa TB
  • 8 paths in the second year: Prépa MP, Prépa PC, Prépa PSI, Prépa PT, Prépa BCPST, Prépa TSI, Prépa TPC, Prépa TB
  • One specific path: Classe Préparatoire à l’ENS Cachan
  • Literary prépas prepare students for entrance exams to the ENS, the École Nationale des Chartes, business schools, and institutes of political studies:
    • Prépa A/L, also known as “Lettres” or “Kâgne”
    • Prépa B/L, also known as “Lettres et Sciences Sociales,” which combines literature with mathematics

It is often said that “prépa” is one of the most challenging paths after high school.

That is why bridges have been established between “prépa” and universities. If after one or two years, you lose interest in the program or if your exam results are not satisfactory and you do not want to retake the year, you can transfer to a university without starting from the beginning. A certificate is issued by the headmaster of the “prépa,” which indicates the validated ECTS credits that allow you to enter the university at the undergraduate level (licence).

Classes Préparatoires, where are these institutions located in France?

“Classes Préparatoires” are a specific feature of the French education system. They are always associated with a high school, so they are truly a continuation of the high school experience.

Most CPGEs are located in France and in various departments. There are 478 high schools offering prépas in France, so you can usually find a prépa not too far from your city. There are only two prépas located abroad: one at the French High School in Vienna (Austria) and one at the French High School in Rabat (Morocco).

There are three major types of CPGEs, similar to high schools:

  • Public CPGEs, located in public high schools: These are tuition-free, but they are highly selective, especially if they are among the top-ranked ones.
  • Semi-private CPGEs, located in semi-private high schools: These CPGEs require payment of tuition fees.
  • Private CPGEs, either independent institutions or integrated into private high schools: These are privately run and can be quite expensive. However, these schools often have excellent results, although good results are not guaranteed solely based on attending a private CPGE.

Classes Préparatoires, how does the training process work?

Classes Préparatoires, registration and admission?

The “classe préparatoire” program is highly selective based on academic records.

To enter a “classe préparatoire,” you need to have “good grades.” The grades that are considered are usually from your final year of high school and sometimes from the previous years as well. Of course, your overall average is taken into account to assess your eligibility for a “prépa,” but the focus is also on the main subjects related to your chosen path (economics, mathematics, and languages for ECE, or physics, biology, and mathematics for scientific paths, for example).

But what does it mean to have a good average to be accepted into a “classe préparatoire”? It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have perfect scores across the board. Obviously, the better your grades, the better the “prépa” you can get into. You can enter a reputable “prépa” with an average of 13-14, for example.

Rankings of “prépas” can be found on several websites such as l’Étudiant or Le Figaro. These rankings are based on the schools in which the students from these “prépas” are admitted.

Admission to a “classe préparatoire” does not happen immediately after choosing your high school program. If you are enrolled in a technological high school program, you are not excluded from entering a “prépa.” There is a path for every high school diploma.

To enroll in a “classe préparatoire,” you simply need to register through Parcoursup (the French higher education application platform). You research the “prépa” that interests you the most and its selection criteria (you can even contact someone who attended that “prépa” for advice), and then you include it in your preferences. You can aim high in your choices of “prépas,” but don’t hesitate to have a backup option, a plan B, in which you are almost certain of being accepted.

Classes Préparatoires, what programs are offered?

First of all, what do you learn? What do you do in a “prépa”? The subjects are more or less the same as those in your final year of high school, regardless of whether you choose a literary, economic, or scientific path. The difference with high school lies in the fact that the courses are much more comprehensive.

It is also said that the workload in a “prépa” is intense due to the numerous deadlines imposed, particularly in terms of “kholles” and “DS” (contrôles):

  • First, what is a “khôlle”?

It’s a 20-minute oral examination in each subject (yes, in all subjects, including mathematics). Basically, in a “classe préparatoire,” your week is organized in such a way that every two weeks, you have “kholles” in all your subjects. So, for example, if you are in ECE (Economic and Commercial Preparatory Class), one week you might have French, philosophy, mathematics, and the following week economics, a second foreign language, and general culture. You have a “kholle” every two days. Just for this, there is already a lot of work to do.

  • What is the purpose of “kholles”?

Firstly, they help you revise because you know that you have to present yourself to your “kholleur” (examiner) knowing your lessons. And it also trains you for the exams. For example, in mathematics, you will do exercises from previous years’ exams.

Furthermore, every week, you have at least one “DS” (contrôle), which is a written test. It’s similar to the entrance exams, where you have to bring your pencil case and no calculator (yes, calculators are not allowed in ECE, ECS, and BL). So, each week, in addition to the “kholles,” you will have to study for your tests, which often take place at the end of the week.

  • Why so many deadlines?

You need to be ready for the entrance exams and know everything. The entrance exams cover the entire two years of your “prépa.”

Classes Préparatoires, is it suitable for me?

I don’t know if we can create a typical profile of a student in a “prépa,” but students come from diverse religious and socio-economic backgrounds. There are also many scholarship recipients.

All of this allows us to be open to others and to have a broad-mindedness and cultural openness.

Classes Préparatoires, what to do next?

Classes Préparatoires, what is the average salary after completing the program?

Classes Préparatoires are designed to prepare students for entrance exams rather than for immediate entry into the workforce. Therefore, there isn’t a specific average salary associated with completing the program.

Classes Préparatoires, what career prospects and professions can you pursue after completing the program?

After successfully passing your entrance exams, you will have access to one or more prestigious Grandes Écoles (the better your results, the more choices you will have).

The career prospects after completing a “prépa” are quite diverse:

  • Institutes of Political Studies (IEP)
  • Universities
  • Top Business Schools
  • Top Engineering Schools

Once you are in a school, the workload is generally less intense, and that’s when you truly start your student life. In school, you will have less theoretical courses compared to what you experienced during the “prépa,” and they will seem more applicable to real life. You may face the dilemma of wondering how some concepts you learned, such as the derivative of ln(x) being 1/x, will be useful in everyday situations like buying a baguette.

You will also have a foot in the real world, meaning you will start doing internships, which will help you figure out which career or field you truly want to pursue. Once you gain work experience, you will have a better understanding of the role you want to play in the professional world. Don’t worry, internships can be quite beneficial.

Classes Préparatoires, what higher education options are available after completing the program?

Upon completing your studies at a Grandes Écoles (whether in engineering or business), you will typically end with a final internship that marks your entry into the workforce. With these degrees, you can generally work in various fields, which is why they are considered fairly broad and versatile.

In terms of starting salaries, they vary depending on the chosen field and the specific school you attended. However, in general, graduates obtain good salaries. Furthermore, on average, six months after graduation, 87% of graduates have found employment, with 8 out of 10 cases resulting in a permanent contract (CDI).

In conclusion, the “prépa” experience is quite valuable. You may wonder why you should go through a “prépa” or what its purpose is, but you will come to appreciate the rigorous work ethic you develop during this period. Additionally, you will make lifelong friends along the way.