High school in France: An local’s guide to the Lycée

Find out what high school (secondary school) in France is really like. From the subjects learnt, grading, the BAC exams in lycée and much more.
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High school in France, also known as lycée, is a critical stage in a student’s education. It typically begins at the age of 15 and lasts for three years, culminating in the highly competitive baccalauréat examination.

Lycée is considered the 5th cycle of the French school system after Middle school, and it is all about preparing French students for the future.

French School GradeU.S. EquivalentAge of Child
2ème10th grade15
1ère11th grade16
Terminale12th grade17

Applying to High school

The courses offered at the high school will be based on the type of high school diploma that the student is working towards. After the brèvet at the end of middle school, students must apply to one of 3 types of high schools:

Type of High SchoolLycée (High School) Degree
Lycée GeneralBAC General
Lycée TechniqueBAC Technique
Lycée ProfessionnelBEP (Brevet d’enseignement professionnel) /
CAP (certificat d’aptitude professionnel) /
BAC Professionnel

In the heart of the Latin Quarter and the 5th arrondissement sits two of the most famous schools in France, the Ecole Henri IV and Louis le Grand.

Ecole Louis le Grand was founded in the early 1560s by the Jesuits as the Collège de Clermont, was renamed in 1682 for the Sun King Louis XIV during Louis’s reign.

Ecole Henri IV was founded in the early 1796 after the French revolution, and was named King Henri IV in 1815. It is located on Rue Clovis, a street named after the 1st King of the Franks.

After the revolution, names of royalty were not popular. Both schools changed names several times, before finally being restored. Today they remain two best high schools in the country, offering scholarships and taking the best students from all across France.

Curriculum in Lycée General

The lycée curriculum is standardized across France, but there is flexibility for students to choose elective courses and pursue individual interests. Lycée classrooms are typically small, with an average of 12-20 students per class.

Lycée students are required to choose a “voie” or educational path, which determines the subjects they will study and their eventual career options. The variety of options for the General Lycée curriculum are:

  • Arts (history of the arts, theatre, plastic arts, performing arts, etc.)
  • Biology & ecology (only in agricultural high schools)
  • History-geography, geopolitics and political science
  • Humanities, literature and philosophy
  • Languages ​​and literature, foreign culture
  • Literature, Languages ​​and Cultures of Antiquity
  • Mathematics
  • Numerical and computer science
  • Chemistry and Physics
  • Life and earth sciences
  • Engineering Sciences
  • Economics and social sciences
  • Physical education, sports practices and culture

Students choose 3 specialties in 1er, and narrow it down to 2 specialties in términale.

Options for Lycée Technologie

The Lycée technologie used to be for students entering into the workplace after high school, but now orients students towards shorter 1-3 year post-secondary degrees such as the BTS (Brevet de Technicien Supérieur) or the BUT (national diploma).

As such, core subjects like  Mathematics, French, History-Geography, Philosophy, and Languages are still required. In addition, specialties in the Lycée Technology are offered such as:

  • Science and Technology of Management and Management (STMG): for human resources and communication, management and finance, marketing (marketing) or information and management systems.
  • Science and technology of design and applied arts (STD2A) for creative or artistic professions.
  • Sciences and technologies of industry and sustainable development (STI2D) in technological innovation, eco-design, and construction.
  • Laboratory Sciences and Technologies (STL) series in physical and chemical sciences in the laboratory and biotechnologies.
  • Baccalaureate in Health and Social Sciences and Technologies (ST2S) in the health and social sector.
  • Baccalaureate in agronomy and living sciences and technologies (STAV) for agricultural high school.
  • Baccalaureate in Science and Techniques of Theatre, Music and Dance (S2TMD)
  • Hotel technological baccalaureate called Sciences and Technologies of the Hotel and Restaurant Industry (STHR)

Options for Lycée Professional

The Lycée professional is for students who plan to get into the workplace without getting a university degree. Curriculum topics include:

  • Sustainable construction, building and public works trades
  • Businesses in administrative management, transport and logistics
  • Customer relationship professions
  • Jobs in the graphic arts and communication industries
  • Studies and digital modeling of buildings
  • Food trades
  • Beauty and well-being professions
  • Aeronautical professions
  • Hospitality and catering professions

Boarding Schools (Internats)

While boarding schools are common in the U.K., they are not common in France, especially in big cities. However, in the French countryside where the closest middle school or high school may not offer all the classes the student would like, boarding schools are available.

These schools are called internats, and offer a variety of options such as full days with meals, overnight stays, etc.

Field trips

High school students are also offered discounted trips in France and around the world, depending on the resources of the town they live in. Recent trips in high schools in Paris have been to China, India, New York, etc.

BAC exams

In order to graduate from lycée and earn a high school diploma, known as the baccalauréat, students must pass a series of exams.

Every June, students in their final year of high school sit “the BAC”. The BAC is similar to the American SAT, in that it is a nationwide exam that all French students must pass to move on to higher education.

While the U.S. SAT is usually one exam, the BAC is a series of exams over several days in a variety of subjects, depending on what the student has chosen.

The baccalauréat exam is divided into two parts: written exams and an oral exam. The written exams include a series of subject-specific tests based on the options chosen, as well as a core curriculum tests.

The oral exam, known as the “oral de bac,” is a 30-minute interview with a panel of teachers who assess the student’s knowledge, critical thinking skills, and ability to defend their opinions. Students who do not pass the baccalauréat exam on their first attempt may be eligible to retake the exam.

In addition to the baccalauréat exam, students who wish to enter a grande école must also pass a separate entrance exam, which is highly competitive and typically involves multiple rounds of testing.

The grandes écoles are considered to be the top tier of higher education in France, and admission is highly sought after by students and employers alike.

Learning philosophy

Unlike the U.S. or U.K., one of the subjects that is mandatory in France is philosophy. It is obligatory in the final year of high school, to emphasize “the learning of freedom through the exercise of reflection”.

The first exam in the BAC series of exams is always philosophy. Here is a recent question from that exam:

Est-il possible d’échapper au temps ? – Is it possible to escape time?

Essay Question on BAC exam


Lycée students are evaluated through a combination of exams, class participation, and written and oral assignments.

The official grading for the BAC shows at what point the student can earn a “mention”:

MentionEnglish TranslationGrade out of 20
Assez BienSomewhat good12.0 – 13.9
BienGood14.0 – 15.9
Très BienVery Good16.0 – 17.9
Très Bien avec félicitations du juryVery Good with congratulations from the jury18.0 – 20

There are also several technical diplomas for high school students who specialize in technical areas such as the Brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS) or Le brevet des métiers d’art (BMA), etc.


Unfortunately there are no graduation ceremonies at the end of high school in France. So no gown and gown or getting a diploma from the school principal.

This can be a shock to North Americans where schools celebrate this event at every level, from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, etc. However, it is still widely celebrated among family and friends.


If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about family life France. A bientôt!

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