Since I’m pretty sure that you are ALL avid readers of the blog, then it’s safe to assume that you’ve all already read the first part of last week’s Back to School/la Rentrée article. The one that focuses on the big differences between middle school and high school in this land of cheese vs the land of burgers? If your memory needs jogged or you’re a shameful fair weathered fan of the blog and missed out on last week’s article, don’t tell me about it, just go check out the first part here

To finish up last weeks discussion, you’ve got another fabulous video with my most recent guest star Apolline. Not only is Apo one of those rare breeds of Parisian’s that are actually kind to strangers, she’s also our expert on the school system in France. Since she’s just finishing up her masters and is still taking advantage of the student life we all wish we still had, she gives lots of insights on how the college system works in France and some of the differences she sees with the US system.

It’s my second video in French guys (ahhh 😎 ), so watch out world. But I have OF COURSE included English subtitles for all those non francophones dying to get the scoop.

As promised, we also did answer the tough question of which country does it better when it comes to school. You can check out the video above or scroll on to get some of the juicy details in the article! 

TUITION COST 

One of the biggest topics of convo for graduating seniors at this time of year is what college they will be attending after the word high school is replaced with FREEDOM. There is an abundance of important criteria to take into account when choosing a school no matter where you live (party scene being numero uno), but one big discussion that doesn’t necessarily take on the same seriousness in France as it does in US of A, is the tuition cost. No matter where you go in the states, whether it’s community college in your hometown and you’re crashing with your parents, public school out of state with a box sized dorm room, or a fancy-shmancy private school in state, the cost of tuition comes up at some point. When the average cost for higher education is between $9,970- $34,740 A YEAR*, it’s pretty normal for the hot topics around the dinner table to be student loans, your parent’s ability to financially help, a part-time job on campus and affordable housing. 

This could be 99% of any of the college students I knew. The struggle bus is real.

This isn’t to say that higher education is free in France. Like the US, there are different choices ranging from the most expensive “business schools” to the least expensive public universities and lots of options in between. However, while the high end of tuition for business schools can range in the $10- $20,000 a year, public colleges’ tuitions are around $500 a year. And if you can’t afford that, then it’s dropped down to $5 bucks for the year. And you wanna know the coolest thing about France? Their top ranked schools aren’t necessarily the most expensive schools you can apply for. They are the affordable public schools. You know, the ones that are accessible to hardworking students, no matter how beefy your ‘rents bank account is. 😮

Of course, no system is perfect, but I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that France is #winning the higher education battle. I would love to see my fellow Americans push to ensure that education isn’t a privilege reserved for the wealthy, or for those able to cripple themselves in student loans, but a necessity for all our future generations to become successful, sustainable adults. #KateforPresident2020

DORM LIFE 

One of the most memorable things about starting college is getting assigned that random AF roommate and getting settled into the smallest living space of your life (unless you grew up in New York City of course). Shoutout to Meggo my Eggo, my freshman roommate and one of my best friends to this day. I can still remember adding her as a friend on Facebook and asking if she wanted to color coordinate our room decorations together! #coolkid. In any case, the experience of moving in, late night pizza parties, Greys Anatomy showing, getting to know all the girls on the floor (and the guys on the floor below ;)) and just being a solid group of freshman going through the big transition year together is a pretty memorable part of college life. And it’s one that most French students don’t experience.

The idea of campus life and most specifically dorm life is really different in France. First off, it’s way, wayyyyy more common in France to go to college close to where you live. Which means that you end up staying with your parents because nobody got time to pay rent when your parents are 5 minutes away. Quick Tip: DO NOT be surprised if you meet a lot of Frenchies in their 20’s still living at home. This is not a sign of little to no ambition ladies. I repeat, this should be not be taken in an American context.

When the French do decide to go to college far from home, then of course, they will need to choose housing. A lot of the universities have a residence hall, but it’s by no means an obligation to live there like many of US colleges and most students just rent an apartment near campus. If they decide to rent in the residence hall, they won’t exactly have the same welcome committee or group feeling that they try to create in American dorms for that first year. And forget the random roommate thing. That’s just way too hardcore for the French.

INTERNSHIP

“Internship” was not exactly a foreign word for me before moving to France. I knew people who did some short, unpaid internships over the summer or during the school year to get some experience in a specific field. However, most of the students I knew didn’t exactly have time for internships because they were already working part time jobs to contribute to living costs. Living costs meaning rent, groceries and 1 dollar shots on Thursday nights. So while I was going to school to work in an international business environment, I was babysitting the sweetest twin girls 25 hours a week because that’s where I could make the most amount of money. I wasn’t worried about applying for jobs in my field later without any relevant work experience because I figured any work experience showed transversal skills I could use later on in my field.  

In France, internships are required in almost all fields of study in order to get your diploma. The earlier you are in your studies, the shorter the internship requirements will be, but by your last year, most students are required to find a 6 month internship. These internships are uber competitive and you need to apply to numerous opportunities in order to guarantee something. Legally, any internship over 3 months have to be paid in France. While the minimum wage for an intern is around $500 a month, it can go as high as $1400 in large companies. It’s not usually enough money to live on and considering you’re working a 36 hour work week, it’s not a lot. BUT it does guarantee that you get your diploma and that you leave school with a real understanding of what type of job you will be slaving away for the next 45 years until retirement!

ALTERNANCE

Alternance is probably my most favorite work concept in France. Apolline is currently in an “alternance” position and it sounds GOLDEN. You sign a year long contract with the company and are considered a normal employee like anyone else. This is a really different status than an intern because interns can only work 6 months maximum and they aren’t considered a full employee with benefits, vacation time etc… If you get an alternance position, the company also pays for your school tuition along with your salary, which can save A LOT of money if you decide to go to an expensive school. Then you just split your time between school classes and the office. So Apolline goes to classes Monday and Tuesday and she works Wednesday through Friday. #livingherbestlife

I’ve never heard of anything like this in the states, but I think we should adopt this ASAP. It seems like a huge win win for everyone. Students acquire work experience, get a solid package and a clearer understanding if they are choosing the right career path for them. Companies get a great stream of solid recruitment, technically way cheaper labor since the salaries don’t compare to a full time junior position salary and some pretty good tax breaks. Smiles for everyone!

WHO DOES IT BETTER?

After exploring all the differences from elementary school to college, it’s time for that trickster of a question… who does it better? US schools or La French? Is one system significantly better than the other? I’m going to have to say that neither one does it better than another. The systems are very different depending on your personality, you’ll probably thrive in one better than another. But when it comes to the world ranking of countries by education, France and the US are pretty close and neither, I might add, is top dog. Those prizes go to places like Singapore and the Nordic countries. Safe to say that while the French and Americans have pretty different ways of educating future generations, you can’t go too wrong in either one.

We’re all winners tonight folks.

 If any difference surprised you more than others or any Franco-Americans/ expats out there that want to add a major one I forgot, don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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