Difference Between French and American Education System

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The French and American education systems are very distinct from each other. For example, in France, students will start to narrow their field of study in high school, whereas American students only choose a major once they’re in university.

Likewise, you’ll find no elaborate sports facilities at French high schools where the emphasis is on academics and sports are not a huge part of school life, unlike in America.

However, there are much more differences than only these few.

Different Levels and Grading Systems

In France, it’s common for children to go to pre-school (maternelle) from the ages of 3-5, although children may start in daycare at the age of two. After pre-school, they will go on to primary school (école élémentaire) for the next five years. Then, they will go to middle school (collège) for four years and then to high school (lycée) for three years. In lycée, students will prepare for an exam called baccalauréat, an important and extensive exam that will determine if they can go on to higher education. There are three categories of baccalauréat, depending on the field of work the student intends to enter.

In the U.S., children start going to pre-school as early as two years of age. They start kindergarten at age five, which is usually a year, and then on to elementary school from 1st to 6th grade. Then they start junior high school from 7th to 8th grade, and finally, they enter high school from 9th to 12th grade. Throughout junior and senior years (11th and 12th grades), American students prepare for the SAT or ACT, general standardized tests widely used as markers for college entrance. American students only choose a field of study once they enter university, unlike French students who choose it in high school.

Grading systems also vary drastically. For example, while French teachers grade students from 0-20, American teachers use a 0-100 scale or a letter scale from A-F. For example, at our essay writing service, we always target A grades.

School Hours and Holidays

Typically the American school day starts earlier, but the French school day is longer. American schools operate from Monday to Friday and typically start at 7:30am and end around 2:15pm. In France, the school day starts at 8:30am and ends at 4:30pm; however, on Wednesdays, the school day ends at midday. Some schools in France also have classes on Saturday mornings.

Breaks in U.S. and France

At lunch in the U.S., students can eat a hot meal in the school cafeteria; however, many students will opt to eat junk food as available in vending machines. In France, the lunch break is an hour-long, and most students eat a full hot meal at school. As the school day is longer in France, students also get a 10-minute break in the morning and a fifteen-minute break in the afternoon. In the U.S., students go nonstop from class to class throughout the day, with their only break being lunchtime which is typically half an hour.

Holiday schedule in the U.S.

A typical academic school year in the U.S. is 180 days long.

  • Thanksgiving – celebrated on the 4th Thursday in November. Students usually have Black Friday off as well.
  • Christmas – approximately weeks break from December 23 to the first weekday after New Year’s Day.
  • Spring or Easter break – a one-week break in late March/early April.
  • Summer break – 10-11 weeks off from early June to mid-August for primary and high school and the end of May to early August for university students.

Some schools also have fall breaks and winter breaks, adding another three weeks of vacation time.

Holiday schedule in France

In France, a typical school year is just a few days longer – it lasts 187 days.

  • All Saints (la Toussaint) – a two-week break around the end of October and the beginning of November.
  • Christmas (Noel) – a two-week break beginning before Christmas and ending after New Year’s.
  • Winter (hiver) – two-week break in mid-February.
  • Spring (printemps) or Easter (Paques) break – two-week break in mid-April.
  • Summer – two months break starting from mid-June for high school students and early July for university students.

Sports and Extracurricular Activities

It is very common for American students to practice a sport, both at the high school and university levels. It is also common to be part of extracurricular activities and clubs. Because the school day ends earlier in the U.S., students have more time and are encouraged to participate in these activities. Sports and clubs are considered an important part of student life and are mentioned in college applications.

In France, the focus of the school day is on classes. Most French schools have two hours of physical education during the week, but sports and clubs are not at all common. If a student participates in a sport, practices are typically held on Wednesday afternoons, the day of the week when the school day ends at midday. In addition to having a long school day, students in France typically have four hours of homework per day; therefore, there isn’t time to participate in clubs and sports, while a typical American has about 1-2 hours of homework per night.

Student-Teacher Relationships

In France, the student-teacher relationship is much more formal than in the United States. While many American teachers are involved with students through coaching a sport or leading an extracurricular activity, students only have contact with teachers during class in France. Additionally, in the U.S., it’s common for teachers to set aside time to attend to students who have questions or who are struggling with the material. In France, it’s extremely uncommon for a student to approach a teacher to ask for clarification or extra help on a subject.


The American education system offers transportation for students to get to school on school buses. Many students in the U.S. use a school bus to get to and from school if they don’t live within walking distance. During their last years of high school, many students will drive to school as the driving age in the U.S. is 16. Most American schools have parking lots for faculty and students.

In France, there are no school buses. Instead, students ride a bicycle, walk, get driven by their parents, or use public transportation in the form of buses, subways, or trains to get to school.

Costs of Higher Education

A big distinction between the American and French education systems is the cost of higher education. While in the U.S., public education is free before university, many of the most reputable and competitive universities in the U.S. are private, and if students are able to get accepted to one of these universities, they will often choose to go despite the high cost. The costs of private universities can be astronomical compared to French standards, with undergraduate tuitions costing upwards of $40,000/year. State colleges are subsidized by the government and are significantly more economical. It’s very common for students to take out student loans to pay for the costs of a university in the U.S.

France has an excellent public university system whose costs to students are subsidized by the government. Though there are a few private universities in France that are more expensive, the majority of students attend public universities. The cost per year for tuition for undergraduates is around USD$3500 and about $4500 for graduate and doctoral degrees. However, for students who are unable to afford tuition, the government will pay for their education and offer a stipend for their living costs.


Differences between education systems in France and U.S. are obvious when comparing them on basic and more detailed levels. From France’s longer school days to the emphasis on sports and clubs in American schools to the more formal relationship between students and teachers in France to the huge difference in tuition costs for American vs. French college or university students, the differences in education in these two countries are numerous.