Our guide on how to succeed in your preparatory course
5 min read
Preparatory courses for ‘Grandes Écoles’—or CPGE—are a great way to access numerous prestigious higher education programs. They’re a great way to get ready for engineering school, veterinary school, and business or political science institutes, to name but a few. And while putting in the work is key, whether or not students succeed in preparatory courses also depends on your workspace, time, and budget.
Why take a preparatory course?
The main reason to take a preparatory course is to get into one of France’s very selective Grande Écoles. However, it’s worth carefully considering whether or not to take on a preparatory course. The workload is substantial, and it often lasts 2 to 3 years—which can be pretty hard on your social life. And the pressure from teachers can sometimes be difficult to bear.
However, in addition to all the knowledge you’ll acquire, these demanding high-level courses allow you to develop organizational and time management skills. For students hoping to attend a Grande École and go on to work in competitive, well-paid sectors, preparatory courses are still the best way to achieve your goals.
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The different preparatory course options
There are several steps to follow when choosing your preparatory course. First, you’ll have to decide on your field of study—literature (A/L or B/L), science (MP, PC, PT and BCPST), or economy and business (EC). The subject you choose depends on what sector you want to work in later.
Next, you’ll need to review both your first and final baccalaureate grades with Parcoursup, which will allow you to gauge how you’re doing and what your chances of being accepted are. At the same time, you’ll have to consider whether you’re ready to leave home, or if you’d prefer to stay with your parents, who might be able to support you through these difficult years. Finally, depending on your academic record and financial situation, you can choose whether to take public or private preparatory courses.
How much do preparatory courses cost?
While most preparatory courses are public and free of charge, there are still costs involved, so it’s best to be prepared. First off, you’ll be advised to enroll at a university. This way, you’ll have an equivalence class in case you decide to drop out later. To do this, you’ll need to set aside nearly €300 for registration fees and your ‘CVEC’ (student life and campus contribution).
Books are another considerable cost, so try to buy them second-hand from specialty stores, or directly from students finishing their own preparatory courses. Based on your means and needs, other costs might include a computer if you don’t already have one, as well as private lessons or applying for work placements.
Finally, it’s important to add up the cost of exam registration for the Grande Écoles you’re aiming to attend, as well as transportation and accommodation for taking your oral exams.
As you can see, budgeting for your preparatory courses isn't cheap. Remember that student grants are available, as well as student institutions such as CROUS restaurants and student residences for housing and affordable meals . You may also want to consider trying to find a last-minute student job so that you can give your finances a boost for the coming year.
And if you’re looking to save some extra cash, discover our 12 tips and tricks to save money during your studies here.
Your first year of preparatory course
There’s no sugarcoating it—your first year will be busy. “Prépas” (preparatory students) generally have a schedule similar to high school students, with a fixed number of hours per subject each week and some holidays off. Some CPGEs organize supervised homework on Saturday morning or Wednesday afternoon—or sometimes both! Students often have weekly 2- to 3-hour “khôlles” (oral exams), which take place during lunch breaks or in the evening after class.
Given all this, the workload and psychological stress can be profound, and you’ll need to be able to manage your time well if you want to make it through the year. Build in time to work efficiently and independently—and without distractions. But, also take time to reward yourself. A weekend workout or good movie will clear your mind and get you ready for the week ahead.
It generally takes up to three years to complete a preparatory course—four years is quite rare. Written exams last several days, and some tests must be taken several times, depending on the École. In most cases, you’ll get the eligibility results to access the oral exams.
If you fail your exams the first time, don’t panic—you can always sign up for another year. If you decide not to take another year of preparatory course, you can obtain an equivalency at university or the IUT (University Institute of Technology) to continue on, or to switch to a related field.
Finding accommodation as a preparatory student
If you’ve finally made up your mind and have chosen to leave home for a preparatory course in another city, you may need to think about finding accommodation for the first time in your life. Some CPGEs have dormitories, but many university campuses will also be able to house you if you contact them early enough. You might even want to consider staying with family to keep costs down. Alternatively, you could find private accommodation, which will give you more time and space to yourself.
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