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For other Écoles Polytechniques, see École Polytechnique de Montréalmarker and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausannemarker. For the film, see Polytechnique .

The École Polytechnique (often nicknamed X) is the foremost Frenchmarker engineering school. Known for its extremely competitive entrance exam, it produces graduates that occupy outstanding positions in industry and research. Among its alumni are several Nobel prizes winners and many CEOs of French and international companies.

Founded in 1794 and initially located in the Latin Quartermarker in central Parismarker, it was moved to Palaiseau in 1976. Traditionally, a favoured goal of the polytechniciens is to join the elite government bodies known as the grands corps techniques de l'État (X-Mines, X-Ponts, X-INSEE,...) ; nowadays the majority of the 500 students who graduate each year join Ph.D. or masters programmes in French or foreign universities. The school is one of the founding members of ParisTech.

Ecole Polytechnique ranks among the best universities of the world. The MINES ParisTech Professional Ranking of World Universities 2008, which ranks institutions of higher education according to the number of CEOs of Fortune Global 500 that obtained degrees from them, ranked it 15th in the world (3rd in France). The 2008 THE - QS World University Rankings places the university at 34th in the world (2nd in France).. It was also ranked as the 2nd best university in France (45th in world) according to Global University Ranking.


Polytechnique flag guard on Bastille Day 2008.

The École polytechnique is a higher education establishment run under the supervision of the French ministry of Defence, through the General Delegation for Ordnance (administratively speaking, it is a national public establishment of an administrative character).

Though no longer a military academy, it is headed by a general, and employs military personnel in executive, administrative and sport training positions. Both male and female French polytechniciens (or “X”), as the engineering students of the school, are reserve officer trainees and have to go through a period of military training before the start of engineering studies.

However, the military aspects of the school have lessened with time, with fewer and fewer students joining officer careers after leaving the school, and the reduced duration of preliminary military training. On great occasions, such as the military parade on the Champs-Élyséesmarker on Bastille Day, the polytechniciens wear the 19th-century-style “grand uniform”, with the famous bicorne, or cocked hat (students usually don't wear any uniform during courses since the suppression of the “internal uniform” in the mid-1980s).

Activities and teaching staff

The École polytechnique has a combined undergraduate-graduate general engineering teaching curriculum as well as a graduate school. It has many research laboratories operating in various scientific fields (physics, mathematics, computer science, economics, chemistry, etc.), most operated in association with national scientific institutions such as CNRS, CEA, or also INRIA. In addition to the faculty coming from these local laboratories, it employs many researchers and professors from other institutions, including other CNRS, INRIA and CEA laboratories as well as the École Normale Supérieuremarker and nearby universities such as the École Supérieure d'Électricitémarker (Supélec) or the Université Paris-Sud, creating a varied and high-level teaching environment.

Contrary to French public universities, the teaching staff at École polytechnique are not civil servants (fonctionnaires) but contract employees operating under regulations different from those governing university professors. An originality of École polytechnique is that in addition to full-time teaching staff (exercice complet), who do research at the École in addition to a full teaching service, there are partial-time teaching staff (exercice incomplet) who do not do research on behalf of the École and do only a partial teaching load. Part-time teaching staff are often recruited from research institutions (CNRS, CEA, INRIA...) operating inside the École campus, in the Paris region, or even sometimes elsewhere in France.

The Polytechnicien studies


The Polytechnicien program is quite different from typical university or college studies. Studies at Polytechnique cover a scope that goes from advanced undergraduate studies (first year students) to graduate studies (students are awarded a Masters after the third year of their studies at Polytechnique); students usually go on to pursue a second Masters degree following the Polytechnicien program and most often achieve it in less time than students coming from regular undergraduate programs.

Additionally, the breadth of the program is larger than what most university students go through, often including topics beyond one's specialty. This focus on breadth rather than depth has been hotly debated over the years, but it nevertheless forms a characteristic of the Polytechnicien program. It is particularly useful for cross fertilization purposes between different fields, as graduates from Polytechnique most often have abilities in several disciplines; for example, they must follow at least six different topics during their second year. Humanities and sports are also mandatory parts of the curriculum, adding to the differences with most university programs.


The admission to École polytechnique in polytechnicien cycle is made through a very selective entrance examination, and requires at least two years of preparation after high school in Classes Préparatoires. Admission includes a week of written examinations, during Spring, followed by oral examinations which are handled in batches (séries) spanning over Summer.

About 400 French students are admitted each year. Foreign students, having followed a classe préparatoire curriculum (generally, French residents or students from former French colonies in Africa) can also enter through the same competitive exam (they are known as “EV1”). Foreign students can also apply through a “second track” (“EV2”) following undergraduate studies. In total, there are about 100 foreign students each year, most of them coming from Lebanonmarker, Moroccomarker, Tunisiamarker, Brazilmarker, Chilemarker, Ecuadormarker, Chinamarker, Vietnammarker, Iranmarker, Romaniamarker and Russiamarker but some also from Canadamarker, Singaporemarker and United Statesmarker. Finally, some foreign students come for a single year from other top institutions in Europe and the United States.

Image:Polytechniciens DSC09009.JPG|Cadets of École polytechnique, France in uniformImage:Tangente Ecole Polytechnique.jpg|Polytechnicien small sword («épée» in French)Image:Bicorne hat Ecole Polytechnique.jpg|Polytechnicien bicorneImage:Polytechnique women Bastille Day 2008.jpg|Female students in grand uniform


The total length of the combined undergraduate-graduate curriculum was historically 3 years: one year of military service, one year of “common trunk”, then one year of specialized studies (“majors”). This was somewhat changed in the X2000 reform, whereby a fourth year of studies was introduced.

The curriculum begins with 8 months during which French students undergo civilian or military service. In the past, military service lasted 12 months and was compulsory for all French students; the suppression of the draft in France made this requirement of Polytechnique somewhat anachronistic, and the service was recast as a period of “human and military formation”. All the French students spend one month together in Barcelonettemarker in a center for mountaineering warfare. By the end of this month, they are assigned either to a civilian service or to the Army, Navy, Air Force or Gendarmerie. Students who are assigned to a military service complete a two-month military training in French officer schools such as Saint-Cyr or École Navale. Finally, they are spread out over a wide range of units for a five month long assignment to a French military unit (which can include, but is not limited to, infantry and artillery regiments, naval ships and air bases).

Francophone foreign students do a civilian service. Civilian service can for instance consist of being an assistant in a high school in a disadvantaged French suburb.

Then the “common trunk” of instruction begins. Traditionally this was a very standardized year, in which all students had to take all courses in a fixed set, spanning all disciplines. Following the X2000 reform, the common trunk now begins at the end of the shortened military or civilian service, and some latitude of choice is provided for the following year. The set of disciplines spans most areas of science (mathematics, applied mathematics, mechanics, computing science, biology, physics, chemistry, economics) and some areas in the humanities (foreign languages, general humanities...). Students also must choose a sport which they will practice 6 hours every week.

While French students stay under military status during their studies at Polytechnique, and participate in a variety of ceremonies and other military events, for example national ceremonies, such as those of Bastille Day or anniversaries of the armistices of the World Wars, they do not undergo military training per se after having completed their service in the first year. They receive at the end of the first year the full dress uniform, which comprises black trousers with a red strip (a skirt for females), a coat with brass buttons and a belt, a small sword and a cocked hat (officially called a bicorne).

In the third year, students have to choose an in-depth program (programme d'approfondissement), and must do a research internship. The fourth year is the beginning of more specialized, professional studies: students not entering a Corps de l'Etat must join either a Master's program, a doctorate program, another ParisTech college or institute such as the École des Mines de Parismarker or ENSAE, or a specialization institute such as Supaéromarker in Toulouse. The reason for this is that the generic education given at Polytechnique is more focused on developing thinking skills than preparing for the transition to an actual engineering occupation, which requires further technical education.


The École Polytechnique is ranked among the most prestigious engineering schools of the world, for instance by the “World Universities Ranking” of The Times Higher Education Supplement. In all rankings published by French newspapers, the École Polytechnique almost always secures first place among French institutions, and according to salary surveys its graduates are among the highest paid of all French graduates.

Grades of the “common trunk” of the curriculum are used to rank the students. Traditionally, this exit ranking of the school had a very high importance, and some peculiarities of the organizations of studies and grading can be traced to the need for a fair playing ground between students.

For French nationals, the ranking is actually part of a government recruitment program: a certain number of seats in civil or military Corps, including elite civil servant Corps such as the Corps des Mines, are open to the student body each year. At some point during their course of study, students specify a list of Corps that they would like to enter in order of preference, and they are enrolled into the highest one according to their ranking.

Since the X2000 reform, the importance of the ranking has lessened. Except for the Corps curricula, universities and schools where the Polytechniciens complete their educations now base their acceptance decisions on transcripts of all grades.

On the 2009 THE–QS World University Rankings list, École Polytechnique was ranked inside the top 50. An overview of the last years:
Year Rank (Change)
2005 10
2006 37 ( 27)
2007 28 ( 9)
2008 34 ( 6)
2009 36 ( 2)

Tuition and financial obligations

For French nationals, tuition is free as long as the full curriculum is completed, and a salary is received throughout the school years at the level of a reserve officer in training. French students, through the student board (Caisse des élèves or Kès), redistribute some of their salary to foreign students, most of whom also benefit from grants.

There is no particular financial obligation for students following the curriculum, and then entering an application school or graduate program that Polytechnique approves of. However, French students who choose to enter a civilian or military corps after Polytechnique are expected to complete 10 years of public service following their admission to the school (i.e. their 3 years at school count towards their time of service).If a student enters a Corps but does not fulfill those 10 years of public service (e.g. resigns from his or her Corps), the tuition fees are due to the school. Sometimes, when an alumnus quits a Corps to join a private company, that company will pay for the tuition fees which are then called the pantoufle (slipper).

The Graduate School

The École Polytechnique organizes various Master's programs, by itself or in association with other schools and universities in the Paris region (École Normale Supérieuremarker, Université Paris-Sud, Université Paris VImarker, École Supérieure d'Électricitémarker (Supélec), École supérieure d'optique, other colleges in ParisTech, foreign partner universities) on a wide variety of topics. Access to those programs is not restricted to polytechniciens, although they are invited to join them and they make up one half of the students. The following Master's programmes are proposed:

  • Applied Mathematics (Mathematics and Modelling – Probability Theory and Finance – Probability Theory and Aleatory Models)
  • Chemistry (Molecular Chemistry)
  • Complex Information Systems (Design and Management of Complex Information Systems)
  • Computer Science (Fundamental Computer Science)
  • Economy and Business Management (Quantitative Economics & Finance [M1] – Project, Innovation, Conception – Economic Analysis and Policy – Economics of Energy, Environment, Sustainable Development - Economics of Markets and Organizations)
  • Environmental Engineering (Transportation and Sustainable Development: Master ParisTech – Fondation Renault), degree awarded by ParisTech
  • Mathematics (Analysis, Arithmetic and Geometry)
  • Mechanics (Materials and Structural Mechanics - Sustainable building Materials – Fluid Mechanics: fundamentals and applications – Oceans, Atmosphere, Climate, Space Observations)
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology (Structural and Functional Engineering of Biomolecules)
  • Physics and Applications (Fundamental Concepts in Physics: Theoretical, Quantum, Solid State, Liquid & Soft Matter Physics - Optics, Matter and Plasmas – Materials Science and Nano-Objects – Fusion Sciences)

The school also has a Ph.D. program open to students with a master's degree or equivalent. Ph.D. students generally work in the laboratories of the school; they may also be working in external institutes or schools that cannot, or will not, grant doctorates.

About 50% of Master's students and 35% of Ph.D. students at the École polytechnique are non-nationals.


The École has more than 200 years of tradition:

  • 1794: The École centrale des travaux publics is founded by Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge, during the French Revolution, at the time of the National Convention. It is renamed “École Polytechnique” one year later.
  • 1805: Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte settles the École on Montagne Sainte-Genevièvemarker, in the Quartier Latinmarker, in central Paris ( ), as a military academy and gives its motto Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire.
  • 1814: Students take part in the fights to defend Parismarker from the Prussians.
  • 1830: Fifty students participate to the July Revolution.
  • 1914–1918: Students are mobilised and the school is transformed into a hospital. More than two hundred students are killed.
  • 1939–1945: the École Polytechnique is moved away to Lyon in the free zone. More than four hundred polytechnicians died for France during the Second World War (Free French, French Resistance, Nazi camps).
  • 1970: The École becomes a state supported civilian institution, under the auspice of the Minister of Defense.
  • 1972: Women are admitted to Ecole Polytechnique for the first time.
  • 1976: The École moves from Paris to Palaiseau (approx 25 km / 15 miles from Paris)
  • 1985: The École starts delivering Ph.D. degrees.
  • 1994: Celebration of the bicentennial chaired by President François Mitterrand
  • 2000: A new cursus is set in place, passing to 4 years and reforming the polytechnicien curriculum
  • 2005: The École starts delivering Master's degrees
  • 2007: The École is a founding member of ParisTech

Image:Polytechnique logo.png|The Arms of the École polytechniqueImage:Ecole Polytechnique France seen from lake DSC03389.JPG|The main hall seen from the lakeImage:Polytechnique 1er carre Bastille Day 2008.jpg|The cadets of Polytechnique in the Bastille Day 2008 parade

Notable alumni

Notable alumni include many Ministers, three former Présidents de la République, and many company chief executives. Of the fifty most important and best-performing corporate enterprises in France, nearly half are headed by a Polytechnicien.

See also


External links

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