Everything you have ever wanted to know about the Ecole Polytechnique
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The best way to introduce the Ecole Polytechnique is the reading of the article from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
You can read it here, but it is also available on wikipedia :
- in english, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89cole_Polytechnique
- in french, http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polytechnique.
The official website is http://www.polytechnique.edu
The École polytechnique (the "Polytechnic School"), often nicknamed X, is one of the best-known French Grandes écoles of engineering. Initially located in the Quartier Latin in central Paris, it was moved to the suburb Palaiseau in 1976.
Traditionally, a favored goal of the polytechniciens was to join the elite government bodies known as the grands corps techniques de l'État (X-Mines, X-Ponts), but nowadays many join Ph.D. or master programs in French or foreign universities.
The École polytechnique is a higher education establishment run under the supervision of the French ministry of defense (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 undergraduate engineering students of the school are known, are reserve officer trainees and have to go through a period of military training before engineering studies proper. 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-Élysées 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 early 1980s).
The École polytechnique has an undergraduate 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 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. In addition to the faculty coming from those laboratories, it employs many researchers and professors from other institutions, creating a varied and high-level teaching environment.
The Polytechnicien program is quite different from typical university or college studies. While it is sometimes labeled as an undergraduate program, this sticker is convenient but quite misleading.
Studies at Polytechnique cover a scope that usually goes beyond undergraduate studies (students are awarded a Master after the third year of their studies at Polytechnique); students usually go on to pursue a second Master's degree following the Polytechnicien program and often find that they can 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. 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 selective entrance examination, and requires at least two years of preparation after high school in Classes Préparatoires such as the Lycée Louis-Le-Grand, or the Lycée Henri IV. 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 North Africa) can also enter through the same competitive exam. Foreign students can also apply through a "second track" following undergraduate studies; there are about 100 of them each year, most of which come from Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, China, Vietnam, Iran, Romania and Russia.
The total length of the undergraduate 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 by 8 months during which French students undergo a 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 anachronic, and the service was recast as a period of "human and military formation". All the French students spend one month together in Barcelonette 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 highschool in a disenfranchised French suburb.
Then, begins the common trunk of teaching. Traditionally, this was a very rigid year, where 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 given 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 that they will practice 6 hours every week.
In the third year, students have to choose between two "majors", and must do a research internship. The fourth year is the beginning of more professional studies: students not entering a corps must either join a Master program, a doctorate program, or a specialization school (école d'application – "application school") such as the École des Mines. The reason for this is that the generic education given at Polytechnique is more focused on developing thinking skills than preparing for the transitition to an actual engineering occupation, which requires further technical education.
For French nationals, tuition is free as long as the full curriculum is accomplished, and a salary is received throughout the school years as part of the status of 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 Polytechnique. If a student enters a Corps but does not fulfil 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).