The French education system is peculiar. Public universities are almost free: a few hundred bucks per year, paid by the government if you come from a low-income family. Most teenagers decide to pursue their studies after high school, for better or worse, but many options are available. Two paths are possible to obtain a Master degree: you can attend a regular public university, or you can go to a "Grande École" ("Great School").
I always knew I wanted to become a software engineer. In France, the title of engineer can only be granted by engineering schools, and the best ones are Grandes Écoles. The Wikipedia page perfectly defines what a Grande École is:
The Grandes Écoles are highly selective, elite, and prestigious institutions; their graduates have dominated upper levels of the private and public sectors of French society for decades.
Not just decades. Centuries. The term was first coined after the French Revolution, circa 1794. The most famous ones are École Normale Supérieure and École Polytechnique (also known as X). I studied at INSA Lyon, which is a much younger, but renown, generalist engineering school. Now, I can't say I'm a big fan of the Grande École system. It's still an archaïc system extolling elitism, which tends to favor the students coming from wealthier backgrounds. Social Reproduction as Bourdieu says. My parents are not rich. My mother never went to college. My father was a stay-at-home dad. I was lucky they always made sure I was doing good at school, which eventually compounded into easing my access to new life opportunities. I had a childhood dream to fulfill, and a Grande École is still a gateway to better living conditions in France. That was a fact, so I got admitted into engineering school.
to be continued...