In the (non-EU) country I live in, the main problem with undergraduate education is that it's awfully constrained. I have only a minimal choice in choosing my courses, I cannot take graduate courses, and I have to take many applied and computational classes. My problem is that

  • I have already learned (or I plan to learn in the 9 months until university) a lot of the pure mathematics that I would learn at the undergraduate programme
  • I am not interested in applied or computational classes

I'm interested in:

Is there any undergraduate programme, affordable to an average but dedicated student with a modest budget, which either has very pure emphasis or freedom in choosing the classes? I'm ready to learn a new language if it is required.

Thank you for any help!

  • $\begingroup$ Hey Matt, thanks for the link. Unfortunately many universities have higher fees for either the foreign students or non-EU students, and I'm unsure whether I have good enough academic history to get into the best universities. $\endgroup$
    – user5501
    Dec 8, 2011 at 8:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Matt: That list is does not translate over to mathematics in my opinion. For math, École Normale Superieur should be much closer to the top position. Not decisive evidence, but worth noting, all 10 fields medalists from France were educated there, more then any other institution in the world. $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2011 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Matt: Those fees look like those applied to local students. The English numbers would be much higher for non-EU students, and from September 2012 will be about £9000 (~$14000) for new English students $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Dec 8, 2011 at 10:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Lovre: I study at the ETH Zürich and I can tell you that it (for now) has the same fees for both local and foreign students. Also, at least for Germans, it is incredibly easy to apply. However, living expenses in Switzerland tend to be pretty high. $\endgroup$
    – Huy
    Dec 8, 2011 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Huy: Thanks for that information. $\endgroup$
    – user5501
    Dec 10, 2011 at 17:58

3 Answers 3


Since I am living in France now on exchange, I can tell you a tiny bit about the system here, and why I might recommend France.

Let me start by mentioning:

  • The Tuition at some universities* is little to non-existent for undergraduate students. Even international students.
  • It is one of the most prominent countries for mathematics over the last 200 years, and mathematics is one of the most respected subjects among many top French Universities. (At Polytechnique it is the most important subject, as there is the underlying ideology that all scientists and leaders should have a concrete understanding of mathematics) Also, France is second only to the US for number of Fields Medalists with a population which is a 5th of the US.

One important thing is that their system is very different from North America and the rest of Europe.
There are two main branches after highschool, University and "Les Classes Préparatoires" which leads to "Les Grandes Écoles." The second is considered more prestigious, and the most coveted institution in that line are École Normale Superieure and École Polytechnique. (For what it is worth, I believe that half of the CEO`s of the top 50 corporations in France, and 3 former presidents graduated from Polytechnique, while all 10 French Fields Medalists are alumni of École Normale Superieure) I am not sure how admission to these schools works for international students, as taking "Les Classes Préparatoires" is probably not an option. This would be something to look into. (I can tell you about the Exchange program but that is probably of no help!)

For the other line, there are many very strong Universities as well. In particular Paris 6 and Paris-Sud 11 are probably the most notable for Mathematics as they are both excellent on the world stage. (Paris 6 is also known as Pierre and Marie Curie University, part of the Sorbonne) Often times for research Paris 6 is ranked as number 1 in France.

An enormous number of the French Universities are in Paris, which I think is a plus because Paris is a beautiful city. The only downside to this is that the rent is extremely high. However, fortunately the French government is quite left leaning and has set up programs which help students. (Yes even international students!) In particular the CAF pays part of the rent for students, the so called "aide de logement."

Lastly French is very useful language as far as it goes. There are quite a few countries which speak French, and many math papers are written in French.

In short, I suggest considering many universities in France, and actively looking for more details. In particular, if you are interested you should seek out all the information you can, when the deadlines are, how the process works for international students at that particular institution, what are the costs, do I need to write a particular test, do they require a particular French level on the TOEFL, etc...

Remark: Just worth thinking about the fact that the cost of living for 4 years is going to be a lot wherever you go.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your suggestions Eric, I will look more into the admission procedure for international students. $\endgroup$
    – user5501
    Dec 8, 2011 at 9:51

Since I had the chance to do a major part of my education in France and especially through this system of "Classes préparatoires" and "Grandes Ecoles", I will try to give you more details about those, and particularly about the fees.

First I think the "Classes préparatoires" could fit you well, Eric Naslund gave a good overview of the French system.

What I can add is that most of the top "Classes préparatoires" provide grant for foreign people, including people coming from non-EU countries. They provide also a room for people that can't pay a rent in Paris for instance, so that you can study mostly without paying anything. There is also a strong alumni network that can help you and lend you some money to pay your studies. There is also a lot of "foyers" around Paris that allow you to have a room for a low monthly fee.

You can look for more information about the "Classes préparatoires" here:

And about the "foyers":

(You will need to use google translate unfortunately to get more details on those website)

Like a lot of French institutions, you need to speak well French. In some of them 15% of the students are not from France and they can follow french courses when they arrive if they don't speak french well. I can't provide you with a specific procedure to enter those "classes préparatoires" when you are not already in a "Lycée Français à l'étranger". You need, I think, to contact them directly, they will give you some details. I know that some tests are organised around the world to recruit some student out of the French scholar system. If you worry about your level, you must know that all the french "Classes préparatoires" have a different level, some require a good scholar history, other less. You just need to find the one that fit you the most. However, I don't know if all of them have a dedicated structure for foreign student.

Considering the French "Grandes Ecoles", one of the big advantages of schools like the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecoles Normales Supérieures is that they also have no tuition fees, and they also provide grant to foreign people. At Polytechnique for instance, each foreign student has a grant either from his home country, either from the school or from the other French students themselves. It means that nobody is left without any money income during the time of the studies. Moreover they have specific admission track for foreign people, some of them even including intensive French course before the beginning of the studies (The Ecole Polytechnique has such a program for foreign student, so that you don't need any particular level in French to enter the admission system).

You can look for some more information here:

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the suggestions and links ReV. $\endgroup$
    – user5501
    Dec 8, 2011 at 10:56

Hungary also has a very strong mathematical tradition, especially in discrete math, and has relatively cheap living standards. Many great mathematicians have studied at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest. You can try looking there as well.

  • $\begingroup$ Hey user980123, thanks for the information. $\endgroup$
    – user5501
    Dec 10, 2011 at 22:06

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