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I'm applying for Master's degree in France and have learned that there are two different ones - M1 and M2. I read the answers to this question and a few websites with general explanations, but couldn't quite figure out which one is more suitable for someone who is going to do a PhD after their master's, and intends to work in academia.

Would studying a 4-year or 3-year undergrad make a difference? I've done my undergrad in the American system (4-year bachelor, but a relatively broad education), with a few extra courses that were more advanced (graduate-level courses), but I still do need to take courses to prepare for Ph.D. Can I take introductory (but graduate-level) courses in an M2, or the courses in M2 are all very specific? Do I stand a chance for a direct M2, or is it the case that a 4-year US undergrad is not considered as qualified as a 3-year French undergrad + M1?

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There are different kinds of masters in France. But this is not what the M1/M2 distinction is about. M1 and M2 literally mean "first year of master" and "second year of master". They are not degrees, they are years, like "sophomore" or "senior" in the US. The master's degree is the combination of these two years. You cannot apply for M2 if you have not completed the equivalent of M1. What qualifies may depend on the university, but US undergrad certainly does not, as it would be the equivalent of a license degree (L3, third year of license - see how it works?), even if you did it in four years.

The different kinds of masters that exist are teaching, professional, and research. If you want to work in academia, you probably need a PhD, and to apply for a PhD in France, they usually ask for the equivalent of a research master's degree. A professional master prepares you to work right after getting the degree, while a teaching master prepares you to be professor in middle/high school.

So research M2 is the one you need to do. It will involve taking classes but also an "internship" during which you will have to write a "memoir", kind of like a mini PhD thesis. In most fields, the teaching and research master's degrees are the same in the first year and split in the second year. Thus if you only have undergrad education, then all you can apply to is a common M1 year in the field you want, and next year you will be able to apply for a research M2 year.


Perhaps to drive the point home: you typically need to complete the M2 to apply to a PhD. But you need to complete the M1 to apply to the M2. So the question cannot be "which is the one for academia". It would be like asking whether 11th grade or 12th grade is the one you need to complete to enter a college. You need to do both.

  • Just FYI, some international engineering degrees are 5 years, which would be equivalent to bach+M2 in France, allowing you to enter a PhD program. – Fábio Dias Mar 17 '18 at 22:05
  • @FábioDias it's worth pointing out that "Engineering Schools" like you're referring to exist in France as well; the end is equivalent to a university M1/M2 but it's different. They do allow you to enter a PhD programme, but the process is rather... difficult. Engineering school students usually enter industry and it's tough for them to get university PhD scholarships, weirdly enough. We're having the same trouble with two of our interns from Engineering schools, who want to do PhDs. The French system can be really weird and prohibitive with things like this. – la femme cosmique Mar 18 '18 at 13:33
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The Bologna process was implemented in Europe in order to facilitate the exchange of students within the European Union with a uniformed educational system at the university level. Among many other things, it was stablished the system 3 + 2 + 3: three years for an undergraduate degree, 2 years for a master's degree and 3 years minimum for a doctoral degree.

The master's degree is composed by two very distinct years. The first year (called M1 in France) has a high load of lectures and usually the students do not have time to focus on research. The second year (M2) is dedicated for doing research and the writing of the thesis.

In France they use this nomenclature in order to facilitate the equivalences between the degrees before and after the Bologna process. For example, they say that Bac+4 (3 years + M1) is equivalent to the diploma "maitrise" pre-bologna. Take a look in this link for a further explanation.

So, as you can see, the nomenclature M1 and M2 is used for the same program. They expect you to finish the 2 years of a typical master's program if you want to do research at the doctoral level. However, they could give you equivalence in the M1 if you took similar courses in the US, but you need to contact the university to check.

You could have doubt about the professional and research master's program in France, but in this case the nomenclature is pretty clear I think (Masters professionnel et Master de Recherche).

  • Does the M2 include M1 then? Because in the application portal, I can choose to apply for M1 or M2. – nra Mar 17 '18 at 20:30
  • You have to verify in the application website. They must have this information there or in the university website. – The Doctor Mar 17 '18 at 20:31
  • @nra: you need to apply for M1 first (if you don't have equivalent qualifications), and then after you complete it, you need to apply to M2. For historical reasons you don't get admitted to a complete master's program: you get admitted to the first year, and after the first year the university has another selection round to determine who gets to go on to second year. – nengel Mar 19 '18 at 15:22

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