In France the higher education is like this:

  • 3 years of "Licence"
  • 2 years of "Master"
  • 3 years of "Doctorat"

But what about in the United States?

I heard that they have things called "undergraduate", "graduate" and "postgraduate". How many years do each of those take? And what are the equivalencies between these and the "Licence - Master - Doctorat"?

Note: If the answer to this question depends on the field of studies, then the field is physics.

  • 3
    There's no direct equivalence. Undergrad is more-or-less the same as licence (but in four years), grad school roughly encompasses both master and doctorate (and there's no precise duration).
    – user9646
    Jul 20, 2015 at 8:23
  • You might find some of this relevant: academia.stackexchange.com/a/19224/10643
    – Cape Code
    Jul 20, 2015 at 9:33

2 Answers 2


Since France is a member of the Council of Europe and follows the Bologna Process, this question could be very well be applicable to many other European countries as well.

The bottom line is that undergraduate studies in the US are basically thought out as a four-year program, not three years. France -as most Bologna participant states- has chosen the three-year option for the first stage of university studies, in this case the License. This is a bit different from Spain and the UK, where there is perhaps more tradition of working respectively with Latin American and US universities. Recognition of Licence and undergraduate studies in either direction is not immediate in other cases.

However, there are perhaps larger possibilities for American universities to exercise their own judgement and flexibility as to recognizing foreign titles, than in some European countries. So, in some cases it may be possible for an American university to say: "OK, I recognize your French degree as 3 years studies, now you need to pass this, this and that courses to enroll in graduate studies."

There is a good article on the subject here , that basically states that American universities are aware of the problem and are increasingly open to finding solutions for European students.

I would go straight to the Admissions people at your university of choice, find out how they see your precise situation and what advice they can give you.


I will mention that in France, upon completion of the first year of a Master degree program, you may get an "intermediate" degree (called the Maîtrise), which thus sanctions four years of higher education and is arguably the closest equivalent there is to an American-style four-year undergraduate degree. In fact there has been a recent nationwide agreement with Japan, under which Japan nationally recognises a French Maîtrise as being equivalent to a Japanese four-year undergraduate degree, in particular for the purpose of enrolling in a Japanese Master program.

In the US there is no central authority about such matters so as Alan said it should be discussed with each prospective graduate school on a case-by-case basis. However, even if a school will not accept a Licence, they will almost certainly accept a Maîtrise. (And I would argue that even if they accept a Licence, it would be wise to get a Maîtrise anyway, since it gives you one extra year of preparation for free.)

  • The cost of tuition (much lower in public universities in France than in the US) is indeed a good argument.
    Jul 20, 2015 at 11:57
  • 2
    I don't think getting a "maîtrise" is automatic after the first year of master. For example, I have a master (in mathematics) but I never got a maîtrise that I know of. Looking at the law, it looks like universities only have the right (not the obligation) to award a maîtrise as an intermediary diploma before the master. (To be honest my first reaction to your answer was "it's outdated", I had to check that maîtrises still exist...)
    – user9646
    Jul 20, 2015 at 14:55
  • That's possible, yes. (I got one myself.) But even then you should have an attestation de réussite for the first year of your Master (or something along those lines, I don't remember the exact wording), which should be the same thing for practical purposes.
    – fkraiem
    Jul 20, 2015 at 15:03
  • The "maîtrise" has been kept around for law students (it is necessary to become eg. a notary). In scientific fields, I don't remember hearing about it since it disappeared in 2006. However, universities will give you some "attestation de réussite" or something like that, since they typically select their students strongly for the second year of master and students routinely change universities at this time. Jul 20, 2015 at 19:15

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