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École Polytechnique


École Polytechnique

École polytechnique
Motto Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire
Motto in English
For the Homeland, Science and Glory
Established 1794
Type Grande école, formally Military college
Ingénieur Général Yves Demay
Students 2,888[1]
Postgraduates 500 polytechnic engineers,
439 masters[1]
Location Palaiseau, France
Colors      Imperial Blue[2]
Nickname L'X
Affiliations ParisTech, Université Paris-Saclay, CGE, CDEFI

École polytechnique (also known by the nickname " X ") is a French public institution of higher education and research, located in Palaiseau near Paris. It is one of the French Grandes écoles,[3][4] and is renowned for its four-year[5] undergraduate Ingénieur Polytechnicien degree in science and engineering.[6] Students are usually admitted after two years of selective university-level preparation in mathematics and physics or after a Bachelor of Science (Licence in French education system).

Polytechnique was established in 1794 by the mathematician Gaspard Monge during the French Revolution,[7] and became a military academy under Napoleon I in 1804. Today, the institution still runs under the supervision of the French ministry of Defence. Initially located in the Latin Quarter of central Paris, the establishment was moved in 1976 to Palaiseau on the Saclay Plateau, southwest of Paris.[8]

Polytechnique is a founding member of ParisTech, a grouping of leading Paris-area engineering colleges established in 2007. In 2014 it became a founding member of the confederal "University of Paris in Saclay". Among its alumni are three Nobel prize winners,[9] one Fields Medalist,[10] three Presidents of France[11] and many CEOs of French and international companies.


  • History 1
  • Locations 2
    • Early locations 2.1
    • Montagne Saint-Geneviève (1805-1976) 2.2
    • Palaiseau (from 1976) 2.3
  • Organization and administration 3
    • Military status 3.1
    • Activities and teaching staff 3.2
  • Academic profile 4
    • The polytechnicien studies 4.1
      • Admission 4.1.1
      • Curriculum 4.1.2
      • Class rank and career path 4.1.3
      • Tuition and financial obligations 4.1.4
    • The master's programme 4.2
    • The doctoral program 4.3
    • Research centers 4.4
  • People 5
    • Student life 5.1
    • Notable alumni and academics 5.2
    • International rankings 5.3
  • Notes and references 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8


The cadets of Polytechnique rushed to the defence of Paris against the foreign armies in 1814. A statue set in the honour courtyard of the school commemorates this deed. A copy was installed in West Point.

Polytechnique has more than 200 years of tradition:[8]

  • 1794: The École centrale des travaux publics is founded by Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge, during the French Revolution, at the time of the National Convention. It is renamed "École polytechnique" one year later.
  • 1805: Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte settles the École on Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, in the Quartier Latin, in central Paris (), as a military academy and gives its motto Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire (For the Nation, science and glory).
  • 1814: Students took part in the fights to defend Paris from the Sixth Coalition.
  • 1830: Fifty students participated the July Revolution.
  • 1914–1918: Students are mobilised and the school is transformed into a hospital. More than two hundred students were killed during the war.
  • 1939–1945: Polytechnique is moved away to Lyon in the free zone. More than four hundred polytechnicians died for France during the Second World War (Free French, French Resistance, Nazi camps).
  • 1970: The École becomes a state supported civilian institution, under the auspice of the Ministry of Defence.
  • 1972: Women are admitted to the Polytechnique for the first time.
  • 1976: The École moves from Paris to Palaiseau (approx 25 km / 15 miles from Paris)
  • 1985: The École starts awarding PhD degrees.
  • 1994: Celebration of the bicentennial chaired by President François Mitterrand
  • 2000: A new cursus is set in place, passing to 4 years and reforming the polytechnicien curriculum
  • 2005: The École starts delivering master's degrees.
  • 2007: The École is a founding member of UniverSud Paris and ParisTech.


Historical entrance of the École Polytechnique Paris' campus at the junction of the rue de la Montagne Saint-Genevieve and rue Descartes
École Polytechnique Saclay's campus map

Early locations

In 1794, Polytechnique was initially hosted in the Palais Bourbon. One year later, it moved to Hôtel de Lassay, an hôtel particulier in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.

Montagne Saint-Geneviève (1805-1976)

Napoleon moved Polytechnique to the Quartier Latin in 1805 when he set the school under a military administration. The Paris' campus takes place near the Panthéon, in Descartes Street, 5. It is nickmamed "Carva" by the students.

Palaiseau (from 1976)

At 15 km from Paris, the campus of the École Polytechnique is a privileged setting. It offers about 164 ha (including 120 ha of green space) teaching facilities, student housing, food services and hospitality and an exceptional range of sports facilities dedicated to the 4,600 people who live on a daily basis campus. The nearest regional train (RER) station is Lozère (RER line B, in zone 4). A number of buses also connects the Ecole Polytechnique with the larger RER and TGV station Massy-Palaiseau.[12] The campus is close to other great scientific institutions in Saclay (CEA Center), Orsay (Université Paris-Sud) and Gif (IHES and some CNRS labs). The campus will be at the heart of the Engineering and Innovation sector of the confederal "University of Paris in Saclay". Major works are in progress to expand it and connect it to automatic metro line direct to Paris.

Organization and administration

Military status

Polytechnique flag guard on Bastille Day Military Parade 2010

Polytechnique is a higher education establishment[13] run under the supervision of the French ministry of Defence, through the General Directorate for Armament[14] (administratively speaking, it is a national public establishment of an administrative character).

Though no longer a military academy, it is headed by a general officer (as of 2012, by a General engineer of Armament, whereas previous directors were generally Army generals), and employs military personnel in executive, administrative and sport training positions.[15] Both male and female French undergraduate polytechniciens are regular officers[16] and have to go through a period of military training before the start of studies.[17][18]

However, the military aspects of the school have lessened with time, with a reduced period of preliminary military training, and fewer and fewer students pursuing careers as military officers after leaving the school. On special occasions, such as the military parade on the Champs-Élysées on Bastille Day, the polytechniciens wear the 19th-century-style grand uniform, with the bicorne, or cocked hat, but students have not typically worn a uniform on campus since the elimination of the 'internal uniform' in the mid-1980s.

Activities and teaching staff

Polytechnique has a combined undergraduate-graduate general engineering teaching curriculum as well as a graduate school. In addition to the faculty coming from its local laboratories, it employs many researchers and professors from other institutions, including other CNRS, INRIA and CEA laboratories as well as the École Normale Supérieure and nearby institutions such as the École Supérieure d'Électricité (Supélec), the Institut d'Optique or the Université Paris-Sud, creating a varied and high-level teaching environment.[19]

Contrary to French public universities, the teaching staff at Polytechnique are not civil servants (fonctionnaires)[20] but contract employees operating under regulations different from those governing university professors. An originality of Polytechnique is that in addition to full-time teaching staff (exercice complet), who do research at the École in addition to a full teaching service, there are partial-time teaching staff (exercice incomplet) who do not do research on behalf of the École and carry only a partial teaching load.[21] Part-time teaching staff are often recruited from research institutions (CNRS, CEA, INRIA...) operating inside the École campus, in the Paris region, or even sometimes elsewhere in France.

Academic profile

Benoît Mandelbrot during his speech at the ceremony when he was made an officer of the Legion of Honour on 11 September 2006, at the École polytechnique

The polytechnicien studies

The Polytechnicien program is broader than typical French university studies, 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. It is particularly useful for cross fertilization purposes between different fields, as graduates from Polytechnique most often have abilities in several disciplines; for example, they must follow at least six different topics during their second year. Humanities and sports are also mandatory parts of the curriculum, adding to the differences with most French university programs.

In addition to the 2000 polytechnic engineer students (yearly class size of 500), the institution welcomes about 439 master students and 572 doctoral students, for a total enrollment of 2,900.[1]


Foreign students of the École.

The undergraduate admission to Polytechnique in the polytechnicien cycle is made through a selective entrance examination, and requires at least two years of preparation after high school in classes préparatoires. Admission includes a week of written examinations during the spring followed by oral examinations that are handled in batches (séries) over the summer.[23]

About 400 French students are admitted each year nowadays.[24] Foreign students who have followed a classe préparatoire curriculum (generally, French residents or students from former French colonies in Africa) can also enter through the same competitive exam (they are known as "EV1"). Foreign students can also apply through a "second track" ("EV2") following undergraduate studies. In total, there are about 100 foreign students each year.[25] Some foreign students come for a single year from other institutions in Europe and the United States.[26]


Four years of study are required for the engineering degree:[27] one year of military service (for French nationals only) and scientific "common trunk" (eight months and four months, respectively), one year of multidisciplinary studies, and one year of specialized studies ("majors"). With the X2000 reform, a fourth year of studies, in another institution than Polytechnique, was introduced.

Students wearing the uniform of Polytechnique.
First year

The curriculum begins with eight months of compulsory military service for students of French nationality. In the past, this service lasted 12 months and was compulsory for all French students; the suppression of the draft in France made this requirement of Polytechnique somewhat anachronistic, and the service was recast as a period of "human and military formation". All the French students spend one month together in La Courtine in a military training center. 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 assignment to a French military unit (which can include, but is not limited to, infantry and artillery regiments, naval ships and air bases).[28] While French students stay under military status during their studies at Polytechnique, and participate in a variety of ceremonies and other military events, for example national ceremonies, such as those of Bastille Day or anniversaries of the armistices of the World Wars, they do not undergo military training per se after having completed their service in the first year.[28] They receive at the end of the first year the full dress uniform, which comprises black trousers with a red stripe (a skirt for females), a coat with brass buttons and a belt, a small sword and a cocked hat (officially called a bicorne). Francophone foreign students do a civilian service. Civilian service can, for instance, consist of being an assistant in a high school in a disadvantaged French suburb.

Then, a four-month period begins in which all students take the same five courses: Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science and Economics.

Second year

The second year is a year of multidisciplinary studies. 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 have to choose eight courses in at least six different disciplines.

Third year

In the third year, students have to choose an in-depth program (programme d'approfondissement), which often focuses on a discipline or sometimes an interdisciplinary subject. This year is ended by a research internship (three to five months).

Fourth year

The fourth year is the beginning of more specialized studies: students not entering a Corps de l'État must join either a Master's program, a doctorate program, another ParisTech college or institute such as the École des mines de Paris or ENSAE, or a specialization institute such as Supaéro in Toulouse or ENSPM in Rueil-Malmaison. The reason for this is that the generic education given at Polytechnique is more focused on developing thinking skills than preparing for the transition to an actual engineering occupation, which requires further technical education. Increasingly, students chose to spend their fourth year studying in a foreign university. About a quarter of 3rd year students chose this path in 2008. American universities are a favourite, but the École Polytechnique has agreements with universities in a large set of countries.

Class rank and career path

Grades of the second year of the curriculum are used to rank the students. Traditionally, this individual exit ranking had a very high importance for French students in École Polytechnique, and some peculiarities of the organizations of studies and grading can be traced to the need for a fair playing ground between students.

For French nationals, this ranking is actually part of a prestigious government recruitment program: a certain number of seats in civil or military Corps, including elite civil servant Corps such as the Corps des Mines, are open to the student body each year. At some point during their course of study, students specify a list of Corps that they would like to enter in order of preference, and they are enrolled into the highest one according to their ranking. The next stepping stone for these French graduates in Polytechnique, or polytechniciens, on this path is to enter one of four technical civil service training schools: the École des mines, the École des ponts et chaussées, the ENST, or the ENSAE, thus joining one of the civil service bodies known as the grands corps techniques de l'État. Those who pursue this path are known as X-Mines, X-Ponts, X-Télécoms and X-INSEE, respectively, with the X prefix, for Polytechnique, identifying them as particularly qualified elite members of Corps among all graduates of Polytechnique.

Since the X2000 reform, the importance of the ranking has lessened. Except for the Corps curricula, universities and schools where the Polytechniciens complete their educations now base their acceptance decisions on transcripts of all grades.

Tuition and financial obligations

For French nationals, tuition is free as long as the full curriculum is completed, and a salary is received throughout the school years at the level of a 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 their admission to the school (i.e. their 3 years at school count towards their time of service). If a student enters a Corps but does not fulfill 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).

The master's programme

Ecole Polytechnique organizes various Master's programmes, by itself or in association with other schools and universities (in the Paris region, École Normale Supérieure, Université Paris-Sud, Université Paris VI, École Supérieure d'Électricité (Supélec), other member institutions of ParisTech, Toulouse area and foreign partner universities) on a wide variety of topics. Previous Polytechnicien undergraduates make up about one half of the students. The following Master's programmes are offered:

  • Applied Mathematics (Mathematics and Modelling – Probability Theory and Finance – Probability Theory and Aleatory Models)
  • Chemistry (Molecular Chemistry)
  • Complex Information Systems (Design and Management of Complex Information Systems)
  • Computer Science (Fundamental Computer Science)
  • Economics (Quantitative Economics & Finance [M1] – Economic Analysis and Policy – Economics of Energy, Environment, Sustainable Development – Economics of Markets and Organizations)
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mathematics (Analysis, Arithmetic and Geometry)
  • Mechanics (Multiscales and Multiphysics Modeling of Materials and Structures – Materials and Structural Mechanics – Sustainable Building Materials – Fluid Mechanics: Fundamentals and Applications – Oceans, Atmosphere, Climate, Space Observations)
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology (Structural and Functional Engineering of Biomolecules)
  • Physics and Applications (Fundamental Concepts in Physics: Theoretical, Quantum, Solid State, Liquid & Soft Matter Physics – Optics, Matter and Plasmas – Materials Science and Nano-Objects – Fusion Sciences – Quantum Devices – Nanosciences – High Energy Physics)
  • Sciences, Technologies, Society (Project, Innovation, Conception – Network Industry and Digital Economy – LoPHiSS/Science of Cognition & Complex Systems)

Polytechnique also takes part in two degrees awarded by ParisTech:

  • Nuclear Energy
  • Transportation and Sustainable Development: Master ParisTech – Fondation Renault

About 50% of highly qualified Master's students come from abroad. Most master courses are taught in English.

Aerial view of the École polytechnique campus.

The doctoral program

The school also has a doctoral program open to students with a master's degree or equivalent.[29] Doctoral students generally work in the laboratories of the school; they may also work in external institutes or establishments that cannot, or will not, grant doctorates.

About 35% of doctoral students come from abroad.

Research centers

Polytechnique has many research laboratories operating in various scientific fields (physics, mathematics, computer science, economics, chemistry, biology, etc.), most operated in association with national scientific institutions such as CNRS, CEA, or also INRIA.


Student life

Students are represented by a board of 15 students otherwise called "Kes", elected in December by promoting each newly arrived on campus. Kes manages the relationships with teachers, management, alumni and partners ParisTech. It publishes the weekly students, Infokes and animates the life of promotions during the year. Students benefit from a great freedom of initiative to initiate cultural, artistic, social or sporting associations over a hundred students, called "binets."

Campus life is punctuated and cultural events, performances, lectures, exhibitions and events of all kinds. These student demonstrations are usually held in the evening and are open to the public. The AMIX, Association of Master's students of the École Polytechnique. X'Doc brings together students from the graduate school of the École Polytechnique.[30]

Henri Becquerel (X1872), Nobel Prize in Physics 1903.
André Citroën (X1898), founder of Citroën.

Notable alumni and academics

Many Polytechnique graduates occupy prominent positions in government, industry, and research in France. Among its alumni are three Nobel prizes winners, three presidents of France and several leaders in business and industries.

International rankings

In international rankings, Polytechnique is often placed among the best universities of the world. The Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai Rankings, places Polytechnique in 2010 at 201–300 worldwide, and 8–13 in France.

The THE-QS World University Rankings and its successor QS World University Rankings[31] (From 2010 two separate rankings are produced by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings) have placed Polytechnique in 36th position in the 2011 rankings, second among French institutions, behind École Normale Supérieure.

Year Rank (Change)
2005 10
2006 37 ( 27)
2007 28 ( 9)
2008 34 ( 6)
2009 36 ( 2)
2010 36 ( 0)

The Polytechnique was also ranked in the 39th position in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings in 2011.[32]

The Mines ParisTech : Professional Ranking World Universities, which looks at the education of the Fortune 500 CEOs, ranks Polytechnique 7th in the world in its 2011 ranking (1st being Harvard University), second among French institutions behind HEC Paris.[33]

Year Rank (Change)
2007 4 ( 0)
2008 15 ( 11)
2009 14 ( 1)
2010 12 ( 2)
2011 7 ( 5)

Polytechnique is known for its extremely competitive entrance exam.[34] It is one of the most selective French engineering schools,.[35]

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d "About École Polytechnique". École Polytechnique. 
  2. ^ "Guide d'utilisation du logol". 
  3. ^ "École Polytechnique". Boston MIT. Retrieved 2 November 2013. École Polytechnique (also called "X") is the most prestigious institution in Science and Engineering in France 
  4. ^ "École Polytechnique". Columbia University. Retrieved 2 November 2013. For more than two hundred years, Ecole Polytechnique, one of the most prestigious educational establishment in France, has been dedicated to educating students in Science and Technology and in advanced research, at the highest level. 
  5. ^ "Ingénieur Polytechnicien Program". Ecole Polytechnique. Retrieved 2 November 2013. The Ingénieur Polytechnicien program covers 4 years 
  6. ^ "The Ingénieur Polytechnicien program". Ecole Polytechnique. Retrieved 2 November 2013. Degrees awarded: Diplôme de l'École Polytechnique, an Advanced MSc in Science and Engineering 
  7. ^ , 2010.Les écoles de l'an IIIMichel Nusimovici,
  8. ^ a b "École Polytechnique – History and heritage". École Polytechnique. Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  9. ^ Becquerel, Allais and Tirole.
  10. ^ Jean-Christophe Yoccoz (1994) ; Yoccoz was not a student at Polytechnique because he chose to be educated at École Normale Supérieure (1975-1979), but he completed his Ph.D. under Michael Herman in 1985 in the Centre de mathématiques Laurent Schwartz of École Polytechnique, a research centre which had been created by another Field medalist and a professor at Polytechnique : Laurent Schwartz.
  11. ^ Sadi Carnot (who was the nephew of Carnot the physicist and the grandson of Carnot the École founder), Lebrun and Giscard.
  12. ^ École Polytechnique – Un cadre unique. Retrieved on 16 June 2014.
  13. ^ Code de l'éducation, L675-1
  14. ^ Arrêté du 12 septembre 2005 relatif à l'exercice de la tutelle du ministre de la défense sur divers organismes publics confiés à la délégation générale pour l'armement, article 1
  15. ^ Décret n°96-1124 du 20 décembre 1996 relatif à l'organisation et au régime administratif et financier de l'École polytechnique
  16. ^ Décret n° 2008-960 du 12 septembre 2008 fixant certaines dispositions d'ordre statutaire applicables aux élèves français de l'École polytechnique
  17. ^ First Period : General Education, web site
  18. ^ Arrêté du 14 août 2001 relatif à la formation militaire et à la formation à l'exercice des responsabilités des élèves français de l'École polytechnique prévues à l'article 2 du décret n° 2000-900 du 14 septembre 2000 fixant certaines dispositions d'ordre statutaire applicables aux élèves français de l'École polytechnique
  19. ^ Partners, official web site
  20. ^ Décret 87-16 du 14 janvier 1987: by exception to the general rule that staff in public establishments of an administrative character are civil servants, the teaching staff of Polytechnique is hired on contracts.
  21. ^ Décret n°2000-497 du 5 juin 2000 fixant les dispositions applicables aux personnels enseignants de l'École polytechnique
  22. ^ “Welcome”, the Polytechnique web site
  23. ^ The French 'Grandes Écoles', École Poytechnique web site
  24. ^ Until 1988, the number of newly admitted French students was around 300 on a yearly basis ; and until 1952, it was between 200 and 250.
  25. ^ "An International Institute". Ecole Polytechnique. Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  26. ^ International Exchange Program
  27. ^ Ingénieur Polytechnicien Program, an English-language page from the school's website, describing the engineering degree.
  28. ^ a b “Ingenieur Polytechnicien” PDF (5.79 MB) p. 74
  29. ^ Admission École Polytechnique web site
  30. ^ École Polytechnique – Vie associative. Retrieved on 16 June 2014.
  31. ^ QS World University Rankings – 2011. Top Universities (19 December 2012). Retrieved on 16 June 2014.
  32. ^ World University Rankings 2010–2011. Times Higher Education. Retrieved on 16 June 2014.
  33. ^ [2] Archived 18 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Clark, Burton R. (1993). The Research foundations of graduate education: Germany, Britain, France, United States, Japan. University of California Press. p. 162.  
  35. ^ The École Polytechnique has the smallest resignation rate among French Grandes Écoles. Statistics of the entrance exam


  • Clark, Burton R. (1993). The Research Foundations of Graduate Education: Germany, Britain, France, United States, Japan. University of California Press. p. 412.  
  • Gillispie, Charles C. (2004). Science and Polity in France, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years. Princeton Universitv Press.  
  • Grattan-Guinness, Ivor (March 2005). "The "Ecole Polytechnique", 1794–1850: Differences over Educational Purpose and Teaching Practice". The American Mathematical Monthly 112 (3) (Published by: Mathematical Association of America). pp. 233–250.  
  • "In France, the Heads No Longer Roll", New York Times, Sunday, 17 February 2008

External links

  • Official website
  • Online alumni community (French)
  • Ecole Polytechnique Scholars Program, description of the École Polytechnique on Caltech website
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