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The best public classes préparatoires selectively choose the best students around, so whether you're rich or poor is no problem. If you're poor you can even get a scholarship, boarding, etc.

All the other public classes préparatoires take the 2nd best students around (some even can't be too choosy, they only exist for more or less statistical reasons and have limited budgets, which means not so talented teachers, which means not so good results, which means they can't be too choosy ...). Unless you end up lousy during the 1st year, you generally get to stay for the length of the preparation.

The best private classes préparatoires will take the best students around AND some 2nd best students around provided that they can line up the euro bills (with a rare exception to Ste Geneviève -and possibly others I don't know of- which makes you pay a tuition relative to your parents' revenue). If you're not too good at the end of the 1st year, you get kicked out so that the establishment can maintain good results the next year, which is good for their prestige.

All the other private classes préparatoires are not too choosy (even less so than the average public ones). They essentially want students capable of paying, and won't throw anyone away.

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 03:59:28 PM EST
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Though it must be added that good students don't always want to go to one of the better public classes préparatoires, for example if it involves moving to Toulouse when a bright kid is from Agen (100km away), the kid may opt for an average public classe préparatoire in Agen instead. But if his parents know the deal, they'll encourage him to go to one of the better ones in Toulouse
by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 04:02:23 PM EST
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You fucking betcha. For my parents, it was "you go wherever you need to go, no if, no but, no question asked".

When I think of a few friends who didn't want to move to Paris or Lyon because of family or girlfriend, gosh ...
by Francois in Paris on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 04:28:56 PM EST
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But everyone, in any classe préparatoire, is entitled to pass any entrance competition he wants. ie. even a lousy student from a cheap public classe préparatoire can attempt to get into X. Some classes préparatoires put heavy pressure on average students not to attempt too good schools so that the establishment's results don't appear too bad.

I was in the sister prépa of Ste Geneviève (which is a very good prépa) in Toulouse. It was a private, brand new prépa, Jesuits ... not too choosy, and certainly not as good as Ste Geneviève. It did ok with our batch, sending a few to X, Mines, Supelec ect and a few to HEC/ESSEC/ESCP etc. But I wasn't one of the ones to be that successful.

First of all, how and why did I end up in an unknown private classe prépa? Well I had been travelling all my life, going to whatever school system was available (Indian, English, American, Canadian, French, International) ... while doing distance education with the CNED as time allowed (public French distance education system). So I was bit confused with all those systems. I had to pass my Baccalaureate C (emphasis on maths/physics/chemistry) as a freelance candidate, and didn't have the right methodology ... as my philosophy teacher in my baccalaurate year was Canadian, my maths teacher Vietnamese, my Biology teacher Belgian ... each teaching in ways quite different from the French system.

So I went to pass my baccalaureate as a free candidate, with all the wrong tools. For example in Maths (very heavy coefficient), I finished the exam in an hour and left with a huge grin thinking it was ultra easy. Why? Because I didn't know that I had to justify everything I said. For example to the question "what is the limit of suite u(n)?", I would answer "3" and move on. As a result I got a 5 in Maths, and barely got a 10 in Physics/Chemistry. I only got my baccalaureate thanks to all the more literary topics where methodology didn't count as much as brains. But with those kinds of results, and coming from such a messed up background, no prestigious public classe préparatoire would take me.

What's more, I couldn't do Maths Sup because of my horrible results in Maths/Physics, so had to do HEC (economy) as this new prépa's director thought it would be an experiment for his system to see if someone as jumbled as me, with only one foreign language (when two were required), could live up to the challenge. And boy did I not want to do HEC! (and which frankly I think is potentially harder than Maths Sup because you have to be good in a lot of general topics like economy, history, geography, philosophy & literature, two languages ... and all along while maintaining a decent level in Maths - ie. 13 hours a week of maths lessons ... often our oral exams in Analysis were on the Maths Sup program -not Maths Spé :)  ). And I know what I'm talking about, most of my friends were in Maths Sup at the time and seemed to be having a lot more fun than me).

I soon enough realized that I hated prépa HEC, which was very hard for me (had to catch up on the French system, sometimes even on entire years I had missed out on, while also learning a 2nd language from scratch ... Spanish ... in a hurry) ... and I wanted out, so I zapped the idea of getting a prestigious one and instead aimed for the only two potentially non-business public schools I could get ... and got the public managerial telecom one (I also got those schools I hated above all, Grenoble, Toulouse ... the ones which back then were snotty and pretending to be good, but which ironically are now considered prestigious. I was so unmotivated by the idea of going there that during the interview at Grenoble for example, when asked why I wanted that school, I said "because Grenoble is a nice town and I like playing hockey" ... these schools embodied everything I hated about HEC ... my hard-leftie hormones were overdeveloped in those days ... what with all the Keynes and other bullshit I had to eat and eat and eat).

And so started my computer life, as I went for an engineering specialisation in my final year (instead of a managerial one) at my Grande Ecole. Which is why I had chosen it in the first place anyhow ... to have a go at a more techie future. It worked!

And right now I don't even give a shit about my diploma. I don't give a shit about my Grande Ecole's ranking, I don't give a shit about anything it means. Besides, my diploma is signed by François Fillon, and I don't like him ... he was Minister of Industry back then.

But just to get there I had to endure 40 hours of lessons per week, plus an addition 10-20 hours of exams per week. Which means that whatever time is left you have to spend studying.

This system is far too satisfied with its sense of elitism ... a lot of students in classes prépa believe they are gods ... and besides if someone as unprepared and unconventional as me can get through to the 2nd-tier prestigious schools, then it only proves that the system is worthless. Besides bis, my bunkmate in prépa was a shy boy with modest grades (12 average at his baccalaureate) when he entered our prépa ... but guess what ... he ended up going to X (after turning down Rue d'ULM!!!! (which is the top of the top of the top in Maths ... I believe they only take 23 students every year, the best in Maths). This guy was so gifted in Maths that he would even correct his teacher during lessons! However he had been turned down by all the prestigious public prépas because his Maths grades were modest prior to starting classes préparatoires. Which again, proves the system is worthless.

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 04:50:21 PM EST
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The only people complaining about the system are either those that know how it works but failed to get in, ot the smart weirdos like you and Agnes that like to think they're different - and better than the plodding prépa students they had to frequent...

<ducks behind wall to avoid objects thrown at him>

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 05:27:18 PM EST
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Ok that got me laughing out loud. My cover's blown.

But nahhhh I really didn't like prépa (even if I recognize the marvels it's done to my sense of organisation), if at least on the simple basis that everyone else our age was out having fun at University while we were pale and sweating in front of piles of obscure books, dreaming of girls (or boys) and frat parties!

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 05:33:49 PM EST
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The only people complaining about the system are either those that know how it works but failed to get in

Heh. But this implies, doesn't it, that it is by nature an elitist system? That is, there are large numbers of people not complaining, because they have no notion of how it works? For them all this is Mandarin, it might as well be going on in the Forbidden City.

The truth is that classes prépa/Grandes Ecoles form an efficient socio-economic filter. In almost all cases, the family (and its background) will decide that their child will (if capable, I agree) enter this system. In almost all cases, access to a good lycée is necessary, and the good lycées are for the upper stretches of the class structure. Detailed knowledge of an intricate system is necessary, and considerable expense of time and energy to work it. (This is why teachers' children may get in, as representatives of the lower middle class, because their parents are in a position to learn the rules of the game and push their kids in the right direction at every twist and turn).

This isn't a sour grapes reaction on my part. I went through the elitist system of another country, and my critique is simply the result of my observation of what happens in the French one.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 03:13:13 AM EST
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Oh I agree, and that's why I like the Sciences Po experiment: they don't dilute the admission criteria, but they go to "difficult" high school in underprivileges areas to explain to them that they can send students to them too, what is needed, and what is at stake. With aware and motivated students AND teachers, the results have been really good - and fully deserved. It's simply about getting people to actually know where the goalposts are, and how to give them a shot.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 04:27:51 AM EST
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Absolutely, the Science Po' experiment is a useful and necessary one. Not just on grounds of equity (though those are enough on their own), but on grounds of efficiency. The French system as it stands leaves a whole lot of capable people behind. There's too big a gap between the top level and the rest of the following field. There's an efficiency and creativity boom to be set off there. (And tapping into the energy of young people of immigrant origin would be positive in a number of ways).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 11:57:18 AM EST
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HEC (and which frankly I think is potentially harder than Maths Sup because you have to be good in a lot of general topics like economy, history, geography, philosophy & literature, two languages ... and all along while maintaining a decent level in Maths - ie. 13 hours a week of maths lessons ... often our oral exams in Analysis were on the Maths Sup program -not Maths Spé :)  ). And I know what I'm talking about, most of my friends were in Maths Sup at the time and seemed to be having a lot more fun than me).

he ended up going to X (after turning down Rue d'ULM!!!! (which is the top of the top of the top in Maths ... I believe they only take 23 students every year, the best in Maths)

As I said, my two points were bound to be made lower in the thread. Thank you Alex !!
True, prépa HEC is by far more difficult than Math Sup-Math Spé, at least when it comes to knowledge diversification. That's the reason why it used to be a one-year classe préparatoire, and was turned into two, as the knowledge to be acquired was just too broad.
Many people who do not want to lose the foreign language and economy, geography skills they acquired during secondary education opt for prépa HEC instead of Math Sup.
Just to mention by the way that the top classes préparatoires have been, for a long time now, and unless I am mistaken, Louis le Grand and Henri IV in Paris.

Outside Paris, doing really well historically are Pierre de Fermat in Toulouse and Lycée du Parc in Lyon. My references may require some up-date though.
The second quote addresses my concern on Rue d'Ulm (Centrale maths) being left out in Jérôme's  diary.
Now I can with peaceful mind return to the depths of lurkedom.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill

by Agnes a Paris on Mon Mar 27th, 2006 at 03:07:19 AM EST
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