École polytechnique

École polytechnique
Other name
Former name
École centrale des Travaux publics (Central School of Public Works)
MottoPour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire
Motto in English
For the Homeland, Science, and Glory
TypeGrande école
Established1794; 230 years ago (1794)
Parent institution
Polytechnic Institute of Paris
Academic affiliations
PresidentÉric Labaye
DirectorLaura Chaubard
Postgraduates2,000 engineer candidates
500 masters

48°42′45″N 2°12′36″E / 48.7125°N 2.2100°E / 48.7125; 2.2100
Colors Red & yellow
Battalion of École polytechnique
Bataillon de l'École polytechnique
FoundedSeptember 28, 1794
TypePublic research university
Part ofFrench Armed Forces
Motto(s)Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire
WarsSixth Coalition

World War I

World War II
Battle honoursLegion of Honour

Croix de guerre 1914–1918 Croix de guerre 1939–1945

citation to the order of the army
Commanding OfficerSenior General Armament Engineer François Bouchet
Colonel of the RegimentThibault Capdeville head of corps and director of human and military training
Emblem of the school
A statue in the courtyard of the school commemorates the cadets of Polytechnique rushing to the defence of Paris in 1814. A copy was installed in West Point.

École polytechnique (lit.'Polytechnic University'; also known as Polytechnique or l'X [liks]) is a grande école located in Palaiseau, France. It specializes in science and engineering and is a founding member of the Polytechnic Institute of Paris.

The school was founded in 1794 by mathematician Gaspard Monge during the French Revolution and was militarized under Napoleon I in 1804. It is still supervised by the French Ministry of Armed Forces. Originally located in the Latin Quarter in central Paris, the institution moved to Palaiseau in 1976, in the Paris-Saclay technology cluster.

Polytechnique's historic engineering graduate program has a highly selective admission process consisting of written and oral examinations, following classes préparatoires or a bachelor's degree. French engineering students undergo initial military training and have the status of paid officer cadets. The school has also been awarding doctorates since 1985, masters since 2005 and bachelors since 2017. Most Polytechnique graduates go on to become top executives in companies, senior civil servants, military officers, or researchers.

Its alumni from the engineering graduate program include three Nobel Prize winners, a Fields Medalist, three Presidents of France and many CEOs of French and international companies. Among them are mathematicians such as Cauchy, Coriolis, Henri Poincaré, Laurent Schwartz and Benoît Mandelbrot, physicists such as Becquerel, Carnot, Ampère and Fresnel, and economists Maurice Allais and Jean Tirole. French Marshals Joffre, Foch, Fayolle and Maunoury all graduated from Polytechnique engineering program.


The chemistry auditorium in the old building in the Quartier Latin, photographed by Jules David in 1904
Pediment of historical buildings, rue Descartes in Paris

Foundation and early years

After the Revolution of 1789, the royal engineering schools were closed. Jacques-Élie Lamblardie, Gaspard Monge and Lazare Carnot, the founding fathers of the School, were charged with organizing a new "École centrale des travaux publics"(Central School of Public Works) which was officially created on 7 Vendémiaire, Year III (September 28, 1794) and opened to students on 1 Nivôse, Year III (December 21, 1794)., The aim of the school was to train civil and military engineers. The school quickly welcomed 400 students of different levels. During the first three months, "revolutionary courses" were given in physics, mathematics and chemistry, after which they took exams to see if they could enter the civil service directly, or if they should continue their studies. The school was renamed "École polytechnique" a year later. The neologism "polytechnique" is composed of "poly" which means "many" and reflects the plurality of techniques taught in the School. The change of name reflects the change of vocation of the school, which now prepares students for other specialized schools such as the École du génie, the École des mines and the École des ponts et chaussées. The curriculum lasted 3 years, the "regular courses" replaced the "revolutionary courses" and there were only 120 new students each year. The school was placed under the supervision of the Ministries of War and the Interior., A Journal Polytechnique (former name of "Journal de l'École polytechnique" ) was created in 1795. In 1799, the course was reduced from three to two years.

In 1805, Emperor Napoléon I transferred the School to Montagne Sainte-Geneviève in the Quartier Latin of central Paris to become a military academy and gave it its motto: Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire (For the Nation, Science, and Glory). In 1804, after the militarization of the school, its atmosphere changed significantly from a rather free spirit to a meticulous bureaucracy. Militarization was motivated by Napoleon's favorable opinion of the polytechnicians who had contributed to the Egyptian expedition and by his admiration for Monge and Laplace. Militarization was acommpanied by a specialization of teaching towards mathematics.

In 1814, students participated in the fighting to defend Paris against the Sixth Coalition. After the restoration of 1816, the number of students was reduced to about seventy-five and the 'military arts' course was abolished. In 1817, King Louis XVIII demilitarized the École polytechnique and placed it under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior. In 1830, fifty students participated in the July Revolution. Various decrees were issued until 1832. Above all, the school came under the administration of the Ministry of War, thus regaining its military status. The republican ideal prevailed at the school, as shown by the active participation of students in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848.

The French Second Empire

Because of the tension between revolutionary ideas and the service of the State, the republican ideal gradually disappeared after 1851. The Polytechnicians even found themselves on the side of the Versaillese when the Paris Commune was crushed in 1871. During the years 1871–1872, the number of students admitted per year doubled from 140 to 280. The Polytechnicians sought above all to strengthen their position in the spheres of power to compensate for their loss of influence in the technical field. While they could have turned to an engineering profession associated with industry, the Polytechnicians instead reinforced their sovereign vocation by joining the "state nobility" of the Second French Empire, whose origins, interests and convictions they gradually shared. The years 1860–1870 marked an important evolution since the School became more of a "conservatory of sciences" than a center of research and innovation, while extending its hold on the management of the industrial apparatus.

The World Wars

During World War I, the students were mobilized and the school building was transformed into a hospital. No national entrance exam was held in 1915. More than eight hundred students died during the war. In 1921, students of foreign nationalities were allowed to take the entrance exam for the first time. During the Second World War, the École polytechnique was transferred to Lyon in the free zone, lost its military status, and its Parisian buildings were given to the Red Cross. More than four hundred students died during the war (Free French, French Resistance, Nazi camps).

From post-war to today

In 1944, the School was again placed under the administration of the Ministry of War. In 1970, the School became a state-sponsored civilian institution under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence. The first female students were admitted in 1972. One woman, Anne Chopinet, was class valedictorian. In 1976, the School moved from the center of Paris to Palaiseau, in the southern suburbs. In 1985, it began awarding doctoral degrees. In 1994, the bicentennial celebration was presided over by President François Mitterrand. In 1995, a new entrance exam was set up for international students and in 2000, the Ingénieur Polytechnicien was extended from 3 to 4 years.


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, École polytechnique was first housed in the Palais Bourbon. A year later, it moved to the Hôtel de Lassay, a hôtel particulier in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.

Montagne Saint-Geneviève (1805–1976)

In 1805, when he placed the School under military administration, Napoleon transferred it to the Quartier Latin, in the former premises of the colleges of Navarre, Tournai and Boncourt, now the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. The Paris campus was located near the Panthéon, at 5 rue Descartes, and was nicknamed "Carva" by the students.

Palaiseau (from 1976)

Located in the suburbs of Paris, about 14 km (9 mi) from the city center, École polytechnique is a campus-based institution. It offers teaching facilities, student housing, dining and hospitality services, and a range of sports facilities dedicated to the 4,600 people who live on campus.

The nearest regional train station is Lozère (line B, zone 4 of the RER network). Several buses also connect École polytechnique to the Massy-Palaiseau RER station and Massy TGV station.

The campus is close to other scientific institutions in Saclay (Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives), Orsay (Université Paris-Sud) and Bures (Institut des hautes études scientifiques and some laboratories of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique).

Organization and administration

Specific status

The Polytechnique color guard at the 2010 Bastille Day Military Parade

The École polytechnique is an institution of higher learning under the supervision of the French Ministry of Defence, through the General Directorate for Armament (administratively speaking, it is a national public establishment of an administrative character). It has a dual status, being an engineering school that trains civilian engineers and scientists, but also officers for the three French armies. The aim is to provide the French state with a scientific and technical elite. The training of civil servants and officers has weakened since 1950: today, only 10 to 20% of the school's students join the ranks of the administration or the army (while 20% go into research and the rest into engineering or management).[citation needed]

It is headed by a general officer (since 2012, by a General engineer of Armament, whereas previous directors were generally army generals), and employs military personnel in leadership, administrative and sport training positions. French undergraduate polytechniciens, both male and female, are cadets and have to go through a period of military training before beginning their studies.

However, the military dimension of the school faded over time, with a reduced period of preliminary military training, and fewer and fewer students choosing a career as an officer. 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 no longer wear uniforms on campus since the abolition of the 'internal uniform' in the mid-1980s. Students also wear the grand uniform for special events on campus, such as large lectures, ceremonies or important lessons.

Activities and teaching staff

École polytechnique has a general engineering curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as a doctoral school. In addition to the faculty coming from its local laboratories, it employs many researchers and professors from other institutions, including laboratories such as CNRS, CEA, and INRIA, as well as from the École Normale Supérieure and nearby institutions such as the Institut d'Optique, and the Université Paris-Sud, thus creating a varied and high-level teaching environment.

Contrary to French public universities, the teachers at École polytechnique are not civil servants (fonctionnaires) but contract employees. In addition to full-time professors who do research at the École polytechnique in addition to their full teaching duties, there are part-time professors who have only a partial teaching load. Part-time teachers are often recruited from research organizations (CNRS, CEA, INRIA, etc.) which carry out their activities on the School's campus, in the Paris region, or sometimes even in the provinces.

Academic programs

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 Engineer' program

The program awards the prestigious diplôme d'ingénieur degree, and is selective upon entry. The subjects covered often go beyond the student's specialty, and the course is focused on generalized education allowing cross-fertilization between different fields.

In addition to the 2,000 polytechnicien engineering students (500 students per year), the institution has approximately 439 master's students and 572 doctoral students, for a total of 2,900 enrolled.


Foreign students of the École

There are two ways to enter the Polytechnicien Engineer program. The first way is through a very selective competitive examination that requires at least two years of intensive preparation after high school in classes préparatoires. The second way is to do undergraduate studies at another university. There is a week of written exams in the spring, followed by oral exams in the summer.

About 400 French students are admitted to the school each year. Foreign students who have completed a classe préparatoire can also enter through the same competitive examination. In total, there are about 100 foreign students admitted to this cycle each year. Foreign students from European or American universities can also be admitted as part of an exchange program for a semester or a year.


Four years of study are required for the engineering degree: one year of military service (for French nationals only) and a scientific "common curriculum" (eight months and four months, respectively), one year of multidisciplinary studies, and one year of specialized studies ("majors"). Since the reform of the curriculum in 2000, students complete a fourth year of study in a partner institution.

Students wearing the uniform of Polytechnique
First year

The curriculum begins with eight months of mandatory military service for students of French nationality. In the past, this service lasted 12 months and was compulsory for all French students; the abolition of draft in France made this requirement of Polytechnique somewhat anachronistic, and the service was reformulated as a period of "human and military training." All French students spend a month together at 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 military service undergo two months of military training at French officer schools such as Saint-Cyr or École Navale. Finally, they are assigned to a wide range of units for a five-month tour of duty in a French military unit (which may include, but is not limited to, infantry and artillery regiments, warships, and air bases).

While French students remain under military status during their studies at Polytechnique, and participate in various ceremonies and other military events, such as national ceremonies like Bastille Day or the anniversaries of the armistices of the World Wars, they do not undergo actual military training after completing their first-year service. 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). French-speaking foreign students perform civil service. Civil service can, for example, consist of being an assistant in a high school in a disadvantaged French suburb.

Then begins a four-month period during 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 covers most of the scientific fields (mathematics, applied mathematics, mechanics, computer science, biology, physics, chemistry, economics) and some areas of the humanities (foreign languages, general humanities...). Students must choose twelve courses in at least five different disciplines.

Third year

In the third year, students must choose a specialization (programme d'approfondissement), which often focuses on a discipline or sometimes an interdisciplinary subject. This year ends with a research internship (four to six months). Students also earn a Master's degree in engineering, science and technology in their third year.

Fourth year

The fourth year is the beginning of more specialized studies: students who do not enter a State Corps must enter either a Master's degree or a doctorate, a partner 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 provided at Polytechnique is more focused on developing thinking skills than on preparing students for the transition to a real engineering career, which requires more advanced technical training.

Class rank and career path

The grades of the second year of the curriculum are used to rank the students. Traditionally, this individual exit ranking was very important for the French students of the École polytechnique, and certain peculiarities in the organization of studies and ranking can be attributed to the need for equity among students.

For French nationals, this ranking is part of a government recruitment program: a certain number of places in civil or military Corps, including elite civil servant such as the Corps des Mines or Corps of Bridges, Waters and Forests, are open to students each year. These specific corps of civil servants, which provide the senior executives of the public administration, are open only to students of the École polytechnique and to rare students of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. At some point in their studies, students make a list of the corps they wish to enter in order of preference, and they are enrolled in the highest corps according to their ranking. The next step for these French polytechnicians is to join one of the four technical schools of the civil service: École des mines, École des ponts et chaussées, Télécom ParisTech, ENSTA Paris or ENSAE, thus joining one of the civil service bodies known as grands corps techniques de l'État. Those who follow this path are called as X-Mines, X-Ponts, X-Télécoms and X-INSEE respectively.

Since the X2000 reform, the importance of rank has diminished. With the exception of the corps curriculum, the universities and schools where polytechniciens complete their training now base their acceptance decisions on the transcripts of all grades.

Of the 47% of graduates who decide to pursue a professional career in the private sector, the majority (58%) are based in the Greater Paris area, 8% in the rest of France, while 34% are based outside France. Only 12% of the cohort work under a non-French employment contract. École polytechnique students earn an average of €44,000 per year after graduation.

Tuition and financial obligations

French students admitted to the École polytechnique do not pay tuition fees and receive a salary as officer cadets. Through the student board, they redistribute part of this sum to foreign students.

There is no particular financial obligation for students who complete the program and then enter an application school or graduate program accredited by the École polytechnique.

Bachelor program

The Bachelor is a three-year program fully taught in English which opened in 2017. Either French nationals or international students are eligible. Applications are opened to final year high school students. Selection is made through an online application file and an oral interview. During the first year of the programme, students follow a pluridisciplinary curriculum based on mathematics.

Master's program

École polytechnique organizes various master's programs, more specialized than the polytechnic engineering program, alone or in association with other schools and universities, on a wide variety of subjects. The school offers programs in AI, computer vision, economics, finance, environmental science, energy, and data science.

Aerial view of the École polytechnique campus

Doctoral program

The school also has a doctoral program open to students with a master's degree or equivalent. Doctoral students generally work in the school's laboratories; they may also work in external institutes or institutions that cannot or will not award a doctorate.

About 40% of doctoral students come from abroad.

Research centres

École 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, Inserm, and Inria.

Student life

Students are represented by a board of 16 students known as "la Kès", elected each November. La Kès manages the relationships with teachers, management, alumni and partners. It publishes a weekly students paper, InfoKès.


Sports are an important part of student life, as all students are required to play 6 hours of sports per week. There are competitive and club sports ranging from skydiving and judo to circus and hiking. There are two swimming pools, dojo and fencing rooms, and an equestrian center on campus. The "Jumping de l'X" is an international show jumping competition organized by the school.

Notable people

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

Many École polytechnique graduates hold important positions in government, industry and research in France. Its alumni include three Nobel prizes winners, three presidents of the French Republic, and several business and industry leaders. Researchers at the French National Centre for Scientific Research have found that most business executives in France are traditionally alumni of the École polytechnique.


General rankings

In international rankings, the École polytechnique is ranked as part of the Polytechnic Institute of Paris.

Research performance

In 2020, the Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities ranked the university at 475th globally with its "Engineering Subjects" placed at 451–500th in the world. In 2020, it is ranked 509th in the world by the University Ranking by Academic Performance.

Other rankings

In the 2015 Times Higher Education Small Universities Rankings, École polytechnique ranks third, after Caltech and École normale supérieure (Paris).

Year QS Rank (Change)
2014 41
2015 35 (Increase 6)
2016 40 (Decrease 5)
2017 53 (Decrease 13)
2018 59 (Decrease 6)
2019 65 (Decrease 6)
2020 60 (Increase 5)
2021 61 (Decrease 1)

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

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


The French grandes écoles, including the École polytechnique, are criticized for their "elitism" and therefore their lack of diversity. INSEE has found that the children of executives and teachers are more likely to enter the écoles than children from lower-income families. A more recent report found that children of employees are 50 times more likely to enter the Ecole polytechnique than the children of workers.


See also

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