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For other Écoles Polytechniques, see École Polytechnique de Montréal and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
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The cadets of Polytechnique rushed to the defense of Paris against the foreign armies in 1814. A statue set in the honor courtyard of the school commemorates this deed.
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The main hall seen from the lake
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The dorms. The student association adds each year a new fresco

The École polytechnique (the "Polytechnic School"), often nicknamed X, is the foremost of the French Grandes écoles of engineering. Initially located in the Quartier Latin in central Paris, it was moved to the suburb Palaiseau in 1976.

Its motto is Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire—"For the Nation, Sciences and Glory."

Traditionally, a favored goal of the polytechniciens was to join the elite government bodies known as the grands corps techniques de l'État (X-Mines, X-Ponts), but nowadays many join Ph.D. or master programs in French or foreign universities.

Contents

Status

The École polytechnique is a national public establishment of an administrative character run under the supervision of the French ministry of defense. Though no longer a military academy, it is headed by a general, and employs military personnel in executive, administrative and sport training positions. Both male and female French polytechniciens (or "X"), as the undergraduate engineering students of the school are known, are reserve officer trainees and have to go through a period of military training before engineering studies proper. However, the military aspects of the school have lessened with time, with fewer and fewer students joining officer careers after leaving the school, and the reduced duration of preliminary military training. On great occasions, such as the military parade on the Champs-Élysées on Bastille Day, the polytechniciens wear the 19th-century-style "grand uniform," with the famous bicorne, or cocked hat (students usually don't wear any uniform during courses since the suppression of the "internal uniform" in the early 1980s).

Activities

The École polytechnique has an undergraduate general engineering teaching curriculum as well as a graduate school. It has many research laboratories operating in various scientific fields (physics, mathematics, computer science, economics, chemistry, etc.), most operated in association with national scientific institutions such as Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. In addition to the faculty coming from those laboratories, it employs many researchers and professors from other institutions, creating a varied and high-level teaching environment.

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The full dress uniform comprises black trousers with a red strip (a skirt for females), a coat with golden buttons and a belt, a sword (épée) and a cocked hat.

The Polytechnicien studies

Introduction

The Polytechnicien program is quite different from typical university or college studies. While it is sometimes labeled as an undergraduate program, this sticker is convenient but quite misleading.

Studies at Polytechnique cover a scope that usually goes beyond undergraduate studies (while not covering enough to grant a Master's degree); students who go on to pursue a Master's degree following the Polytechnicien program often find that they can achieve it in less time than students coming from regular undergraduate programs.

Additionally, the breadth of the program is larger than what most university students go through, 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. Humanities and sports are also mandatory parts of the curriculum, adding to the differences with most university programs.

Admission

The admission to École polytechnique in polytechnicien cycle is made through a selective entrance examination, and requires at least two years of preparation after high school in Classes Préparatoires such as the Lycée Louis-Le-Grand, or the Lycée Henri IV. Admission includes a week of written examinations, during Spring, followed by oral examinations which are handled in batches (séries) spanning over Summer.

About 400 French students are admitted each year. Foreign students having followed a classe préparatoire curriculum (generally, French residents or students from former French colonies in North Africa) can also enter through the same competitive exam. Foreign students can also apply through a "second track" following undergraduate studies; there are about 100 of them each year, most of which come from Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, China, Vietnam, Iran, Romania and Russia.

Curriculum

The total length of the undergraduate curriculum was historically 3 years: one year of military service, one year of "common trunk", then one year of specialized studies ("majors"). This was somewhat changed in the X2000 reform, whereby a fourth year of studies was introduced.

The curriculum begins by 8 months during which French students undergo basic military training, then go on to accomplish either a civilian or military service. In the past, military service lasted 12 months and was compulsory for all French students; the suppression of the draft in France made this requirement of Polytechnique somewhat anachronic, and the service was recast as a period of "human and military formation". Francophone foreign students do a civilian service. Civilian service can for instance consist of being an assistant in a highschool in a disenfranchised French suburb.

Then, begins the common trunk of teaching. Traditionally, this was a very rigid year, where all students had to take all courses in a fixed set spanning all disciplines. Following the X2000 reform, the common trunk now begins at the end of the shortened military or civilian service, and some latitude of choice is given for the following year. The set of disciplines spans most areas of science (mathematics, applied mathematics, mechanics, computing science, biology, physics...) and some areas in the humanities (foreign languages, general humanities...). Students also must choose a sport that they will practice 6 hours every week.

In the third year, students have to choose between two "majors", and must do a research internship. The fourth year is the beginning of more professional studies: students not entering a corps must either join a Masters program, a PhD program, or a specialization school (école d'application – "application school") such as the École des Mines. The reason for this is that the generic education given at Polytechnique is not sufficient for preparing to an actual engineering occupation.

Ranking

Grades of the "common trunk" of the curriculum and used to rank the students. Traditionally, this exit ranking of the school had a very high importance, 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, the ranking is actually part of a 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 in the scolarity, 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.

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

Tuition and financial obligations

For French nationals, tuition is free as long as the full curriculum is accomplished, and a salary is received throughout the school years as part of the status of reserve officer in training. French students, through the student board (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 Polytechnique. If a student enters a Corps but does not fulfil 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 alumni quits a Corps to join a private company, that company will pay for the tuition fees which are then called the pantoufle (slipper).

The Graduate School

École Polytechnique organizes various Master programs, by itself or in association with other schools and universities in the Paris region (École Normale Supérieure, Université Paris-Sud), on a wide variety of topics. The access to those programs is not restricted to polytechniciens, although they are particularly invited to join them.

The school also has a Ph.D. program open to students with a master degree, or equivalent level. PhD students are generally working in the laboratories of the school; they may be also working in external institutes or schools that cannot, or will not, grant doctorates.

History

  • 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
  • 1970 The École becomes a state supported civilian institution, under the auspice of the Minister of Defense.
  • 1972 The first female students enroll at the École
  • 1976 The École moves to Palaiseau (approx 25 km / 15 miles from Paris)
  • 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 curriculum

Alumni

Alumni of the Ecole Polytechnique are traditionally referred to as "X", or "Xnnnn", where nnnn stands for the year of admission into the school. They include, among many others :

Astronauts :


CEOs or Heads of State :


Military officers :

(four General officers that commanded the French Army and led it during World War One).


Famous scientists :

See also

External links

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