Matthew - Sciences Po

B Engineering (Hons)/Economics
Semester 1, 2019

Academic experience

I studied 5 economics courses, in English, so I have to limit the scope of my advice to this small snippet. 

Firstly, when deciding if you will study at Sciences Po, you need to consider whether you will study in English or French (or both). There is a small pool of classes in English, and this changes every year, so don’t plan on using the previous year’s selection of classes in English. Once you have the correct courses approved, you will then need to sign on to them. Unlike UQ, the sign-on rush is not for class times, but for signing up to the courses themselves. Therefore, if you miss sign-ons, you miss out on doing a particular course. There is a time window after sign-ons where you can appeal to get put in a class – for me telling them I need this class for credit was enough for them to put me in a class (make sure you give them a couple of options that you would be happy with).

Once you have your courses selected, and you start attending, you will notice they keep referring to “exposés”. These are presentations that you do for (nearly) every course on a topic related to that course, so be prepared to do lots of group presentations while over there. These exposés will need to follow the Sciences Po format which is taught during the Welcome Programme – so if you can, make sure to do that too.

Generally speaking, you will be very surprised when you arrive by the style of teaching at Sciences Po. It is basically like going back to high school; classes only involve 20-30 students, attendance is mandatory, and more than two unexplained absences will cause you to fail a class. On top of this, marks are given for in-class participation.

There were quite a few frustrating issues the Sciences Po has with their teaching. Firstly, they do not have anything like Blackboard. Each teacher seems to use a different method of giving out class materials. Some use email, some use Moodle, some use Google Drive, and some only use paper, so it is a bit of a mess. The same problem goes for marking; some teachers use subtractive marking, and some don’t. Some give you your marks for assessment done before finals, and some don’t. Don’t expect it to be as organised as UQ.

That being said, the redeeming feature of Sciences Po is that their economics courses are nowhere near as rigorous as those at UQ. Essentially, most of the economics courses can be aced by memorising surface level knowledge that is given to you in powerpoints.

The grading system – like all grading in France – is on a scale of 0 to 20, with 10 being a pass. The equivalent of a 7 at UQ is probably more like a 16 at Sciences Po. Sciences Po teachers will often bell curve a class if a lot of people failed, so if you keep in the top half of the pack you will be fine.

Personal experience

As everyone will tell you, going on exchange is a once in a lifetime experience, that you should do if at all possible. This was true for me on a personal level. I had never been to Europe before this, so my trip was at least 50% travel, and it was absolutely worth it. I highly recommend going to as many new places as you can, as this was by far what made the exchange worthwhile in my experience. Travelling also allowed me to meet up with lots of people who lived over in Europe, and which I had not seen for many years, so this opportunity was about more than just seeing new places.

While at Sciences Po, I did the Welcome Program, and I found this was a great way to meet friends, and I have made a few close friends that I plan on visiting in future trips overseas. Another great experience I had was doing a futsal class. This was the only time I actually met and talked to French people my own age, and it was very good for language development because they often were from outside Paris, and did not speak as much English as native Parisians.


Sciences Po does not provide any official accommodation, so you will need to organise this yourself. They do however provide a closed advertising service for landlords looking for student tenants, as well as a Facebook page serving the same role, however there tend to be a lot of scams on these pages.

I found an apartment through BeMyFlat (a rental agency) in the middle of the city. Other reputable accommodation providers include Lodgis and ParisAttitude. If you are looking for something more like a student dorm, then you can apply to Cité Universitaire, which is a student accommodation house (not part of ScPo); the only problem is that it is about 30 minutes away from Sciences Po, so if you are going out with friends you will need to plan this around the last Metro/RER service.

Personally, I recommend staying as close to uni as you can. I stayed right in the heart of the Latin Quarter, and it was amazing to be able to go for a morning run past the Louvre and Pont Neuf, and then warm down while sitting in front of Notre Dame. It also means when you go out with your friends you can often walk to and from the bars where you are meeting.


Paris is probably one of the most expensive places you can go on exchange. My rent was over 1000 euros/month for a tiny studio in the heart of the city, but Cité Universitaire and flat sharing options are much more affordable (ranging from 400 to 1000 euros for flat shares, and 400-500 euros for Cité Universitaire).

When it comes to food, you can easily survive on 100 euros of groceries per week, but going out at an average restaurant will easily cost around 20 euros per plate. I found the cheapest place for Groceries was the big Monoprix across from Saint Germain church, and the best value restaurant was the Creperie outside the Panthéon. 

One bonus of being in Paris is that museum entry is free if you show your student card. Travelling outside Paris quickly becomes expensive though. Trains – if booked less than a month beforehand – can cost up to 200 euros return for destinations in France, and more for abroad. Hostels are around 20 to 30 euros per night, so I would recommend that a weekend away would normally cost around 200 to 300 euros.

Travel around Paris will cost you 1.90 for a 2 hour metro ticket, or 75 euros per month for a Navigo card, which gives you unlimited use of the public transport system (including the airport trains). I used the Navigo card, and made a conscious effort to use the metro as much as I could – it really is a very effective system, and it can get you within a block of any place in the 20 arrondissements within about 20 minutes.

For entertainment, clubbing costs about the same as it would in Australia – and there are some places that will charge 12 euros (20 AUD) for a pint of beer. The French love cinema, so there are lots of cheap indie cinemas, and even the cinema at Les Halles has student tickets for about 8 euros. I found the best way to relax was to go for a run along the Seine and through the parks (free!) and through futsal classes at the uni (85 euros for the semester).

Overall, my advice is to set a budget and stick to it. Depending on the choices you make, you can do it for less than $15,000, but if you go for the most expensive option every time you may see yourself forking out over $25,000 (or running out of money half way through).


The challenges I faced were not those I expected to face. My first hurdle was finding a place to live, as I waited until I arrived so I could be sure I wasn’t being scammed. This took a few weeks, and caused a few sleepless nights, but once that was out of the way it was a big relief.

The main challenge I faced though was culture shock. People will tell you the French are rude to tourists, and it will certainly seem that way at first. The cashiers at the supermarkets will throw your food to the side nonchalantly after they scan it. It will also seem like everywhere you go they want your passport, and will treat you with an air of distrust. This will take a long time to get over, but what helped me finally get over it is the fact that once you get to know people in Paris – such as your teachers and classmates - they will treat you much more warmly. 

(Also it is actually a legal requirement to carry government ID in France (QLD drivers licences do not count) – whether you choose to carry your passport around is up to you, but is probably recommended)

Professional Development

Apart from the obvious development I gained by taking courses relevant to my degree, the trip was the first time I had lived outside of Brisbane for a long period of time, so this experience really helped with resilience, language skills, and networking. All of these are valued by employers in the workplace, and will be a big bonus to your résumé.

For me, the biggest benefit of this exchange was the personal development. I had never been to Europe, and solo travelling through the region therefore presented many challenges. What was very satisfying for me was that I was able to overcome all of these challenges on my own, which helped me become a much more independent person. While independence is valued in the workplace too, I think the value of this skill is much more personal than professional.


This whole experience was a highlight! I was able to travel all through Europe, as I had never been before. I was able to visit friends all over the place, many of whom I hadn’t seen for years. A big plus for me was being able to see so many historical places, such as Oxford and Cambridge universities, and even was able to witness the Notre Dame fire – something that is once in a lifetime, even if it was a little full on.

Another highlight for me was being able to solo travel. There was something quite enthralling about going from city to city on my own, and booking places a few nights in advance. You don't get distracted by other people when you travel solo, so you can really focus on the history of the places you visit. It was certainly one of the most enjoyable parts for me.

Top tips

I've probably already given all of my top tips in the above fields, but here are some more tips I would add:
* Ask for a menu in French - sometimes the prices are higher for the tourist menus.
* There is an underground entrance to the Louvre in the nearby shopping centre (google it) the lines will be much shorter than at the pyramids on the surface.
* Make an effort to greet waiters in French where you are eating; they will appreciate it.
* Try not to fall for scammers - there are many types of scams, but the most common one is the famous 'clipboard ladies' who will either try to pickpocket you or get you to a survey then sell your data.
* Don't leave your valuables unattended - someone I met over there put their laptop bag on the ground for 2 seconds and it was stolen as soon as they turned their back.
* Make a concious effort to visit historical nooks and crannies throughout the city - there are so many incredible places in Paris with history dating back hundreds of years that you can so easily walk past without realising.
* Go to the Australian War Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux. If you don't have a car (as I didn't) you can stay in Amiens and take the train. The walk from the train station is around 3 km through some fields. If you stay in Amiens you will also be able to watch the light show at Notre-Dame d'Amiens, which is quite a spectacle (show does not run all year round).
* Rather than going up the Eiffel tower, go up Montparnasse Tower at sunset. It is much better because you can actually see the Eiffel tower, which you can't do if you are on top of it.
* There are lots of day trips you can do with your Navigo card. I recommend Chateau de Sceaux and Auvers-sur-Oise (the final resting place of van Gogh, and the inspiration for many of his works).