The French general-track Baccalauréat is a diploma awarded by the French Ministry of Education to students who pass a national exam, which they take in part at the end of 11th grade, with the bulk of the examinations at the end of 12th grade. This diploma represents the successful completion of secondary education and enables its bearer to pursue higher education at institutions in France, in the United States, in Canada, and in many other countries.
Each year, more than 500 000 students take the examination for the general track Baccalauréat, among whom 12 000 are enrolled in accredited French high schools abroad. In French schools in North America, close to 100% of candidates obtain the baccalauréat diploma each year, with many earning a high to very high distinction.
Created in 1808 by Napoléon, the Baccalauréat has undergone many evolutions. Since 1995, the general Baccalauréat has included three series and its current organization dates back to the 2010-2011 high school reform:
- The Language and Literature (L) series requires from the student to possess an analytical and synthetic mind and has an emphasis on literature, languages, history and geography and arts. Its objective is to further a humanist culture by putting in perspective works of literature or the arts, the practice of debate and the acquisition of critical thinking through the teaching of philosophy.
- The Economics and Social Science (ES) series requires a particular focus on the socio-economic environment and on current events, as well as a clear disposition for history and geography and mathematics. Its objective if to promote an economic and social culture as well as to develop a critical openness to the issues pertaining to our contemporary world.
- The Math and Science (S) series requires abstract thinking and reasoning abilities, intellectual rigor, and an inclination for experimenting. Its objective is to develop a real scientific culture based on an approach to sciences that is both theoretical and experimental, as well as on sound mathematical knowledge.
The French Baccalauréat is a high level national diploma, which is currently obtained by approximately 39% of an age group in France, and it marks the completion of schooling characterized by the acquisition of a good general culture and real critical thinking, therefore, this certification and the schooling that preceded it are widely recognized by the best universities in the world. A number of the best universities in the United States and Canada grant credit for one to two semesters to holders of the French Baccalauréat, particularly when it was obtained with a high or very high distinction. In France, the general Baccalauréat diploma allows access to university and to selective higher education programs such as preparatory programs for certain elite schools.
In the United States, Canada and France, students that are bilingual or near bilingual in French and English may choose to take the American International Option of the general Baccalauréat. When they do, students take all the examinations required in their series, except for the relevant foreign language and history and geography, for which there are specific oral and written examinations.