“Succeeding in a different academic environment”

Agathe Grégoire has just returned from her third year abroad at University College London, where she received the John Pencavel Prize for her outstanding performance in Economics. Here is her interview on her time spent at UCL and her plans for the future.

Sciences Po and University College London have been partner universities since 2011. Today, the Dual BA degree between Sciences Po and UCL is one of the most attractive programmes for students. UCL is also the most requested exchange programme for Sciences Po students' third year abroad, with 6 exchange agreements: ESPS, Arts & Sciences, Anthropology, Economics, Urban Planning, Education & Social Policy.

What motivated you to study abroad at UCL?

My choice to study at UCL was very rational. The primary goal was to improve my English, as this was my main academic difficulty. I had never had the opportunity to travel, so any English-speaking country seemed perfect for me. I decided to stay in Europe: I am very close to my family, and did not want to spend a year without seeing them at all, which would have been the case if I had chosen to study in a country too far away from France. That's why I decided to spend my year abroad in the UK or in Ireland.

I also wanted to use the year abroad to clarify my professional goals. I was at the time strongly interested in economics, and considering undertaking a career in this field, in the public, private, or research sector. As a result, I wanted to study economics deeply, in a well-known university, so as to ensure this was the right choice to make. The Economics Department of UCL met all these criteria, which is why I applied - and I was lucky enough to be accepted.

How has your education been enriched by the opportunity of studying at both Sciences Po and UCL?

Sciences Po, at least at the Undergraduate College level, is not a professional school, but rather teaches individuals to think critically, and adapt to any kind of professional environment. UCL, on the other hand, offers modules that tend to be more technical, enabling students to define the economic field they wish to enter directly after their studies.

I think studying at Sciences Po has given me the opportunity to discover the most important aspects of every social science, and thereby acquire the cultural background necessary to succeed in most types of jobs at quite a high level of responsibility. This has given me the time to grow, before focusing on my professional goals more specifically. However, as most of the subjects I studied at Sciences Po were incredibly interesting, I completed my two years at the Undergraduate College quite indecisive about my future. My year at UCL has given me the opportunity to attend modules corresponding to actual jobs - Economics of Competition Policy and Regulation, for instance - which allowed me to clarify my professional plans and make a clearer choice for my Master’s degree.

This year abroad has also given me the opportunity to focus on my remaining academic weakness, English, so as to reach, at least to some extent, the level required for the remainder of my studies. In this sense, I have fully reached the goals I set myself for the year abroad. 

You have finished the year at UCL receiving the John Pencavel Prize for overall best performance by an overseas student in Economics, what about this achievement has made you most proud?

At first, I was just very surprised. Up until receiving the email from UCL informing me that I had been awarded the John Pencavel Prize, I had never heard of it. Also, throughout my year at UCL, I had had difficulty assessing my level. In the economics department, most modules are assessed during 2 or 3-hours written exams that happen at the end of the semester. As a result, I had no idea of the grades I could expect. At Sciences Po, my highest marks had been in home-written essays. I had studied economics far less than the other students from my modules, and was lacking some important bases - in particular in microeconomics and econometrics. I also didn’t speak English very well. I was therefore expecting to obtain average grades in most modules, and to fail in the hardest ones.

In hindsight, I think I am most proud of having succeeded in an academic environment very different from the one I am used to in France. Receiving the John Pencavel Prize has proved to me that I am able to do well, academically speaking, when competing with students from all over the world in highly technical subjects.

Do you plan to pursue a further focus in economics and do you have any ideas about your future career plans? Will they be in France, or the UK, or somewhere else?

In September I am beginning a Master’s in Public Affairs, in order to join the École Nationale de l'Administration (ENA) and work in the public sector. Beyond this goal, my career plans are still quite unclear. My year at UCL has shown me that I do like applied economics but I am much less interested in pure theory. Furthermore, during the past year, I have really missed the other social sciences I used to study at Sciences Po. Yet, I remain interested in economic matters, and I am currently considering joining the French Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors), if I succeed in the French civil service entrance examinations.

The only thing I am sure of is that I want to stay in France. I would like to travel across the world in the next few years, but I am very deeply attached to the French culture and way of life. So for the time being, I will stay in Paris, close to my friends and family. 

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