Organisation of École Normale Supérieure

The Ecole normale supérieure is one of a few schools that still occupy a campus in the heart of Paris. The historic Paris ENS campus is located around the rue d'Ulm, the main building being at 45 rue d'Ulm in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, which was built by architect Alphonse de Gisors and given to ENS by law in 1841. Above the entrance door are sculptures of two female figures who respectively represent letters and sciences. They are portrayed sitting on either side of a medallion of Minerva, who represents wisdom. A formalised version of this frontal piece is used as the school's emblem.

The main site at 45 rue d'Ulm is organized around a central courtyard, the Cour aux Ernests. Another courtyard south of this one, the Cour Pasteur, separates the school from the apartment buildings of the rue Claude-Bernard. This buildings house the administrative functions of the school, and some of its literary departments (philosophy, literature, classics and archeology), its mathematics and computer science departments, as well as its main human sciences library. The site's monument aux morts, which was inaugurated in 1923 and stands as a reminder of the normaliens who lost their lives in the First World War, is a work by Paul Landowski.

Surrounding this main campus are auxiliary buildings in adjacent streets. The first one, opposite the main entrance, at 46 rue d'Ulm, houses the school's biology department and laboratories as well as a part of its student residences. North of the school on rue Lhomond lies the seat of the school's physics and chemistry departments, inaugurated in 1936 by Léon Blum and Albert Lebrun, while further up the rue d'Ulm its number 29 houses secondary libraries and the school's department of cognitive sciences.

ENS has a second campus on Boulevard Jourdan (previously the women's college), in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, which is home to the school's research department of social sciences, law, economics and geography, as well as further student residences. The site has been undergoing major reconstruction since 2015. In 2017, President Francois Hollande inaugurated a new building on site, which is home to the ENS economics department, the school's social science library, and the Paris School of Economics, an ENS project.

The school has a secondary site in the suburb of Montrouge, which houses some of its laboratories alongside those of Paris Descartes University. It features green areas and sporting facilities as well as some 200 student rooms. A fourth site in the town of Foljuif, south of Paris, hosts some of the school's biology laboratories.

The school is very small in student numbers: its core of students, who are called normaliens, are selected via either a competitive exam called a concours (baccalaureate + 2 years) a secondary selection process centred on the preparation of a research project (baccalaureate +2-4 years) and a PhD selection (since 2010). Preparation for the concours takes place in preparatory classes which last two years (see grandes écoles). Two hundred normaliens are thus recruited every year, half of them in the sciences and the same number in the humanities, and receive a monthly salary (around €1,350/month in 2018), and in exchange they sign a ten-year contract to work for the state. Although it is seldom applied in practice, this exclusivity clause is redeemable (often by the hiring firm).

It is also possible to enter the school at the Master's level after a first degree obtained at another university or grande école. In this case students are generally asked to take the ENS Diploma besides their master's degree. ENS recruits a few students into its own doctoral program (ED 540). This PhD program is interdisciplinary, covering mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences in general, and it is closely linked to the CNRS and the Collège de France. ENS also has partnered Master's with other institutions: in this case the degree is granted by both institutions. Entrance into a Master's or PhD program is highly selective, with an average rate of acceptance for these programs around 5%. The selection process is usually based on academic excellence and interviews. ENS also welcomes selected foreign students (the "international selection"), participates in various graduate programs, and has extensive research laboratories. The foreign students selected often receive a scholarship which covers their expenses.

The students selected via the concours remain at the school for a length of time ranging from four to six years. Normaliens from France and other European Union countries are considered civil servants in training. Many students devote at least one of those years to the agrégation, which allows them to teach in high schools or universities. Faculty recruitment is selective, with between zero and one ENS professorship open per year. Faculty recruitments usually happen upon previous incumbent retirements. In informal ENS jargon, ENS full professors are popularly called PdPs ("professeurs des professeurs)".

Founded to train high school teachers through the agrégation, ENS is now an institution training researchers, professors, high-level civil servants, as well as business and political leaders. It focuses on the association of training and research, with an emphasis on freedom of curriculum. The school's resources are equally divided between its "Letters" (social and human sciences and literature) and its "Sciences" (natural sciences and mathematics) sections. The school's fifteen departments and its 35 units of research (unités mixtes de recherches or UMR in French) work in close coordination with other public French research institutions such as the CNRS.

The school has seven departments in its "Sciences" section: mathematics, physics, computer science, chemistry, biology, geoscience and cognitive science. It also has eight departments in its "Letters" section: philosophy, literature, history, classics, social science, economics (this section is the base of Paris School of Economics), geography, and art history and theory. In addition to these fifteen departments, a language laboratory for non-specialists offers courses in most major world languages to all the students. Additional centres of research and laboratories gravitate around the departments, which function as nodes of research.

The emphasis is placed squarely on interdisciplinarity and students who entered from a scientific concours (thus having mainly studied in their preparatory school maths, physics and chemistry or biology) are encouraged to attend courses in the literary departments. Conversely, maths and physics introductory courses are on offer for the students from the "literary" departments. The school's diploma, instituted in 2006, requires students to attend a certain number of courses not related to their major.

The École normale supérieure has a network, known as Rubens, of ten libraries shared out over its sites, which taken together make up the third largest library in France. The catalogue is available for consultation online. Entrance to the libraries is reserved to domestic and international researchers of doctoral level, as well as to the teachers at the school, normaliens, other ENS students, and PSL Research University students. The main library, devoted to literature, classics, and human sciences, dates back to the nineteenth century when it was greatly expanded by its director, the famous dreyfusard Lucien Herr. Its main reading room is protected as a monument historique. This main library, which covers several thousand square metres, is one of the largest free access funds of books in France, with upwards of 800,000 books readily available and more than 1600 periodicals. Its classics section is part of the national network of specialised libraries (Cadist).

A secondary library concerned with social science, economics, and law is located at the Jourdan campus for social science. This library has more than 150,000 books in the subjects it covers. The school also has specialised libraries in archeology, cognitive sciences, mathematics and computer science, theoretical physics. A recently unified natural sciences library was opened in 2013, aiming to bring together in a central place on rue d'Ulm the libraries of physics, chemistry, biology and geoscience. The school also features two specialised centres for documentation, the Bibliothèque des Archives Husserl, and the Centre d'Archives de Philosophie, d'Histoire et d'Edition des Sciences.