This is the option that offers the most independence and flexibility.

The private rental market offers a wide choice of options, such as living close to the social and cultural attractions of France's lively city centers. Private rentals are most suited to students who are independent and already well-adapted to French life.

You may rent space directly from a property owner or through a rental agency.

If you rent through an agency, you will have to pay fees equal to a little more than a month's rent. Apartments may be rented empty or furnished. Unless you have a friend, family member, or other contact in the area in which you intend to live, it is usually very difficult, and in some cases impossible, to find a suitable rental before you arrive in France. 

Once you arrive, you can ask the housing office at your new institution or one of the international student support services found in many university cities to help you in your search for housing.

You can expected to be asked to sign a 1-year rental contract. You may cancel your contract early provided you give at least 3 month's notice for unfurnished apartment or 1 month for a furnished apartment.

The need for a guarantor is a problem for many international students. In some cities and regions, nonprofit organizations and local governments have devised arrangements that provide property owners with the necessary guarantee.

Property owners with space available often post notices in the housing offices of local educational institutions, with the city's international student service office, or with CROUS, the regional student service agency.

Shared rentals

Shared rentals, in which groups of students get together to rent a house or apartment, are becoming increasingly common. Such arrangements are often cheaper than individual rentals and may make it easier to meet French students and other international students.

Each participant in a shared rental is eligible to apply for housing assistance, provided his or her name appears on the rental contract.

Basic facts about renting on the private housing market
Rent: Rents vary widely depending on the quality and location of the lodging and on the presence of related services. In Paris, monthly rents are at least €20 per square meter. Rents are generally lower in other French cities.
Security deposit: One month's rent
Co-signer/guarantor: Students are required to have a guarantor who resides in France. To secure a private rental, the guarantor must make a deposit that guarantees payment of the rent. The guarantor's monthly income must be 3 times the amount of the rent. On behalf of recipients of French government grants and doctoral candidates who have signed a doctoral contract, the national government will advance the security deposit and guarantee payment of rent and related charges.
Pre-arrival rentals: It is sometimes possible to reach agreement with a property owner, usually upon payment of a certain amount to guarantee the reservation, but securing a pre-arrival rental is usually difficult and seldom worth the risk. You may forfeit your deposit if you change your mind after arriving in France.
Housing assistance (ALE): Possible as long as the property meets regulatory requirements. (It must be at least 9 square meters in size.)