Semester vs. Quarter Schedule: Pros and Cons

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  • 0:05 Two Different Academic…
  • 0:36 The Semester Schedule
  • 1:23 The Quarter System
  • 2:04 Different Pace
  • 4:04 Jobs, Internships &…
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jamila Nassar

Jamila is a certified school counselor in the state of Indiana. She has worked in education for 15 years.

This lesson will cover the quarter schedule and the semester schedule systems. Learn about the pros and cons of each in order to make a choice that matches your style.

Two Different Academic Schedules

So, you're applying for schools and looking at possible majors and four-year plans. But then you notice that some schools schedule classes on a quarter system and others on a semester system. What are the differences between quarters and semesters? How do you know which system fits your needs the best? Let's take a look at how these two academic schedules differ and compare the benefits and drawbacks of each.

The Semester Schedule

About 90% of colleges in the United States run on the semester system, making it the most common type of academic schedule. If your high school is on the semester system, then this schedule will be familiar to you. In college, the semester schedule breaks the academic year into two 15-week sessions - the fall semester and the spring semester with a winter break in between.

The fall semester begins around the end of August and finishes in mid-December. Spring semester begins in mid-January and ends in May. Students generally take about four or five classes per semester.

The Quarter System

The quarter system divides the academic year into three quarters - fall, winter and spring. The fourth quarter, which is considered the summer session, gives students another chance to take more classes and possibly graduate early.

A typical quarter lasts 10 weeks, and students take about three classes per quarter. The school year starts towards the end of September and finishes in June. A small percentage of schools still operate on the quarter system, but those that do believe it is an excellent system that serves students well.

Different Pace

Making the decision to attend a school on a quarter system or semester system depends on your study habits and your personality. Do you thrive in high pressure situations? Are you prone to procrastination? If you answered yes to these questions, the quarter system might be a good choice for you.

Some students feel the quarter system keeps them on their toes because there is so little down time. If, however, you are not the type of person who does well under pressure, keep in mind that the same amount of material is covered in a quarter as in a semester. This means that during a ten-week quarter, there is always a quiz or test just around the corner and skipping even one class can be disastrous.

That doesn't mean that the semester schedule will be a cake walk, though. When on a semester schedule, you will have more time between tests, and it can be tempting to put off your assignments. Students on a semester schedule have to be very diligent about following the syllabus and maintaining good attendance.

The strength of the semester system is that it allows for more time to absorb the information you are studying. An added bonus - because there are only two semesters and fewer classes over the course of the year, you will only have finals twice a year instead of three.

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