When preparing for college, you must have come across such terms as quarter versus semester system. Back then, these things seemed rather puzzling. By now, you probably know the peculiarities of semester system but the question ‘How does the quarter system work?’ still remains unanswered. Don’t be shy, you are not the only one who doesn’t see the difference. In fact, the quarter vs semester debate is long-running and in this article, we’ll try to cast some light on the issue.

Semester vs Quarter: The Bottom Line

Recently, the semester system has been on the winning side in the semester vs quarter debate. The basic premise of the arguments, which the proponents of the system put forward, is that it produces a certain effect on the students’ capabilities and skills.

If we take a look at the semester hours vs quarter hours statistics, we’ll notice that more than 71% of colleges base their calendar on the former while the latter remains the preferences of less than 15% of colleges. Moreover, the rate, at which colleges develop their affection for semester system, has been growing at a blistering pace.

If you have decided to quit college quarter system, there will be a few changes in your academic year you should be aware of.

Before we proceed, let’s make sure the readers of this article are conversant with the basic terminology.

A quarter is defined as a part of an academic year that has been split into four sessions, per each season accordingly. On a side note, the summer session isn’t counted towards the year but it is a safety net in case of extraordinary circumstances.

After doing some rudimentary calculations, you will come to a conclusion that every session will be 10 weeks in duration. The number of credits in each class determines how many classes students are allowed to take.

Up next is semester, a notion people are more accustomed to.  A systematization of this kind results into a division of an academic year into two halves with two long breaks. January is characterized by shorter sessions, that’s why it was dubbed “J-term.” This is the predominant system of colleges and universities in our country, with only 10% of educational establishments opting for unorthodox systems.

The definition of trimester is self-evident: the year comprises three sessions in every time of year with the exception of the hottest one – summer. Hence, there are 12-13 weeks allocated to each semester. Unlike colleges, high schools exhibit preferences for trimesters.

Trimester vs Semester Year Comparison

All trimester vs semester differences boil down to the discrepancies in schedule of academic activities and vacations.

  • The continuation of class terms

Quarter system vs semester system means 10-week-long class terms vs 15-week long ones. Consequently, you will be having either three or two sessions per class.

  • Study breaks, holidays, and vacations

Going for a semester system means securing oneself a long four-week winter break. The quarter system makes this vacation two times shorter.

  • The finish line

As a rule, an academic year in colleges with the quarter system begins and finishes one month later.

Although it has a word ‘quarter’ in its name, the year actually consists of trimesters, three periods, each ten week in length. To illustrate, the year starts in the middle of September and ends in the middle of June, with short breaks every three months.

  • Schedule

In the quarter system, students have regular breaks. Typically, these are breaks around national holidays plus a spring break. In particular, expect to have a break on Thanksgiving, a longer break to celebrate Christmas, and a spring break between the second and the third trimester – for no special reason, just because students need breaks.

This is pretty much everything you should know about academic year organization in a quarter system. As it is, the system looks pretty cool, with all its breaks and study sessions. However, considering an alternative option won’t hurt. So, here’s a brief summary of semester vs trimester advantages and disadvantages.

Quarter vs semester pros and cons

Before you’ve made the final choice, there are a few more things to consider. The following might help recap on the most crucial ones:


  1. Your GPA can be modified (although you never know if the change is positive or not). Logically thinking, having 10-week quarters offers you more chances to make corrections in your GPA comparing to semesters 15 weeks each.
  2. The educational program will be more diversified because schools on quarter system enable you to enroll on more courses.
  3. A class might be over before you even realize you do not like it. Usually, it takes up to 5 classes to see whether you like a class or not and with short semesters, you won’t have to suffer long.
  4. Two graduation options. Students have freedom to choose the date of their graduation. Do you want to wear a fabulous summer dress? Then join the group of summer graduates. Think that cocktails taste better in winter? No problem, the choice is all yours. Not to mention the ‘second chance’ for those falling behind with never-ending exams.


  1. It will be difficult to transfer to another school because of the credit system. If the classes and credits are different, there is no way to match them.
  2. With friends studying at semester schools, you won’t have many opportunities to plan get-togethers because your breaks will start and end at different time. The same with exams.
  3. Midterms can be scheduled for just 3 weeks before the exams.
  4. The calendar will be extremely busy, with various assignments, tests, and exams every week. Be prepared for a crazy pace.
  5. Students find it difficult to focus on academic assignments in May. With studies finishing later in colleges on quarter system, you will be eager to join your friends from other schools.
  6. Cursory classes entail more textbooks. Guess what? This means extra costs. Despite the fact that your tuition won’t be affected in general, be prepared for a hit in the wallet. Of course, you can buy secondhand books, but you’ll still have to cut down on other expenses, and for some it might be a true burden.
  7. If high speed of absorbing new material is not your strength, studying won’t be a piece of cake. Typically, the amount of information will be equivalent to that in longer courses so you’ll have to habituate yourself to consuming coffee like crazy. Most probably, you’ll be burning the midnight oil every now and then.
  8. Elevated academic pressure can be a real setback on your way to having regular sleep. Cases of students taking double major or extra minors are not infrequent. This might be just because everyone around is doing so, not because of mere necessity, but it’s still the case. Although few will be overachievers, everyone will complain of escalating stress levels.
  9. Timetable conflicts are yet another con you are expected to face. The beginning and end of the year will be unconventional, so you’ll be having hard time negotiating internship schedules, planning trips, and so on and so forth.
  10. Finally, here’s the iffy one. The spring and winter breaks will be shorter. Longing for those sweet breaks, you’ll be disappointed at how exceptionally fast they come to an end. To compensate for this inconvenience, think about less downtime and increased focus.

Another aspect of great importance with far-reaching consequences is job opportunities.  Quarter-calendared colleges enable their graduates to delve into the rather shallow sea of employment options one month after those who found semesters close to their hearts. A month might appear a tiny period but with the economy growing fickler by day, this 30-day span can play a decisive role.  Thus, wishing to be one step ahead of the competitors, you might come down in favor of the division into semesters.

Alternatively, take into account the benefits and demerits of semesters.


  1. In-depth instructions. A lengthier class span means that the educational foundation automatically becomes more solid. With more time to absorb and digest new material, the courses become less daunting and stressful. The profs are inclined to incorporate interesting stuff when they have more time in their possession, so you might as well discover that, let’s say, Cosmology, Physics, or Linguistics are far more engaging that you deemed them to be.
  2. More fruitful collaboration between students and faculty and tutors. Knowing your professors on a personal basis can be advantageous and with an abundance of time, your chances to know them better become strikingly enhanced. The stronger the bonds are the more promising the future is.
  3. Smooth passage from high-school life to college life. Experts from Concordia University aptly note that the break-up into semesters is more constructive in terms of adjustment to a rigorous nature of college courses. Provided that a freshman starts his/her year on the wrong foot, a plentiful of time ahead guarantees the room for improvement.


  1. An intense fear of classes ahead. A half-year commitment is not a fleeting glimpse, so a conscientious student won’t be selecting subjects on a whim. An exploration of brand new classes is a luxury, which only the quarter system offers. On a flipside, the dormant interests of the future degree holders might never be explored. This drawback is not critical but imagine how it feels to indulge in a novel hobby, like doing lab experiments, looking at a night starry sky through a telescope, or creating skillful reproductions of Van Gogh’s masterpieces?
  2. Briefer summer term coupled with longer hours. At some colleges, students are encouraged to take up summer classes. These are usually shorter but the same amount of information must be crammed into the vacation-longing heads of aspiring students. Hence, the quality of learning deteriorates due to the clear reasons. With super long classes, studying might get intolerable.

So the choice depends on your (or your child’s) preferences.

Now, having discussed the structural basics, let’s have a look at other issues you might encounter when mulling over the options.

Transferring Credits

These days, the paths students follow to obtain a degree are unpredictable, to say the least. While it is still more common to associate the image of a student with a youngster in their twenties, more and more adults step on this road in the process of their career growth and personal development.

Now, imagine the choice is made and you are packing your suitcases to head for another school. The biggest question will be “How do I transfer credits?” In reality, it’s not that a big deal in the modern world. In fact, 1/3 of American students will change colleges at least once before finishing the education. At first, the procedure will seem challenging. You might be completely befuddled when transferring to a school with dissimilar academic systems, such as semester units vs quarter units. However, you should be able to complete the procedure eventually, so don’t let this inconvenience prevent you from choosing an option that suits your needs better.