Quarter vs semester college system

what are the main differences between quarter and semester college systems?

for example, are classes in the quarter system generally more fast-paced compared to semester classes, which leads to more stress?

My experience with quarter vs. semester was long ago. We had 10 weeks of classes, followed by an exam week, on our schedule. We typically took 4 classes, worth 4 or 5 credit hours. Each class typically met for 50 or 55 minutes (can’t remember which), 4 or 5 days a week. I hated switching to semesters in grad school because there were too many classes to keep up with.

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You will find people who love/hate each system. Personally, I did quarter for undergrad and semester for grad school and much preferred the quarter system. I stayed on top of the material better during the quarter system and short term memory was helpful during exams. I needed a significant more time to study for the extra 6 weeks at the end of a semester. The material builds on itself so study time for the number of days/weeks wasn’t linear when studying for quarter vs semester.


I prefer quarters. The breaks make sense. I never liked taking winter break and coming back to the same classes, almost completed. Quarter curricula have more hours (e.g. 180 vs 120), but it’s not really more material. At the end of the day, choose the school you want and adapt to whatever schedule system they use.

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I studied at a university with the semester system for my bachelor’s degree. Then I studied at a university with the quarter system for my master’s degree.

With the quarter system, a bit less is taught in each class, but you get more classes. To give you a couple of examples. I was a math major (actually a subset of applied math for my master’s known as “operations research”). I however took a class in econometrics when I was getting my masters. I liked this class a lot (econometrics requires quite a bit of math, which I was good with). However, I only wanted to get a general understanding of econometrics and so only took one class. I also took a class in stochastic processes. However, this was a core class in my major. Therefore after taking one class in stochastic processes, the following semester I took the next class in the series. Thus I had two consecutive quarters of stochastic processes (plus several other classes which were closely related) which was able to cover more than what you would typically get in one semester.

To me the biggest difference is that after getting used to the semester system, with the quarter system the end of the quarter comes up more quickly than you expect. Suddenly you notice that the end of the quarter is just a few weeks away and you are about to have final exams. If you always keep ahead this is fine. Exams come, but you are ready. Then you probably get a few days off, and then you are starting the next quarter. I liked this because I got to continue with the core classes that I wanted to take, and got to take a new set of electives (although in a master’s degree nearly all electives are still in your major).

If you stay caught up, and want a bit more flexibility, then the quarter system is quite good. However, stay caught up. Also, transferring from a school with one system to a school with the other system can make it difficult to figure out what you get credit for.

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You’re dating yourself. :wink:


I’m admittedly old. :rofl:


My daughter’s BF goes to Denver. Yes, it’s less classes, but faster paced. It’s the same total but a condensed time.

While my kid’s both go to semester, what I didn’t like about Denver was - they started in early Sept and then ended at Thanksgiving. So they were there 2 and 2/3 months.

Then they’re off til January.

So they get there, barely meet everyone and get established and then boom, it’s over and 6 weeks off. They’ll also go into June which will be hard for getting internships based on the dates that I see for interns (usually May - late July/early August).

That’s school (Denver) specific and my kids don’t attend…but just an observation from talking with her BF. He’s in a fraternity but noted - just as he’s getting to know people, he’s already gone for a long time.

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:rofl: :rofl: :rofl:


I loved quarters over semesters. (Grad school and UG were different. ) In addition to what folks have posted above, I felt like it provided a bit more flexibility in terms of what a course covered. If it was really a lot, there could be part 1 and part 2 (2 quarters). I often felt in a semester class that the last month or so didn’t quite “fit” with the rest or alternatively, that we were tearing through material to be done in time.

The downside is 3 sets of midterms, dead weeks, and finals each year.

If you are an athlete, you should see how it goes in with your sport. It might fit into just one quarter and you’ll have a little more flexibility to take a light load in that quarter.

Note that some schools have fewer courses that meet longer in each term (so cover a normal semester of material in one quarter by being more intensive.). Others have you take the same # as you would in a semester but limit content i.e you would need 3 quarters of French to do to 2 semesters worth, both being one year.

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My younger kid was on quarters…and the schedule was very advantageous for summer work. Most jobs didn’t start until mid June which was when she got home. But she picked up a LOT of extra hours as a lifeguard after mid August when all the other summer college and high school students left the job.


Quarters can cause some issues with internships. The ones that are highly structured may start before you are done with spring quarter. This was one of the reasons that UChicago gave for shorting the quarter to 9 weeks.


Quarter system: academic year is three 10-week quarters. Summer session is another 10-week quarter.
Semester system: academic year is two 15-week semesters. Summer session is an 8-week session.

A quarter credit is 2/3 of a semester credit, and the typical BA/BS graduation credits is 180 quarter credits or 120 semester credits.

For a year-long sequence (e.g. single variable calculus, general chemistry, beginner or intermediate foreign language), the usual difference is dividing it into three smaller chunks or two larger chunks. There is no change of pace.

For standalone courses, the pace may be faster or slower on the quarter system. For example, a 4-credit semester course may be taught as a 6-credit quarter course (faster pace) or a sequence of two 3-credit quarter courses (slower pace).


Yeah, as a PhD student I usually had to start working on my final papers by the second or third week of the quarter. It can take up to a month to receive the interlibrary loans you need, so waiting until the latter part of the quarter is not the best idea.

I prefer the quarter system for teaching, but I liked the semester system better as a student, partly because of @Eeyore123’s excellent point about many internships and research programs starting long before your spring quarter is done.

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As far as pace, I prefer the quarter system. Some classes have two midterms and a final, so the studying is forced to be evenly distributed over the quarter. For procrastinators that can be a gift or a curse. What I don’t like about the quarter system is three cycles of class selection (the summer session is usually not as problematic) and the accompanying angst, waitlists, alternate schedules etc. etc.

I think with some adjustments you can be successful in either system. I would not pick an institution based on whether they are on a quarter or semester system. There are more important considerations.


Mostly agree, but there are some considerations applicable to some students.

  • Athletes may want to consider how much of the academic year is impacted by the sport season. One whose sport season overlaps with 1 quarter or 1 semester may prefer the quarter system. One whose sport season overlaps with 2 quarters or 1 semester may prefer the semester system.
  • Very undecided students may prefer the quarter system in order to be able to sample more different courses and subjects in the first year.
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On a note of lesser importance, I’d add that whether one is on the semester or quarter system can affect study abroad plans. A student on the quarter system who’s only had the fall quarter course of a sequence may be ill prepared to jump into the spring semester of the same course at another university.

For example, the fall class Greek 1 (Elementary Greek I) at UCLA would not be adequate preparation for taking Beginning Greek II in the College Year in Athens program.

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Along similar lines, a student taking a transfer pathway starting at a community college may find better course alignment to four year schools on the same calendar. With different calendars, a student may need to take more courses / credit at the community college to cover the needed material at the four year school. For example, if a four year school requires one semester of calculus, the transfer student at a quarter system community college may need to take two quarters of calculus to cover that material. Or if a four year school requires two quarters of calculus, the transfer student at a semester system community college may need to take two semesters of calculus to cover that material.

In California, most CSUs and community colleges are on the semester system, but most UCs are on the quarter system, so most community college students taking the transfer path to most UCs are likely to encounter this issue. But a student with a choice of nearby community colleges on different calendars may want to consider this issue in context of their target four year schools.

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At the end of the day, choose the school you want and adapt to whatever schedule system they use.

Good point, before making this post I was considering taking schools off my list just based on whether they were on the quarter/semester system.

After reading this I think I might actually be better off in a quarter system compared to a semester system (opposite of what I originally thought). Thanks for your reply

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