Quarter System vs. Semester System: Which One Is Right For You?

One thing to keep in mind when deciding which college to attend is whether it operates on a quarter system or semester system. A college on a quarter system typically divides the academic year into ten-week subsets and is usually open year-round. In contrast, a college on a semester system divides the school year into halves, with each semester lasting around fifteen weeks.

This aspect of the university is often overlooked, but can have a significant impact on your learning experience in college. You should consider the difference in pace, material, and grading as you figure out which system would best fit your individual learning style.

Fast Paced vs. Slow Paced

The two systems operate under very different paces. The quarter system, with its shorter ten-week periods, tends to be much more fast-paced than the semester system. My school, the University of California Davis, uses quarters, so the first quarter of my freshman year of college was a period of adaptation. The quarter system is more suitable for students who are able to pick up concepts fairly quickly, who work well under pressure, and/or who are able to use their time efficiently.

The benefit to moving relatively quickly is that it allows students to develop skills that will be crucial to for success in the workplace, like the ability to manage ones time and to meet deadlines. The drawback is that it’s very easy to fall behind, which can be particularly stressful for students taking a hard class or when students get sick. Be prepared to have a midterm every week or every other week.

On the other hand, the pace at a semester school is much slower, giving professors and students ample time to go over material. The semester system is more suitable for students who like to take their time with learning, are able to retain a large amount of information, and/or who have a lot of extracurricular responsibilities. The benefit is that you have enough time to catch up if you fall behind. The drawback is that class can be repetitive/redundant, especially in the early weeks.

A Different Approach To Learning

In addition to pace, the systems have a different approach to material. Under the semester system, students are taking a particular set of classes for half of the school year. Under the quarter system, students get new professors, classes, and classmates every ten weeks.

Semester schools also tend to cover a larger amount of material, simply because they have more time to do so. If you’re the type of student who likes to work with the same material for a long time and understand it on a deeper level, the semester system is probably the best for you. This can be especially advantageous when you’re taking a class you love with a professor you really like, but if you get stuck with a challenging class or professor, you may get discouraged by the material load.

The time constraints of the quarter system make it difficult to reach the same level of depth with material as the semester system. On the flip side, you get a chance to start over every two and a half months with new classes and professors. I tend to get bored working with the same books and concepts, so the fresh start is ideal for me.

Keep Grading System In Mind

Finally, another thing to keep in mind is your grades. At the end of the school year, you will have two sets of grades under the semester system, while under the quarter system, you will have three to four. This has implication as far as what your GPA will look like. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide whether an aggregate of more classes or less classes will give you a solid, competitive transcript.

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Pamela Nonga

Pamela Nonga

Pamela Nonga is a second year at the University of California Davis double majoring in Political Science and Communications. When she’s not theorizing about the greater meaning behind her day-to-day experiences on her blog, you can find her on a run, enjoying a blend of the outdoors and her favorite tunes. Pamela loves to read, write, and travel, and hopes to work in the fields of Journalism and Media as a career.
Pamela Nonga

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