Quarter system vs. Semester system (Meaning, Simi & Diff)

Quarter system vs. Semester system

Colleges and universities in the United States use different academic calendars to arrange classes, terms, and campus events. The two commonest calendars are the quarter system and the semester system.

This article will explain the Quarter system and the Semester system, stating their similarities and differences.

Quarter system vs. Semester system

What is a Quarter system?

A quarter system comprises four 10-week sessions within the fall, winter, spring, and summer. A regular full-time student will take 3 to 4 courses per term, or 9 to 12 credits.

An academic year on the quarter system usually starts from mid-September to early June. However, the summer period is optional and permits students to have more classes and presumably graduate early.

In general, a student can take close to 15 credit hours per quarter, having classes three out of the four quarters to complete 45 credit hours annually.

Exploiting these numbers, a student at a college in a four-year program on the quarter system will graduate with roughly 180 credit hours.

Popular quarter-system colleges:

California Institute of Technology, California Polytechnic State University, Capella University, Central Washington University, Dartmouth College, DePaul University, Drexel University, Eastern Oregon University, Eastern Washington University, Loma Linda University, Louisiana Tech University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Northwestern University, Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Pacific Union College, Portland State University, Rose–Hulman Institute of Technology, Santa Clara University, Savannah College of Art and Design, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University, Southern Oregon University, Stanford University, The Evergreen State College, University of California, University of Chicago, University of Denver, University of Oregon, University of Washington, Walla Walla University, Western Oregon University and Western Washington University.

Quarter system vs. Semester system

What is the Semester system?

A semester system usually includes two 15-week terms: one interval is in the autumn (behind the winter holidays), the other is in the spring behind the summer holidays).

A regular full-time student does 4 to 5 courses per term or approximately 15 credits. However, a semester academic year usually begins in August ending and finishes in early May.

Around 95% of Universities in the US use the semester system. Extensively, a student can take approximately 15 credits per semester, complete 30 credits per school year.

Exploiting these numbers, a student in a semester system should graduate with about 120 credit hours.

Quarter system vs. Semester system: Similarities

A semester system will be able to finish the equivalent amount of material as a quarter system. Institutions of higher learning use the two systems to construct the school’s calendar and award credit hours.

Quarter system vs. Semester system: Differences

Neither of the two systems is essentially better than the other. However, they have some differences.

While a quarter system is only ten weeks long, the energy you will need in your classes will be higher than those same classes done throughout a semester.

Even though the coursework and exams of the two systems are identical, the work output in a quarter system is more. That is, having to squeeze about 15 weeks’ amount of work into ten weeks will need more effort on your part.

The key difference is that students go to classes for two 15-week per year in a semester system, whereas in a quarter system, students go to classes for four 10-week quarters.

How Long is a Semester in College?

Though the precise duration differs according to the particular school and holiday schedules, every semester is split into two sections, with a vacation in the middle; usually, the vacation is one week long and occurs in fall and spring….read more.

Benefits of the Semester System

Increase in Study Time: 

Students who take courses during the semester have more time to learn and process new material. This extra time can benefit post-graduate students, who often have to deal with long and demanding assignments.

Transitioning is made easy:

The semester system closely coincides with most high school and community college calendars, so conventional college students can more easily adapt to the new college life.

Additionally, more recent textbooks are written in line with the semester system.

Class Periods are shorter:

Class times on the semester system are shorter than the quarter system, taking up to 50 to 75 minutes which is close to the attention span of most college students.

Stronger Connections: 

Longer classes in a semester calendar mean more opportunities for student-teacher contact, which might help when seeking employment and internship referrals.

Drawbacks of the Semester System

Swapping Majors can be Expensive:

Students who wish to swap majors might end up taking and paying for courses they don’t need to graduate with. Most times, this can be up to 15 credits, which accumulates to thousands of dollars in tuition fees.

Difficulty in increasing GPA: 

A student who performed poorly in a course would experience difficulty improving their GPA because every semester carries more load than a quarter system.

How long is a Quarter in College?

Precise calendars differ from college to college and students may take about three or four classes every quarter, moreover, each quarter corresponding with the seasons. Like the semester system, students vacate after each quarter then return for the next session.

The fall and winter quarter holidays, spring and fall quarter are usually the most extended, like a conventional winter and summer holiday.

The quarter system is generally split up in these ways:

  • Fall quarter: mid-September to early December;
  • Winter quarter: early January to end of March;
  • Spring quarter: mid-April to early June;
  • Summer quarter: mid-June to August end.

Benefits of the Quarter System

Much Flexibility:

Students in the quarter system take multiple courses. Moreover, after graduation, students do approximately six additional courses (18 credits) instead of those in the semester system.

Being exposed to these many options allows students to attempt various majors, seek a double major, and enroll in elective courses that they might not otherwise be able to take.

Reduced Course Weights: 

Full-time students in the quarter system handle fewer classes simultaneously (usually 3 to 4). Consequently, they find it easy to pay attention to their school work and eventually make good grades.

Little Time to Fuss: 

Shorter sessions explain that students won’t have to stay longer in classes they dislike (like the compulsory general knowledge classes) or with a teacher they do not like.

Distraction is reduced because of short breaks:

Shorter vacations between quarters (in contrast to long winter and summer vacations between semesters) assist students in paying more attention to their books. This makes it less difficult to remember essential materials.

Drawbacks of the Quarter System

Internships can be complicated:

Students in the quarter system might find it challenging to land internships, as companies and establishments usually set the dates for their internship programs around a semester calendar.

Little Options for Schooling Overseas: 

Students in the quarter system might not qualify for overseas schooling programs that mostly operate on the semester calendar.

Difficulty in Obtaining Employment Opportunities: 

In quarter systems, students usually complete their education a month after their semester system counterparts. This means that the number of jobs available would have reduced when the students in quarter system colleges eventually graduate.

In an unstable economy, being right on time can make a big difference for fresh graduates. Students attending the semester system have an edge when searching after graduation over their peers in quarter system schools.

Quarter system vs. Semester system

How to transfer of College Credits from Quarter system to Semester system and vice versa.

As schools using the semester system give semester credits, quarter system colleges offer quarter credits. Credit problems always come up whenever students decide to switch from a semester system college to a quarter system college (or the other way around).

You might be wondering how to correctly modify academic calendars. Quarter system institutions, on the other hand, do the transition from semester to quarter credits. Transferred credits are multiplied by 1.5 by academic advisors.

For instance, a student that earned 30 credits at any institution running the semester system would earn 45 quarter credits at the University of Washington.

Likewise, students who transfer quarter credits to semester credits would have to divide by 1.5. For instance, a student from the University of Washington who transferred into a Walla Walla Community College program having five quarter credits under their sleeves would be having 3.3-semester credits.

So many colleges permit a certain number of transfer credits; most times, it is up to 60.


Deciding to attend a quarter system or semester system school won’t depend on whether one is better. In the end, it rolls down to a student’s preference.

Nonetheless, if a particular school catches your fancy deciding between quarter system vs. semester system can be debatable.

Lastly, the right educational calendar for a student is determined mainly on their learning method, content grasping ability, and desire to try out different subjects.

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