The College Academic Calendar

The way your college structures its academic calendar can affect your life in a big way.

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When looking at colleges, one of the factors you’ll need to consider is the academic calendar. Schools may divide the year into quarters or semesters. Most likely this won’t create any drastic differences from school to school, but you should be aware of how this can affect your schedule.

Semester System

The majority of colleges and universities in the United States operate under a semester system, meaning there are two terms for the academic year, excluding the summer. The school year is symmetrically structured into two-15 week sessions centering around winter vacation. 

Fall semester begins anywhere from mid-August to early September and runs through the beginning of December, with one to two weeks devoted to finals. Spring semester runs from January (or February, depending on when your school resumes post-winter break) through May. At Boston College, the fall semester runs from August 29-December 21, and the spring runs from January 16-May 25.

Quarter System


Quarter systems divide the school year into three terms, plus the summer. Terms are several weeks shorter, usually 10 weeks long, due to the fact that there is an extra term. In order to align the end of the first quarter with winter vacation, the school year starts later than semester system counterparts. For example, fall quarter at UCLA runs from September 19-December 9, winter runs from January 4-March 23, and spring runs from March 28-June 15.

Semester vs. Quarter System: Pros and Cons

  • What are your summer plans? Because most schools use a semester system, the biggest downside to a quarter system is that your academic calendar may not work with certain summer internship and study abroad programs, since you start and end later in the year.
  • What is your financial situation? On a quarter system you will be spending money for an extra term of books each year.
  • What kind of pace do you prefer? Quarter systems move faster, but at the same time, you won’t need to take as many credits per term. While the minimum number of credits at both kinds of schools is generally 12, you won’t be able to graduate in four years on a semester system with only 12 credits per term.
  • How will your credits transfer? If you’re transferring from a quarter system to semester system or vice versa, check the conversion rates on credits. The University of California, Berkeley, which uses semesters, converts quarter credits multiplying by two-thirds.

Unless it will create some form of known conflict, academic calendars should not hinder you from attending a school. Ultimately, it is simply a matter of personal preference and deciding which system will allow you the best chance to succeed.

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