Quarters or Semesters?

When it comes to college students at colleges and universities with different time systems, there comes a debate between whether quarter or semester systems are better. If you look close enough at the debate, you will notice that it becomes more of a debate between which school is better. This makes it confusing for someone who is looking for an answer about time systems and does not answer their questions whatsoever. Well, I’d like to put an end to that. I have attended both types of colleges.

The criteria that will be used will examine the following: Term Length, Cost, and Academic Scheduling. I will first give an overview of the criteria and specify the differences between quarters and semesters in relation to the criteria. Next, I will give a short (this will be difficult for me) benefit and issue analysis of quarters and semesters. Lastly, I will give my pick as to whether quarters or semesters won and my reasoning.

Term Length

The biggest difference you will hear about semesters and quarters is how long they both are. Semesters can be anywhere from 14 – 20 weeks. It really depends on the school. A quarter can be anywhere from 8 – 12 weeks. Quarter systems are usually run like trimesters, which run from anywhere between 8 – 16 weeks. The only thing is that nobody really takes classes in the summer.


When it comes to semesters, you can take it a little easier on your workload and get a little deeper into the material. Of course, this largely depends on the teacher, but it is usual for this to happen. Quarters are faster paced and they sometimes have less homework for you to do, depending on your school’s curriculum. Generally speaking, quarters are nice because if they only last 10 weeks, you know that it’s only a three month endurance.


Semesters are obviously going to be long. If you attend a college or university that has a semester system, be prepared for what will seem like never ending school. Mainly because it really is never ending. Another issue you will find with semesters is one that I have found at my school: Teachers will complain that there isn’t enough time to cover all the material. At some schools, like mine, you will run into issues with curriculums and, at times, an extremely heavy workload. A heavy workload is never a fun thing to have during a long 14 weeks.

This doesn’t mean that quarters are without any problems. Quarters can be thought as too fast for some people. In addition to the short amount of time, there have been teachers who were known to give a 14 week semester’s worth of homework in a 10 week semester. Personally, if I were teaching and I wanted to cover more material, I would make it a two chapter reading assignment with less homework and more in class discussion each week. But, as I mentioned, some people can’t handle it. If you do get less homework, you have less practice for your exams.

And the Winner Is: Quarters

I decided that quarters wins this criteria because of my current experience at BYU-Idaho. 14 week semesters sound nice, but when you’re having to do as much rigorous work as a master’s degree program for a bachelor’s degree, you get burned out. I’m one of those students who have been told by teachers that we don’t do some things most schools do (like dead week) because the semesters are way too short. Midterms are just barely on the rise and I’m feeling fairly annoyed at the fact that it’s only midterms and it’s only been seven weeks. Semesters tend to trudge on while, on a quarter system, I would be getting ready for dead week in two weeks and then finals the week after.


This one really isn’t a big deal for some people. But if you’re one of many who aren’t exactly eligible for gobs of financial aid, you understand how big of a deal this really is. Honestly, the biggest, and only, difference between quarters and semesters here is that you have to pay more frequently with quarters.


The benefits of paying every once in a while come with semesters. You only pay for about two semesters per year. On top of this, you also have only two terms of books to pay for each year. With quarters, it’s much nicer for those without loans and scholarships to pay only a small amount each term. However, you do progress quicker in your major on a quarter system.


Semesters are not ideal for anybody without loans or scholarships. Especially if they’re out of state students. Quarters are much better for splitting that $10,000 in tuition at the University of Oregon three times each year than nearly $30,000 for out of state tuition somewhere else twice per year.

And the Winner Is: Quarters

Quarters win the cost round because I personally have lived the “having to pay my own way” life before. I had some money saved up for me by family, but it wasn’t much. I was certainly grateful for the fact I paid three times instead of twice, just in case I needed a little extra money for food. With semesters, it would make budgeting a nightmare. If you think of cost in terms of opportunity cost, you also understand that you would save more time with quarters than semesters.

Academic Scheduling


With quarters, you can almost always count on an exam being introduced in your third or fourth week. Likewise, unless your professors plan on weekly exams, you will get more quizzes that help you prepare for exams rather than constantly taking actual exams. During semesters, you get the benefit of taking the more frequent exams, if you do well on them. If you understand the material well and pass exams easily, semesters become good friends with you. Quarters generally will be better about helping you progress in school a lot quicker. You can take 12 – 14 classes in three quarters or you can take 8 – 10 classes in semesters.


Semesters also become your worst enemy with exams if you don’t do well on them. Exams are generally weighted as 20% – 30% of grades in a course. This would mean that it’s technically better to have them more often, but if you get very low scores on them all the time, you might not want that. Quarters aren’t much better in this respect because they tend to have fewer exams, giving more weight to your exams. Semesters don’t really help you in terms of actually getting done on time.

And the Winner IsQuarters

I gave this one to quarters because of the progression. It’s much better, in my opinion, to take 12 – 14 classes per year than only 8 – 10 classes per year. Some may argue that it would require more money for books, but then again, is it really worth losing four classes each year just to save money on books? I certainly don’t think so. I think most students want out in four years, not six (which is becoming a new norm).


It’s quite obvious why I picked quarters each round. When it came to term length, the quarters were my obvious choice because of how long semesters feel. I might be extremely biased because I’ve attended schools that have quarter systems before my current school with a semester system. However, I feel quite justified in my preferences. I believe that part of why I’m not doing so great in school right now is because of the semester system. It’s midterms, which is the seventh week. In a ten week quarter, I would be preparing for my last week of formal classroom instruction, then dead week, then finals. Instead, I’m hitting the midpoint of my term.

What system do you like? Why do you like it? Feel free to answer these questions in the comment box.


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