Quarter Versus Semester: The Basics

There are advantages and disadvantages to both the quarter and semester systems for colleges. Which will be better for you?

Which Is Better?

Throughout the United States and abroad, two systems reign over higher education: quarter and semester. Each system is unique in its approach to teaching students and can be deemed effective or ineffective based on the style of learning a student is used to.


The most obvious distinction between the two systems is the length of time in school. For the quarter system, students usually have classes for ten weeks, with one week taken for finals. The semester system is somewhat longer, being about 15 to 18 weeks in length with one “dead week," where there are no classes or finals, and a finals week. That being said, there are three quarters in a quarter system (fall, winter, spring), and only two semesters.


Another difference between the two systems is the breaks. In the quarter system, breaks usually occur directly after a finals week, so students do not have to worry about work over breaks. Students on the semester system are at a slight disadvantage here, usually having homework during their spring break.

On the other hand, semester students have a longer break in winter. The difference is almost a month in length, allowing students to relax for longer before heading back to school. Semester students also get out for summer a month earlier than their quarter counterparts. However, quarter system advocates point out that quarter system students have summer break until mid-September, while semester students go back in mid-August.


The length of a class has its advantages and disadvantages. Classes conclude quicker for students enrolled in the quarter system, allowing students to be done with classes they dislike faster than in the semester system. Conversely, if a student like a class, it is advantageous to be in the semester system, with longer classes and more time with professors.

Professors in the quarter system sometimes have difficulties adjusting to the ten-week system and often cut the amount they can teach to minimalize stress in students. Thus, general education classes in the quarter system usually only skim the surface of a subject, while their semester counterparts can get into more depth.


Moving from one system to another between high school and college can cause difficulties in the first year of a student's college career. Students moving from semester to quarter can have an especially difficult time as professors give midterm as early as the third week. However, this adjustment is not impossible and can lead a student to learn better studying techniques.


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