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    How Long is a College Semester?

    March 5, 2021 | Staff Writers

    How Long is a College Semester
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    Trying to find the best college that meets your career goals or your personal interests is often difficult enough without the additional confusion of wondering about other factors such as how long is a college semester. The time that a person spends in school, whether for an academic term or for the duration of the entire degree program is a factor that can weigh in on decisions regarding which college or university to attend or which academic program to choose at a specific school.

    How Long is a College Semester Compared to a College Quarter System?

    The most common academic calendars for colleges and universities in the United States are the quarter system and the semester system. Community colleges and technical schools often base their academic calendar or schedule on a quarter system, although some schools do have a semester system for their academic calendar.

    Individuals that are planning to go to college for the first time or that are returning to school after a long absence likely have questions regarding their potential time commitment to earn their degree. What is a quarter system and how long is a quarter system? What is a semester system and how long is a semester system?

    Each school year is divided into sections either called a quarter or a semester. Each of these types of academic calendars or schedules has a set number of weeks built into each schedule. The semester system typically includes two terms, that are about 15 weeks in length. The first semester starts in the fall and ends with a winter break. The spring semester starts with each new year and typically ends in May.

    Colleges that utilize the quarter system typically divide the school year into four quarters, beginning with the fall quarter, which starts in August or September. There is a break for the holidays before the school begins the winter quarter in January. The spring quarter typically starts in March and then usually ends around the last week of May. Each quarter is approximately 10-weeks long, such as the system at Drexel University. The school explains that this system may help some students complete their degree sooner than if they attend school on a semester system. That statement may be true for some programs, but not for all programs or colleges. It may be true for some students and not for other students.

    What is a Trimester?

    Although many students take a summer break from their studies, some students prefer to earn their degree sooner by completing at least one or two courses during the summer. There are academic programs that require attending classes during the summer term, called a trimester.

    Accelerated programs, whether offered in the face-to-face classroom setting or offered online, often require that students complete courses during the summer trimester. Other programs, although not classified as an accelerated degree program, requires completion of coursework or clinical or practicum hours during the summer. An example of this is the Traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The program description specifically indicates that there is a five-semester program and another program which is ‘a year-round program.’ The Accelerated BSN program is the 12-month, year-round program, which means that students must attend during the summer term, or trimester.

    Are There Any Benefits to Attending a School that Operates on a Semester System?

    The reasons for attending a school with a particular type of academic calendar can vary among different students. The specific academic calendar structure can also benefit the college or university mission or goals for educating students. Students that enter college immediately after or soon after high school may want to enroll at a school that most resembles the academic calendar of a high school, which is a semester system.

    There are several other advantages to attending a school that operates on a semester system. The first benefit is that the longer terms allow for more in-depth learning. Students have more time to learn the material, understand the material and to complete course requirements.

    The benefits of a semester schedule also extend to graduate students, who are required to complete in-depth or rigorous assignments or research. Several sources indicate that once a prospective student knows how long is a semester at the particular college of their choice, they can plan their classes accordingly, some of which may only be offered during a particular semester.

    Another advantage to the semester system of a college or university is the fact that the semester is more relaxed, less stressful or hectic than the quarter academic calendar system. Students and college professors both likely enjoy the more leisurely pace of the semester academic calendar system.

    Professors and other faculty members likely have more time for preparing courses between each term and for professional development when teaching courses on a semester basis. Universities typically require that faculty members continuously engage in advancing their particular area of study through research and scholarship. This may include engagement activities, contributing original ideas to their field or finding solutions to problems or issues in the field. The less-hectic semester-based academic calendar allows for more time for professors and other faculty members to devote to their own scholarship and research.

    Are There Other Advantages to Choosing A School that Operates on a Semester Academic Calendar Year?

    Students and professors have more time to get to know each other when the school operates on a semester schedule. There is considerably more opportunity for contact between the professors and individual students. If a student needs to gain deeper understanding of a particular topic or concept, the student has the opportunity to gain that knowledge before the end of the term.

    If a student experiences an illness or family emergency, there is greater time to make up the work missed when unable to attend classes or complete assignments on a semester academic calendar, compared to the quarter academic calendar.

    Do you plan to continue your education after earning your first degree? Some students likely want to consider whether there will possibly be an adjustment issue if they become used to a quarter schedule and then suddenly find themselves immersed in a semester system of academic study. Although it is assumed that community colleges or other two-year schools operate strictly on a quarter system, this is not true. The Community College of Philadelphia, along with many other community colleges operate on a semester academic calendar. Attending a community college that offers a semester schedule may result in a smoother transfer and transition to the four-year school with a semester schedule and academic calendar.

    Students that transfer to a college or university on a semester schedule may wonder how the new school will calculate their transfer credits if the student is transferring from a school that operates on the quarter academic calendar system. It is possible that the four-year school will use a conversion system that accurately reflects the units or credit hours previously completed at the two-year school. There are no worries about whether the new school will accurately convert the previous credits earned if both schools operate on a semester calendar.

    How Long is A College Semester that Requires an Internship, Clinical Hours or a Practicum?

    Many programs, particularly technical programs, healthcare programs, and other professional degree programs requires that every student completes a practicum, a specific number of clinical hours, a field experience, or an internship. This is true whether the student is pursuing an undergraduate or a graduate degree.

    Do you worry about the extra time required to complete the clinical, practicum or internship beyond the required semester hours of coursework? The structure of the degree or program includes the credit for the required practicum or clinicals built into the degree. This is true whether the student is enrolled in a traditional on-campus program, or in an online or accelerated program. When a student is enrolled in an online degree or a hybrid program and they reside outside the physical location area of the college or university, the school usually allows the student to complete the required hours at a location near their own home. Students still receive the semester credit hours.

    The number of actual hours that are required for a practicum, internship or practicum varies based on the program and the school. Some schools base the number of hours on more than their semester hours of credit and also structure the hours based on licensure or certification requirements by a particular state or governing body.

    What College on a Semester-Based Schedule is the Right Choice for Me?

    Choosing the right college is often a personal choice. Students that realize the benefits of attending a college on a semester-based academic calendar typically search for a school that offers a program that can help the student achieve their career goals, or that offers an accelerated program with the same high-quality semester-based courses.

    Other factors that go into selecting an ideal college or university on a semester-based academic calendar includes choosing a school that offers a smooth transfer process from a two-year school, or that meets the academic needs of students.

    It is up to the student to understand how long is a college semester at each school that they consider and to know the other requirements, such as whether the school or degree offers a strict two-semester academic year or if there is a trimester requirement.

    Do you need assistance choosing the ideal college or university on a semester academic schedule that meets your career goals, personal interests or requirements for your occupation? We can help you find the best college or university based on the program that you select. Learn more now about getting help with selecting the best program.

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