Academic quarter (year division)

An academic quarter refers to the division of an academic year into four parts, which commonly are not all exactly three months or thirteen weeks long due to breaks between terms.

Historical context


The modern academic quarter calendar can be traced to the historic English law court / legal training pupillage four term system:

British academic term variants
Months Pupillage Cambridge Oxford
January–March Hilary Lent Hilary
April–May Easter Easter Trinity
June–July Trinity
October–December Michaelmas Michaelmas Michaelmas

This quarter system was adopted by the oldest universities in the English-speaking world (Oxford, founded circa 1096,[1] and Cambridge, founded circa 1209[2]).

Over time, Cambridge dropped Trinity Term and renamed Hilary Term to Lent Term, and Oxford also dropped the original Trinity Term and renamed Easter Term as Trinity Term, thus establishing the three-term academic "quarter" year widely found in countries with a lineage to England or the United Kingdom.

Charterhouse, an English independent school, still refers to its three academic terms as "quarters".

United States


In the United States, quarters typically comprise 10 weeks of class instruction,[3] although they have historically ranged from eight to 13 weeks.[4] Academic quarters first came into existence as such when William Rainey Harper organized the University of Chicago on behalf of John D. Rockefeller in 1891. Harper decided to keep the school in session year-round and divide it into four terms instead of the then-traditional two.[4]

Of the four traditional academic calendars (semester, quarter, trimester, and 4-1-4), the semester calendar is used the most widely, at over 60% of U.S. higher learning institutions, with fewer than 20% using the quarter system.[5] This number has stayed fairly constant since 1930, when 75% of U.S. institutions surveyed indicated they used a semester plan, with 22% on the quarter system.[6]

During the 1960s, a number of U.S. state university systems made a switch from a semester to quarter system, typically in an attempt to accommodate the large number of post-war "baby boom" students who had reached college age (sometimes called the "Tidal Wave I enrollment boom"[7][8][9]). A prominent example of this trend was the University of California system.[10] Since then, UC Berkeley switched back to semesters in 1983,[11] the new UC Merced branch opened with the semester system, and some UC professional schools have switched back to semesters at various points.[10] In 2020, UC San Diego considered a switch to the semester system as well.[12] At various points since the 1960s, committees have been established and official discussions have taken place within the UC system to discuss a systemwide switch back to the semester system.[10][13]

In recent years, a number of higher education institutions have considered or approved a switch to a semester system. The University System of Ohio, which includes Ohio State University, Ohio University, and the University of Cincinnati, converted to the semester system in 2012 to better align with other public and private institutions in the state, among other reasons.[14][15][16] Individual schools have also switched, like Georgia Tech in 1999.[17] Rochester Institute of Technology converted to semesters in Fall 2013, although the decision was highly controversial, overriding a student vote to remain with quarters.[18][19] Other institutions and systems that have switched include California State University, Los Angeles, Auburn University, the University of Minnesota system, the Utah State system, and Northeastern University.[19] Southern Oregon University was required to study a switch to the semester system as part of state legislation on a possible merger with the University of Oregon.[20][21][22]



Concerns over the quarter system include faculty dislike of the brevity of the term, the loss of faculty research and collaboration time, the end of the spring quarter overrunning the start date of many established summer internships which also leads to shorter internship periods, difficulties in recovering from illness-linked absence, and the heavy administrative workload.[5][12]

A quarter system calendar also may put schools at a disadvantage in competing for prospective students, who wish to keep in-step with friends, and offer more opportunities for students to "disconnect from school."[5]

The quarter system can also make more difficult the process of transferring credits for past coursework completed in semester institutions, including from other universities or community colleges in the same state.[12]

Quarter systems do allow students to enroll in a richer variety of courses and school-coordinated internships and may encourage students to take on double majors, minors, concentrations, and the like.[5] A quarter system can maximize the use of college facilities in a time of enrollment growth, as it allows for four regular periods of academic instruction.[23] Also, quarters allow for faculty to engage in terms with a relatively light course load of teaching and greater opportunities for short sabbaticals.[10]

American universities on quarter system


American institutions of higher learning on the quarter system include seven of the ten University of California campuses and all but one of the public universities in Oregon and Washington each.[24]

See also



  1. ^ "University of Oxford - History". University of Oxford. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
  2. ^ "University of Cambridge - History". University of Cambridge. 2013-01-28. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
  3. ^ "Practice Resources, NAFSA: Association of International Educators". Archived from the original on 2008-05-03. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  4. ^ a b Kemp Malone, 'Semester' , American Speech, Dec. 1946, p. 264
  5. ^ a b c d Report of the 1998-99 ad hoc Calendar Committee, Northeastern University, July 30, 1999[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ H.W. James, The Semester versus the Quarter, Journal of Higher Education, Oct. 1930, p. 38
  7. ^ "Ensuring Access with Quality to California's Community Colleges". The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Archived from the original on 21 February 2020. Retrieved 7 March 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  8. ^ Lum, Lydia (2 June 2004). "Too Fast, Too Furious? As community colleges grow in enrollment and appeal, some question their ability to serve disadvantaged students". Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  9. ^ "University proposes master plan". The Daily Aztec. 21 October 2004. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d Debate: Semesters or Quarters, UCLA Faculty Senate Voice, Apr. 2003 (iss. 3) Archived February 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Harlan Lebo, Semester vs. quarter?, UCLA Today, 2002 Archived August 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ a b c Robbins, Gary (February 19, 2020). "UC San Diego might switch to semester system to ease stress on students". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  13. ^ Chris Ziegler, Faculty Considers Switch from Quarter to Semester, (University of California, Santa Barbara) Daily Nexus, Jan. 29, 1990 (reprinted Jan. 29, 2007) Archived May 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Farkas, Karen (May 30, 2012). "State universities, community colleges switching from quarters to semesters". Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  15. ^ Rich Rouan, OU Ready to Consider Switch to Semesters, Columbus Dispatch, June 26, 2008
  16. ^ University of Cincinnati planning switch to semesters, Business Courier of Cincinnati, Apr. 29, 2008
  17. ^ Hoyt Coffee, Regents Set Semester Switch, Georgia Tech Alumni magazine, Spring 1996
  18. ^ "RIT Semester Conversion". Archived from the original on 2010-07-25. Retrieved 2010-07-14.
  19. ^ a b Kestler, Jessica L.; Johnson, Marcus Lee (Summer 2014). "Transitioning from Quarters to Semesters: Changes in College Students' Predicted and Perceived Motivation". College and University. 89 (4). Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  20. ^ Darling, John (June 4, 2010). "SOU considers switch to semesters". Mail Tribune. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  21. ^ "Tony Boom, SOU studies semester switch, Mail-Tribune, Apr. 3, 2001". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  22. ^ Relating to university consolidation and declaring an emergency (Chapter 801). House Bill 442, section 1. Oregon Legislative Assembly. 2009. p. 1.{{cite report}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  23. ^ Sarah Mohajeri, From Semesters to Quarters, in UCLA in the sixties, May 24, 2005 Archived September 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Poe, Mariya. "Semester vs Quarter System Explained & Full List of Colleges," College Transitions, Tuesday, July 25, 2023. Retrieved March 9, 2024.