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How Many Semesters In A School Year

Last Updated on February 14, 2023 by Fola Shade

The USA has plentiful choices for advancing your education at an American university. While many schools might offer the same program, some schools may be on different academic calendars, affecting the number of courses you take each session. Schools in America break up the academic year into various lengths of time. The academic calendar systems used in the U.S. are the quarter system, semester system, and trimester system. 

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How many semesters in a college year

The most common academic term used in American universities is the semester. With this academic calendar, each school year is divided into two semesters.

With this college system, each semester:

  • Starts in the fall or spring
  • Lasts 14 to 20 weeks
  • May include 4 to 6 classes for full-time enrollment

There are also breaks provided between each semester. Students who enroll full-time for a bachelor’s degree may finish their coursework in 4 years, which is 8 semesters.

Fall Semester

Fall Semester

The school year begins with the fall semester. It often starts in late August and runs through mid-December.

A full-time student may take four, five, or six courses during the fall semester. This usually earns the student 12 to 18 credits. On the college semester system, you attend the same classes each week from the beginning of the school year until the end of the semester. This gives you about 16 weeks to explore the subjects that you’re studying.

At the end of the fall semester, there’s usually a winter break that lasts several weeks. This respite is followed by the start of the spring semester.

Spring Semester

Spring Semester

January usually brings a return to the classroom. The spring semester tends to start in early January and ends in mid-May.

As with the fall semester, full-time students usually take four to six classes. These courses can be quite different than the ones taken in the fall. That’s not always the case, though. Sometimes, you may take an introductory-level course in the fall and move on to a more advanced level in the spring.

The spring semester is followed by a summer break, which is usually several months long.

Summer Semester

Summer Semester

Some students enjoy the long stretch of time that they have off during the summer. Others want to use that time to take more classes.

Some colleges offer a short summer term between the spring and fall semesters. Students can use this optional session to take one or two courses. Since it’s a shortened term, the work is concentrated, and class sessions may last for several hours each day.

Taking summer courses may help you graduate early, or it can allow you to take lighter loads during the main semesters.

How Long Is a Semester?

Academic Calendar Systems

Academic Calendar Systems

Colleges have a good deal of leeway when it comes to setting their academic calendars, so not every school structures its schedule in the same way.

The majority of colleges rely on the semester system. Others opt for alternative approaches, though. In addition to semesters, you may hear of colleges that use trimesters, quarters, or 4-1-4 calendars.

  • What Is a Semester? The semester system divides the school year in half. There are 2 main terms, one in the fall and one in the spring. Each term lasts around 16 weeks, and there’s a winter break between them. During a school semester, full-time students usually take 4 to 6 classes at the same time. You may have the option to take extra courses during the summer term, or you may get a long break from school between the spring and fall semesters.
  • What Is a Trimester? Colleges with trimester calendars divide the main school year into 3 terms: fall, winter, and spring. Each trimester is 10 weeks to 13 weeks long. Full-time students may take 3 or 4 classes per college term. Often, trimester students who carry full course loads are able to finish school more quickly than their semester counterparts. Some trimester colleges offer accelerated summer terms as well, which can also speed up the path to graduation.
  • What Is a Quarter? The college quarter system is quite similar to the trimester system. The difference is that the summer term may be more equivalent in length to all the other terms, and there may be more emphasis placed on it. Even still, the summer term is usually optional. Quarters are usually around 10 weeks to 12 weeks long. Similar to the trimester schedule, the quarter system is typically designed for students to take 3 or 4 classes at a time. Those who take advantage of the summer term may shave around a year off of their studies compared to students at a semester-based college.
  • 4-1-4 or 4-4-1 Calendar. The numbers in this calendar system stand for approximately how many months each term lasts. These systems are similar to semester schedules, but there’s also an emphasis placed on accelerated terms that are held at some point in the year. A 4-1-4 calendar has a fall semester, a month-long January term, and a spring semester. The January session may be called the “J-term.” A 4-4-1 school saves the accelerated term for after the spring semester. Some people refer to this as a “Maymester.” These short terms allow students to concentrate on one or two subjects over the course of a month. They can also be prime opportunities for students to participate in short study abroad trips or internships.

No matter which calendar your college uses, how many credits you need to graduate college is often consistent. So, you’re likely to learn a comparable amount of material and do a similar amount of work by the time you graduate.

Some arrangements are more conducive than others to graduating early. Even still, how long it takes you to complete a degree will depend largely on how many courses you take per term.

How Many Weeks in a Semester?

The length of a semester varies from one school to the next. In general, though, a semester is usually between 14 to 20 weeks long. On average, most schools have semesters that are 16 weeks each.

The first semester, held in the fall, typically begins around August and ends partway through December. The second semester, known as the spring term, usually runs from January to May.

Quarter vs. Semester Pros and Cons

Quarter vs. Semester Pros and Cons

Should you choose a college that uses semesters or seek out one with the quarter system? It’s largely up to you and your preferences, but there are some pros and cons to each approach.

Understanding how each academic calendar system lines up with your personal learning style may help you decide which schedule would be the better fit for you.

QuarterSemester
ProsConcentrated study on a few topics each termEasier to graduate earlyLess summer slide since breaks are shorterMore flexibility to explore new subjectsQuick movement through coursesProsMore opportunities to build relationships with classmates and teachersMore time to engage with the materialMore time to complete major assignmentsShorter class periods each daySubstantial breaks between terms
ConsFavorite classes are over quicklyFewer weeks to complete major assignmentsHarder to fit in internshipsLonger class periods each dayMay not be compatible with studying abroadConsChanging majors may cost more time and moneyFewer opportunities for early graduationGreater chance of falling behind in GPA or credit requirementsLess variety during the school yearLonger time spent in disliked classes

Of course, term length is not your only determining factor when it comes to selecting a college. If your preferred school is practically perfect in every way except term length, you may consider enrolling anyway. You may discover that a system that didn’t appeal to you on paper ends up working out just fine.

Semester or Trimester, Which Is Better?

Some students like the traditional approach that’s offered by a semester-based calendar. Others do well with the trimester schedule. The chart below may help you figure out which style is best for you.

SemesterTrimester
14 to 20 weeks long4 to 5 classes per term for full-time loadMore time to complete the coursework for each classTwo main terms per school yearLonger breaks between termsMay have an optional summer termMay have less flexibility for taking extra courses, changing majors, or graduating earlyAcademic calendar used by most higher education institutions in the U.S.10 to 13 weeks long3 to 4 classes per term for full-time loadShorter timeframe in which to study course materials and complete projectsThree main terms per school yearShorter breaks between termsMay have an optional summer termMay offer opportunities to explore additional areas, take a double major, or finish quicklyMay be harder to schedule internships or overseas studying

Students have found success with both college semesters and trimesters. You may discover that either one could be a good fit for you as well.

What Is an Academic Year?

An academic year is the main timeframe when students are in school each year. It usually begins around August and ends around May. That’s different from the calendar year, which includes 52 weeks and runs from January through December.

At a college with two semesters per year, there may be 30 to 32 weeks in a school year plus several weeks off for breaks between the two terms. For colleges that hold classes year-round, it may be more accurate to say that the academic year runs from one August to the following August.

Is a Term a Semester?

A college semester is one type of academic term. The word “term” is a general description that can be used for any period of an academic calendar. While a semester is the most common type of term in the U.S. school system, quarters and trimesters are terms also.

If you go to a school that uses a semester calendar, you can assume that someone who mentions a term is referring to a semester. In the same way, at a school that uses quarters, a term will generally refer to a quarter.

How Many Semesters Are in a Term?

Semesters in a Term

A semester is generally the same thing as a term. At a school on a semester calendar, one semester is equal to one term. A traditional semester lasts around 16 weeks.

There are 2 semesters in an academic year. At such a school, you could also say that there are 2 terms in a year. Not all schools have semester-long terms. For example, other schools’ terms are quarters. Each quarter lasts around 3 months. At a school with the quarter system, one term would be equal to one quarter.

How Long Is 4 Semesters in College?

The standard semester length lasts anywhere from 14 to 20 weeks, depending on the school. Many colleges have 15 week or 16 week semesters. There’s typically a short winter break and a long summer break between these terms.

Semesters in College

It takes just under 2 calendar years to complete 4 college semesters. You could start the first semester in August and the second in January. The following August, you’d enroll for your third semester. The final semester would begin the next January and wrap up around May.

How Many Semesters Are in 2 Years of College?

At a college that’s on the semester system, you can typically complete 4 semesters in 2 years. During your first academic year, you can enroll for the fall term and then the spring term. You can do the same thing during your second year.

Some colleges offer accelerated terms during school breaks. Sessions held in January or May might last only 2 to 4 weeks each. Summer terms are usually a bit longer. In any case, these extra sessions are often optional, but they may help you graduate sooner, reduce your workload during the regular semester, or explore areas of interest.

How Many Semesters Are in 4 Years?

pursuing undergraduate degrees

Students pursuing undergraduate degrees often spend 4 years in college. During that time, their coursework is divided up over 8 semesters.

Each school year contains a fall semester and a spring semester. These commonly last 15 to 16 weeks each, and you receive breaks between the terms. Not every college has a semester-based schedule. Some offer 3 trimesters per year. In four years, you’d have 12 trimesters.

Other schools use the quarter system—which consists of 4 quarters per year. In that case, you might enroll in 16 different terms during your 4 years of college.

Getting Your College Degree Online

Getting Your College Degree Online

Colleges come in all different varieties. Some use semester systems, and others use quarter systems. Some have classes year-round, and others only go from August through May.

In addition, while many colleges offer on-campus courses, a growing number of schools also offer an online approach. Online study can offer busy individuals a flexible path toward a college degree.

WHAT IS A QUARTER?

A quarter system divides the academic year into four sessions: fall, winter, spring, and summer. Generally, colleges in the USA do not require a summer session, but you can use it to complete classes that were not offered during the other sessions or complete your degree in advance. With a quarter system, each session lasts approximately ten weeks. Each quarter, you can take three or four classes, depending on how many credits each class is. Generally, the school year for an American university starts at the end of September and finishes in June. Quarter systems are most commonly used at colleges offering associate’s degrees – primarily community college.

As a quarter is only ten weeks long, the intensity of your classes may be higher than if you were to take those same classes over a semester or trimester. Although the difficulty of the coursework and exams you are given may be the same, the amount of work you will have to do will be quite a bit more. Having to fit nearly 15 weeks’ worth of work into ten weeks will require a bit of extra effort on your end. On the bright side, having fewer classes to focus on at one time can alleviate the confusion of juggling multiple tasks at once. 

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How to Make The Most of The Quarter System

1. Balance your classes

Have you ever been overwhelmed because you had too much work to do? Quarter systems can provide you with flexibility in the classes you take and make even the most challenging courses more manageable. If you take the most demanding courses all at once, you’ll find yourself stressed, overworked, and overwhelmed by the amount of work you’ll have to do. Combining difficult classes with more manageable electives has proven to be one way of reducing the overall strain that quarter systems may create. This will give you more time to focus on the most critical tasks, and depending on which electives you take (art, sports, etc.), even give you scheduled time to take a break doing something you enjoy. 

2. Make connections

Studying in a quarter system at an American university can provide you with some of the most rewarding networking experiences of your academic journey. In semester systems, in particular, the students you’re placed with will be the same students you will see for the majority of your time at university. As semesters are longer, and the following courses are all meant to be taken one after another, the chances of connecting with new people are much slimmer. Quarters will have you grouped with new students, professors, and faculty every ten weeks on the other end of the spectrum. Factor in the number of electives you will take, and the types of students you’ll come across will span all sorts of different majors and degrees. This is the perfect time for you to build a network of friends, career connections and maybe even score a few recommendations from professors. As important as your classes are, the relationships you make outside of them can be just as rewarding. 

3. Try something new

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at martial arts? There’s an elective for that. Have you ever heard someone play an instrument and thought to yourself, “I wish I could have learned how to play that,” well it’s not too late! Colleges in the USA provide electives for just about everything under the sun. College is a time to learn about yourself and maybe even pick up an extra skill or two. Studying in a quarter system at an American university, you will have plenty of opportunities to experience classes that you may otherwise not have taken. Finding the right balance between work and play can make even the most stressful times a little more enjoyable. 

WHAT IS A SEMESTER?

A semester system divides the academic year into two sessions: fall and spring. Each session is approximately 15 weeks long, with a winter break between the fall and spring sessions and a summer break after the spring session. Each semester you can take four to six classes depending on how many credits each class is. About 90% of colleges in the USA run on the semester system, making it the most common type of academic schedule in higher education. 

Students who thrive in a semester system are those who prefer a slower, less demanding pace. A semester will cover the same amount of material as a quarter but spread out over 15 weeks instead of 10. Many times, classes are split into an alternating schedule. Depending on how you set your schedule up, you could have three classes one day, two the next, and three again the day after. As it’s much easier to get distracted in this setting, building responsible habits and staying on top of your due dates is crucial to your success in an American university.

How to Make the Most of the Semester System

1. Build a structured schedule

It’s easy to lose focus when you’re only required to submit a few assignments a week, and exams seem to be weeks away. With a lot more free time, filling your schedule with activities will ensure you’re staying productive and making the most of your study abroad. Setting aside specific time slots during your time at an American university, whether it be to study for classes, do assignments, or even watch an episode of the newest Netflix show will make sure you’re keeping your priorities in check, and will help you be prepared when things get busy. *We highly recommend getting a calendar or notebook to keep track of everything* 

2. Get involved

The extra free time that semester systems provide can allow you to get involved around campus or in your local communities. Participating in school clubs or attending events can lead to great networking opportunities and ultimately make you a more appealing candidate after graduation. Some of the best universities in the USA generally have a database of all their school’s clubs and organizations. News flash, there’s a lot. Whatever your interests may be, your American university probably has something similar. School clubs can even be an excellent resource for making new friends that share similar interests. 

3. Explore opportunities outside of school 

Depending on the type of student visa you have, you may be eligible to work while you study abroad. Staying busy through work can be a great way to help you stay productive during the slow grind of a long semester – it can also give you a little extra money to hold on to for a rainy day. More importantly, finding internship opportunities while you’re in school can help you gain valuable experience in your industry under the guidance of industry experts. Combining your studies at an American university with real-world experience can set you apart from your peers and give you insights into what you want to do in the future. 

WHAT IS A TRIMESTER?

A trimester system divides the academic year into three sessions: fall, winter, and spring. Each trimester is approximately 12-13 weeks long. Each trimester you can take three to four classes depending on how many credits each class is. Many U.S. high school programs using the trimester system offer a summer session which is more closely related to the quarter system. 

In the USA, many middle schools and high schools use the trimester system. In contrast, most higher education institutions use semesters – that’s not to say there aren’t some colleges in the USA that use the trimester system. Studying in a trimester system strikes a happy middle ground between quarters and semesters. You benefit from attending classes frequently, switching classes often (relative to semesters), and more personal instruction from instructors as you would in a quarter system. Not quite the sprint of a quarter, however, trimesters last 2-3 weeks longer than quarters giving you more time to prepare for big assignments or exams. 

Understanding each academic calendar can help students better understand what their academic school year will be like in terms of course load. There’s a lot that goes into choosing the calendar system that’s right for you. Understanding how you work best, the opportunities you’d like to pursue, and the lifestyle you want to live can help choose the calendar system that will allow you to be your best. Regardless of which academic calendar your school uses, the end goal is the same: to graduate and receive your degree from an American university. 

How Long Is A Semester In Months

Academic terms in college vary in length, according to the model the school uses. The most common organization of the academic year is Semesters, Trimesters, and Quarters. You may also enroll in accelerated online classes.

Semesters

Traditionally, colleges and universities offer three semesters during each academic year:

  • Fall semester – 15 weeks
  • Spring semester – 15 weeks
  • Summer semester – 12 weeks

The fall and spring semesters are usually 15 weeks long, with optional summer semesters typically lasting only 12 weeks.

Quarters

Schools that use the quarter system divide the academic year into four academic periods: fall, winter, spring, and summer.

  • Fall quarter – 10 weeks
  • Winter quarter – 10 weeks
  • Spring quarter – 10 weeks
  • Summer quarter – 10 weeks

The quarterly system divides the year into four sessions that correspond with the four seasons of the year. Each session is approximately ten weeks long.

Trimesters

Although not quite as common, some schools offer trimesters and include 12 week classes during the fall, winter, and spring.

  • Fall trimester – 12 weeks
  • Winter trimester – 12 weeks
  • Spring trimester – 12 weeks

Many schools using the trimester system also offer a summer session which makes this system similar to the quarter system.

Accelerated Courses

A growing number of colleges, especially those offering online courses, allow you to enroll in classes lasting between five to eight weeks.

Currently, the most common accelerated course format is 8 weeks.

  • Fall semester 1 – 8 weeks
  • Fall semester 2 – 8 weeks
  • Spring semester 1 – 8 weeks
  • Spring semester 2 – 8 weeks
  • Summer semester – 8 weeks

When enrolling in accelerated classes, you typically take 2 courses at a time, but some universities allow you to take 3 or more classes if you keep your GPA up.

If you take the typical two classes per semester and stay continuously enrolled, you may be able to earn 30 academic credits each year. If you take additional courses in a fast bachelor degree program, you might finish your degree at a quicker pace.

The types of degrees offered in an accelerated format tend to be those that do not include science labs as part of the academic requirements for graduation, such as biology or chemistry.

Which Is the Best Term Format?

There is no best term format. There’s only the best term format for you. Each of these options has its pros and cons. The trick is to examine each from all sides and see which one is going to fit your life and schedule best.

Semesters

Semesters are the most widely used terms of study, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best option for you.

Here are some things to consider:

Pros:

  • Better for incoming freshmen
  • In-depth study
  • Optional summer classes
  • One-on-one instructor time

Cons:

  • Stuck in the same classes for 15 weeks

Trimesters and Quarters

Because their term lengths are so close – 12 and 10 weeks respectively – trimesters and quarters have many of the same pros and cons, such as:

Pros:

  • Light Schedule – Only Three Classes a Term
  • Get out of unenjoyable classes sooner
  • Light course load
  • Two graduation dates per year

Cons:

  • Faster paced learning
  • Shorter breaks between terms

Accelerated Courses

The biggest pro for accelerated courses is, of course, that you may finish far faster than you would through any of the other options.

Pros:

  • Ability to finish your degree in less time
  • Juggle only 2 courses at a time instead of 5 courses
  • Get out of unenjoyable classes sooner

Cons:

  • Fast-paced learning
  • Assignments have shorter deadlines

If you prefer spending 15 weeks going deep in a class, then a traditional semester may be a better choice. However, if you find yourself ready to move on to the next class by the time mid-terms roll around, then accelerated classes might be a better option.