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How long is a semester in college?

Semester means six months, right? So why do the Boston College calendar, Amherst College academic calendar, Luther College academic calendar, and others show four months or less? Is shortening the semester good? Please give me the answer to the urgent question: how long is a semester in college?

William Cain

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Jeremy Wood on August 20, 2018

The short answer is that US schools used to close for the summer portion of each six-month semester, so a semester-long course was taught over only four months.

Some schools adopted the quarter or trimester system, with three-month terms. Others, like Luther, have evolved different schedules that allow a four-month semester’s worth of material to be covered in only one or two months.

So the more current answer to the question how long a semester is in college might be “However long the college faculty have determined that it takes to present what has been classified as a semester’s worth of instruction.” Colleges and universities set their own schedules. Linked here are some academic calendars for 2018 and 2019 (and, for comparison, 2017) that show the typical patterns.

A college year still most often consists of a four-month fall semester, one-to-four-week winter break, four-month spring semester, and three-to-four-month summer break. Amherst College’s academic calendar is typical (although this year’s winter break is five weeks long, according to https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/academic_calendar ). Boston College’s academic calendar also fits into this traditional pattern ( https://www.bc.edu/offices/stserv/academic/current/calendar.html ).

Kentucky’s Berea College claims to be the home of the “4-1-4” academic calendar. Today several schools offer an “intersession” in winter, giving students the options of taking an intensive class or an extended vacation. At UMass (Dartmouth), intersession is three weeks long. On Luther College’s academic calendar the “January Term” covers the four full weeks of January. (That’s Luther in Iowa, as distinct from Martin Luther College in Wisconsin, an unaffiliated school with a traditional academic year divided into four months.)

Summer classes are offered at most colleges and universities, and some schools also offer special non-credit or intensive courses during midterm breaks.

Then there are the community colleges, which offer a mix of classes that will and won’t transfer for credit in four-year or longer degree programs. Ohio’s Northwest State Community College calendar ( https://northweststate.edu/calendars-schedules/ ) is typical, with fixed dates for 16-week classes and a variety of other classes.

An example of an academic calendar following a trimester system would be the University of Michigan’s: http://www.accalendar17.net/university-of-michigan-academic-calendar/ .

There’s some debate about whether one system is “better” than another: http://www.umassmedia.com/opinions/trimesters-vs-semesters/article_516b9f48-f6a4-11e1-a514-001a4bcf6878.html . Bottom line, though: the “best” system is the one in which students are best prepared for their jobs and/or further studies.

Kayla Bowen8 months ago

Regardless of how long a semester in college is, whether or not the semester is extended to leave room for other events like special intersession classes, etc., students who want to get their money’s worth will work with their teachers to move classes along as efficiently as possible. They will read the assigned material before classes and come to classes prepared to let lectures build on what they learn from textbooks rather than expect the teacher basically to reread the book with them, as teachers in public high schools are often forced to do. They will choose projects that build further on what they learn in classes, so that, at the end of the term, they’ll be better prepared for jobs related to their majors than slackers are. 

Emily Alexander7 months ago

I think one factor in the scheduling of college classes is whether students are likely to transfer to a “flagship” school. If so, classes will be taught at a similar pace. Thus, the Boston College academic calendar and Amherst College academic calendar conform to the University of Massachusetts academic calendar, while schools in Michigan conform to the University of Michigan.

 


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