Difference Between Quarter and Semester

Quarter vs Semester

Difference between quarter and semester is based on how the authorities divide an academic year in an educational institute. We all know what a quarter is, but what is semester? In the academic calendar terms, a quarter system indicates four small but equal sessions while a semester is like having two halves of the academic session. There are some more differences, besides just making more slices in a calendar year in an educational institute, which will be discussed in this article. However, you have to understand that a semester is the general name used to refer to a part of an academic calendar. That academic calendar can be following a quarter system or a trimester. However, each portion will be known as the first semester, second semester, third semester, etc. Let us find out a bit more in detail about the two academic calendars.

What is Semester System?

A semester system divides a course into several parts. This can be two, three or four. Normally, when you are referring to a semester system, you are referring to a system with two semesters. A vast majority of schools and colleges in the western world operate on a semester system, and a student gets fixed grades at the end of a semester before Christmas and then again fixed grades at the end of the second semester at the end of the session. In between, it is possible to switch some classes between the two semesters.

One semester keeps you in school for about 16 weeks that include 15 weeks of hard studies plus a week for exams. This means that an academic year requires 32 weeks of school. Colleges that operate on a semester system start early (around August) and end early too with one long break in between, around Christmas. The duration of a semester is such that a student can work at his own pace and complete the class work. However, this also works to your disadvantage if you do not like a particular class in a semester. However, some institutions prefer a much faster paced quarter system.

Difference Between Quarter and Semester

Christmas is one semester break

What is Quarter System?

A quarter system just divides the course into four parts. When there are four quarters in an academic year in a college called fall, winter, spring, and summer, students need only three of them to complete their course; so it is a trimester and not a quarter system unless a student decides to make use of the summers, as well. The duration of a quarter is 10 weeks, and then there is a week of exams. This means that a student is kept at the school for 33 weeks (3 x 10 + 3 = 33). This belies the claim that the quarter system is longer for the students as there is a difference of merely a single week.

In a quarter system, classes are held on just two days of the week, which means that, in a quarter system, a student attends classes just 20 times. What it obviously means is that the pace in a quarter is much more hectic, and a student cannot afford to miss a single class. Thus, many feel that a quarter system is much more challenging and unforgiving to students.

 Quarter vs Semester

Quarter offers a long summer break

What is the difference between Quarter and Semester?

• Definitions of Quarter and Semester:

• A semester system divides a course into several parts. This can be two, three or four.

• A quarter system just divides the course into four parts.

• However, the curriculum remains the same.

• Breaks:

• In a semester system, one break comes around Christmas and another comes around summer.

• In a quarter system, 4th quarter is rarely used; in fact, only 3 quarters are used, with a big break for summers.

• The Duration:

• The duration of the two systems is more or less same for students (32 weeks in a semester system and 33 weeks in a quarter system).

• General Opinion:

• Semester system is the normal way of operating in an educational institution.

• Quarter system is considered faster paced. Therefore, it is considered as more challenging and unforgiving for students. Students cannot afford to miss classes as they will lag far behind.

As you can see, both quarter and semester are ways of dividing the academic year into portions so that it is easier to cover the curriculum. They are both there to make the students engaged more in studies while giving them a certain amount of time free by giving different vacations such as Christmas Break, Spring Break, etc.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Christmas market in Jena, Germany by Soerfm (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  2. Summer holidays via Pixabay (Public Domain)