semester vs quarter usa college academic system calendar year

US Universities Academic Calendar — Semester vs Quarters

Did you know some U.S. Universities follow the Semester system and others follow the Quarter System?

That brings some dilemma when it comes to selecting universities.

Which academic system is better – Semester vs Quarter?

Let’s take a deep dive.

Just by an eyeball figure, a number of universities following Semester system is more than a Quarter system.

When you are browsing for universities to apply, you will run more universities that offer Semester system then Quarter system.

Is there data around this?

Semesters vs. Quarters: Which System Serves Students Best

The above data was reported at Concordia University at Portland. This data is several years old, but I’m sure, this should be true even today.

I wonder why US Colleges are switching to Semester System from Quarter System.

Semester vs Quarter System

Here’s a graphical comparison of the Quarter vs Semester Academic system. There would be some overlap, but you get a general idea.

us college academic year quarter vs semester system months

Quarter – Academic Calendar

  • The quarter system divides the calendar year into four quarters
  • Three of which constitute a complete academic year.
  • Quarters are typically 10 weeks long.
  • Approximately 20% of US universities are on the quarter system.
  • Fall quarter will be from September to mid-December,
  • Quarter Calendar:
    • Winter quarter from early January to mid-March,
    • Spring quarter from late March or early April to mid-June,
    • Optional summer session (Summer 1 and Summer 2)
  • Some Universities offering the Quarter System:
    • University of California, Davis
    • UCLA
    • University of Washington

Semester Academic Calendar

  • The semester system divides the calendar year into two semesters
  • 15 weeks per semester (30 total weeks)
  • Optional summer sessions of varying lengths.
  • Three academic quarters equal two academic semesters.
  • Semester system Calendar:
    • Fall semester starts from late August up to mid-December
    • Spring semester from early or mid-January to early or mid-May
    • Optional summer session (Summer 1 and Summer 2)

Semester or Quarter?

As a student, you will not see much difference between the two systems. But students who are transferring from quarter to semester or vice versa will definitely feel the change.

Here’s the formula used by most schools when they have to process the Credits Transfer from Quarter to Semester or vice versa.

quarter to semester credits transfer formula

The total number of credits required to graduate will change between these systems and the above formula is designed to reflect that change.

Most international students will not get university transfer unless they are facing some strong situations like:

  • Poor grades
  • Don’t like the atmosphere
  • Courses offered doesn’t match interests (in very rare cases)
  • Not having a good relationship with professors
  • Associated Degree to 4 Year University

When you are applying for universities, you don’t need to consider whether to choose quarter vs spring semester as one criterion. It will not have any impact on your degree.


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  1. im from pharmacy stream with 69% and 2011 pass out.i got 880 in GRE n 6.0 in IELTS.can i get any admission in pharmacy stream or science stream in march/april 2012 intake.

  2. How long would it approximately take to change the university, will I have to pass on some kind of application for this change ?

  3. Can I take the transfer before 1 Quarter/semester if am not comfortable with the campus environment or something of that kind ?

  4. i will like to do my mba in a us university but am not sure i will get a visa. i don’t like starting what i can not finish

  5. Nice overview ! Thanks HSB . It would be great if you throw some light on the kind of evaluation done after every quarter/semester in US universities !

      1. Thanks for the quick reply. I am not at all sure about how the evaluation of a student happens in US varsities. Unlike India where theoritical exams and projects submission+ presentations are considered for evaluation, i am quite curious how it is done in there ? To be specific, how different it is in US ?Hope i am more clear this time 🙂

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