What is the Difference Between Quarters, Semesters, and Trimesters?

By Brianna Burrows

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

What is a Quarter?

A quarter system divides the academic year into four sessions: fall, winter, spring, and summer. Generally, the summer session is not required but can be used to complete classes that were not offered during the other sessions or to complete your degree in advance. With a quarter system, each sessions lasts approximately 10 weeks. Each quarter you can take three or four classes depending on how many credits each class is. The school year, generally, starts at the end of September and finishes in June. Community colleges and colleges offering associate's degrees tend to use the quarter system.

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 in between the fall and spring session 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 United States run on the semester system, making it the most common type of academic schedule.

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 schools 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 while most higher education institutions use semesters.

Understanding each academic calendar can help students get a better idea of what their academic school year will be like in terms of course load. Regardless of which academic calendar your school uses, the end goal is the same: to graduate and receive your degree.

Brianna Burrows is a freelance marketing specialist and alumna of Northeastern University. She specializes in event management, social media management, and content branding. She can be reached at briannaburrows@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

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