Quarters may have their appeal, but the semester system still works best

Many U.S. institutions are looking into changing the structure of their academic calendars from semesters to quarters, but doing so may actually be more harmful than helpful to students across the country. The advantages of using the semester structure in the academic calendar far outweigh the benefits of changing it.

With quarters, students can take more courses, experience teaching styles of more professors, and experiment with more electives. However, longer exposure to the subject, as with semesters, means greater depth and understanding. It is far more advantageous for a student to understand a certain topic completely before moving on to another, possibly more difficult, course. In addition, reading 100 pages per week for ten weeks is going to mean a lot less material is covered than reading the same amount for 16 weeks. Engaging with the reading is a big part of the college academic experience, but quarters force professors to limit this engagement.

Semester students have more time to adjust in a course — especially weaker students who need time to improve their performance. Students are less likely to do poorly in a course when they have more time to turn around their performance. In addition, with semester programs, class periods may be shorter because they are spread over a longer period of time. Semesters also create more time for breaks between courses. All of these attributes allow students more time to absorb course material before moving on to a new subject. There is also more time to build a relationship between the student and professor, which means networking, future possibilities and potentially a greater understanding of the course material.

Admittedly, there are notable advantages with quarters. It may be easier to focus knowing there are only 10 weeks in the quarter. Also, quarters offer students more opportunities to make up for failures in past courses, because they take more classes in the course of a year than semester students. There is less time with a certain professor should a student find him or her disagreeable during a quarter, as well as more flexibility in scheduling a certain class or professor in the first place.

Despite these advantages for quarters, however, there are other, markedly better advantages to using the semester calendar. The cost to the students is less, because they have to purchase fewer textbooks. Also, because most colleges operate on a semester schedule, it becomes easier to transfer schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ study of academic calendars of post-secondary institutions in the United States, 89 percent of public 4-year institutions and 82 percent of public 2-year institutions use a semester calendar.

A longer curriculum encourages students to participate in their learning rather than having professors teach at them. After all, college not only teaches us certain academic subjects, but also teaches us how to learn in general.

Email Brandy Adkins at bbadkins@email.wm.edu.


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