The quarter system is a 10-week calendar that colleges and universities use to operate through the academic year.

According to the Wintergreen Orchard House, there are currently 91 colleges and universities across the United States that use the 10-week quarter system.

Why choose a college that uses 10-week quarters rather than whole 15-week semesters?

Many don’t.

The college quarter system hits many students and parents by surprise as it typically falls to the bottom of the “things to consider list” when choosing which college to attend. Cost per year, school location, and academic programs typically overshadow the quarter system.

For those who are actively seeking a quarter system calendar (the few and far between), many will point at the opportunity to graduate early as a major selling point (quarter system schools offer equal footing summer terms).

As indicated in the title of this article, here is a list of some of the pros and cons of the quarter system:


1.) Many chances to alter your GPA (for the good or worse). Since you are taking three 10-week quarters opposed to two 15-week semesters, your GPA will be a closer reflection of your work.  

2.) More opportunity to take a greater variety of classes.

3.) If you lose interest in a class, it will generally be around week 4-5. By then, the quarter is about half way complete 😉


1.) Very difficult to transfer credits to a semester school, simply because the classes don’t match up. 

2.) Thanksgiving, winter, spring, and summer breaks always differ from those of semester schools (making plans for get-togethers and trips tricky).

3.) Midterms can be as early as week 3 followed by another one in week 7, or even a week or two before the final exam.

4.) The pace at which material is taught is very fast. This can result in late minute “cramming” for exams if you are not passionate about what is being taught or eager to keep up with the professor.

5.) Quarter system schools begin mid to late September and run until early to mid June. (Many students find it difficult to stay focused come May when surrounding schools have wrapped up their year).

Is the quarter system for everyone?

No, but many students are able to adapt.

Put it this way: If you were the type of high school student who preferred to doze off in class but then were able to quickly re-learn all of the material the night before the exam and do well, then the quarter system is probably not for you. If you were the type of high school student who needed/preferred to fully grasp subjects the week that they were taught to avoid “cramming” last minute, the quarter system is likely for you.

As a student who was blindsided by the quarter system, I felt it was crucial to stay on top of every class at all times.

Here is the Quarter Calendar for the upcoming 2016-2017 academic year at Drexel University. Key dates such as the beginning and end of terms have been boxed in red to illustrate how the quarter calendar deviates from a semester calendar.

PLEASE NOTE that not every quarter calendar has the same exact start and end dates. UC San Diego, for example, has the same start and end fall term dates as Drexel University for the upcoming 2016-2017 academic year, but begins their winter term five days sooner.

Fall term:

As you can see from the first boxed date below, fall term classes at Drexel University begin on Monday, September 19th, 2016, roughly one month after semester colleges start.

The second boxed date below indicates that fall term examinations end on Sunday, December 10th, 2016, marking the beginning of winter break. 

Winter term:

As you can see from the end of fall term above and the beginning of winter term on Monday, January 9th, 2017 below, quarter system students have drastically shorter winter break periods than their semester counterparts.

Spring term:

If it hasn’t caught your eye yet, spring term start and end dates for the quarter system tend to stick out like a sore thumb.

Quarter system students can expect their spring term break period to be that one break of the academic year that differs 100% from their semester calendar peers.

Unfortunately, if you were hoping to engage in the “spring break” festivities that come with being a college student, you’ll likely have to make plans strictly with your quarter system companions given that spring break for the vast majority of colleges in the U.S. runs in the middle of March.

Summer term:

As touched upon earlier, quarter system colleges treat summer term with the same emphasis as fall, winter, and spring terms. As seen here, summer term begins promptly after spring term (when the high majority of quarter system students take their summer break) and runs right up until the beginning of fall term.

Given that summer term ends in early September and fall term starts back up in mid September, there is very little ‘break’ time between the summer and fall terms.