College Calendar Pros and Cons: Semesters vs. Trimesters

High School Student

Aug   2016



Just like high schools, colleges vary in the academic calendar they follow. While the vast majority of colleges (over 70%) use the traditional fall/spring semester system, there are many colleges that follow the trimester system, quite a few on the quarter system—and some that do their own totally different thing. So, clearly, each calendar has its pros and cons.

If you are thinking about your college choices, take a moment to read up on these different, common academic calendars. Which one do you like better for your college life?


You are probably familiar with the idea of “semesters,” since most high schools operate on this system too. These colleges divide their school year into two semesters: one in fall, which usually runs from August to December, and another in spring, which starts in January and ends in May. The two terms, of course, are divided by one or two weeks of lovely finals. Each semester lasts about 15 weeks, and students on average take four to five classes per semester.

Now that the technical details have been covered, let’s focus on the advantages and less-than-advantageous aspects of colleges that function on the semester calendar.


  • In-depth instruction. Classes span over a lengthy period of 15 weeks, so students have more time absorb and expand their thoughts on challenging college materials. Not only are they able to learn new ideas but they are also encouraged to develop various skills since their professors incorporate learning in creative assignments and projects.
  • Greater collaboration between students and faculty. It never hurts to know your professors on a personal basis, and the ample time allotted by the semester system gives students time to get to know their instructors better and vice versa. The more time the students spend on interacting with their professors, the stronger their bonds become, and the brighter their futures will be!
  • Smoother transition from high school to college. Concordia University expertly points out that the semester calendar allows high school students more time to adjust to rigorous college courses. And even if they start off the year on the wrong foot, they will still have enough time to improve their academic performances.


  • Fear of new classes. Students might be less likely to explore classes in new subjects since they might be afraid of the half-year commitment. As a result, they might miss out on the chance to discover their dormant interests or expand on their existing ones by taking various college courses.
  • Shorter summer term with longer hours. Many colleges also offer some summer classes, and since the summer session is significantly shorter than the fall and spring semesters, the same amount of information must be taught in a much shorter time. So summer classes may not offer the same quality of learning as the classes during the year. Not to mention the classes themselves tend to be super long.


As its name suggests, the trimester calendar divides the school year into three segments; the catch here is that the trimester system is often called the quarter system because they are exactly the same schedule, except that the quarter calendar includes summer as its fourth term. Colleges with these calendars generally begin in mid-September and end in the middle of June, which is considerably later than schools that function on semesters. Since there are more terms in a year, each fall, winter, and spring trimester is only 10 weeks long.


  • Only three classes per term. More terms per year means more opportunities to take classes, so on average students take only three classes per session. The obvious perks are that they can better focus on their classes since they have less to worry about and that testing seasons won’t be as stressful with less assessments to clear.
  • Don’t like a class? No worries. Remember how each term is only 10 weeks long? Well, that means if you happen to stumble into an extremely unpleasant class with an evil professor who likes to torture his pupils with his impossible tests, you aren’t stuck in that class for a long time. The pain will be over soon… On a more serious note, this shorter commitment allows students to explore various subjects and classes without feeling like they have to be devoted for half a year.
  • Never too late to raise your GPA. The freedom to take many classes throughout the year provides the students with golden opportunities to raise their GPA. One or two bad grades do not affect their averages as much because they have taken (or can take) several classes and receive good (cushioning) grades.
  • Two graduation dates. Students can graduate after either the fall or the winter trimester. For those who are struggling to earn the last few units needed for a diploma, this can be a huge plus as they technically have a “second chance” to graduate within the same year.


  • Textbook costs. Although the academic calendar does not affect the tuition in general, it can be more costly to attend schools on the trimester system because students need to purchase new textbooks not two but three times a year. And of course, textbooks are pricey, so this expense can become a major burden for some college students.
  • Faster paced learning. The rigor and amount of information taught in a trimester class is equivalent to those of a semester class. In exchange for taking fewer classes per term, students really have to gear up and brace themselves for the intense pace of their classes, or else they can easily fall behind even in the short 10-week period.
  • Greater academic pressure. The freedom to take numerous courses can become a burden, especially on academically competitive campuses. Students might even feel obligated to double-major or take on a (extra) minor because that’s what everyone around them seems to be doing. Even if not everyone is actually an overachiever, the pressure to go that extra mile can become quite stressful.
  • Schedule conflicts. This is considered the greatest downside of the trimester system. Starting and ending the school year unconventionally late can create some issues with scheduling summer internships, study abroad programs, or family vacations.

And then the iffy one…

  • Shorter winter and spring breaks. For some, this is a huge no-no (if you are anything like me, you live for those sweet breaks). Others welcome shorter breaks because it means less downtime, and, consequently, they can remain focused throughout the entire school year.

What academic calendar do you prefer and why? Let us know in the comments!

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About Dan Bi Han

Hello! I’m Dan Bi, and I am currently a high school student in Torrance, California. Oftentimes, people mistake me for a guy and call me Dan, but my name actually reads “Dahn-Bee,” which means "sweet rain." My hobbies include drawing, reading, and writing—they are the most effective mediums through which I can express my thoughts and feelings. My writing usually ranges anywhere from rants to short stories, but I particularly enjoy exploring the field of journalism. Need I say more? I love writing for CollegeXpress. :)