Semester vs. trimester programs

  • Students around the country display displeasure about the trimester system.
  • While some students do not like it, others do not seem to care.
  • Some schools are looking into switching to the semester system.

While semesters are the most widely used term break-up systems among universities around the country, trimesters, or quarters, are still being used by some universities.

The trimester system, or the quarter system, consists of three, 10-week sessions. Schools on this system also offer a summer session, which makes for a possible four-term year. This results in much different calendars than schools on the semester system.

Anthony Hillsberg, a junior at Ohio University, said he thinks the trimester system makes the school year too long, as Ohio students do not get out until June 13, more than a month after Marquette gets out for summer.

"I hate it," Hillsberg said. "I'm from Illinois and I am home by myself for too long. None of my friends are on the same calendar as me. It's so dumb. I don't understand why we just don't switch to the semester system."

John O'Brien, a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, said it affected his friendships and his ability to get a summer job because of how deep into summer trimesters run.

"It took me a long time to graduate," O'Brien said. "I had to maintain a job as well as go to school. The scheduling of classes was so bizarre I often had to put off classes so I could keep my job. I graduated in my sixth year."

John Holden, director of media relations at DePaul, said he thinks the trimester system works fine and he does not see any change in the future, despite what students say.

"I really do not think changing to semesters is anything we have given consideration," Holden said. "I know that in terms of what it means to individual students it tends to get them out of school in the fall quarter, which allows them to do something over winter break like getting a job or working on a research project."

Holden said he does understand some of the quarter system's cons.

"The downside is that our students tend to graduate a little later than schools on the semester system," Holden said. "But I know we have been doing this for as long as I can remember."

While some students have been affected by the quarter system, other students think the system works fine.

Matthew Steger, a junior at Northwestern University, does not mind the trimester system.

"It's not that bad," Steger said. "I'm on the basketball team already so I'm already very busy. Also, I live a town away so I can still hang out with all my friends or go visit them when we're not in school at the same time."

Charles Loebbaka, director of media relations at Northwestern, can only think of one time when changing the trimester system to semesters was even considered.

"About twenty years ago it was discussed," Loebbaka said. "It was decided it was not appropriate for Northwestern."

Loebbaka said the quarter system works at Northwestern.

"Basically what is most often said is that the three different blocks of time allow students to take more courses spreading across three different segments," Loebbaka said. "We're sticking with it."

Although some students on this system do not think the quarter system is that bad, students on the semester system think semesters are the only logical school calendar to use.

Bridget Comeau, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, thinks that every school in the country should use the semester system.

"The semester system works great," Comeau said. "It pretty much parallels every other school – including high schools, which works for my family because I have siblings in high school."

Mary Pat Pfeil, senior director of university communication, said she thinks that the semester system is a good system.

"There has been no discussion at Marquette regarding a change in its semester system," Pfeil said. "It is considered best practice and is used by the majority of colleges and universities nationwide."

Some schools seem to acknowledge that semesters are a better fit. Katie Quaranta, a media specialist at Ohio University, said Ohio is currently in the middle of a possible transition to the semester system, an effort to create a universal calendar system in Ohio.

"We have been in a conversation lately about a transition to semesters," Quaranta said. "By having each state be on the same university calendar it makes it easier for kids to transfer."