Colleges let students replace a long break with “J-term”

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If you’re a student who’s complained that Marquette’s winter break is too long, you might be envious of schools with a “J-term.”

During a J-term, or January term, students take one intensive course for three to four weeks either on campus or abroad. Courses offered during J-terms tend to fulfill students’ basic requirements.

Gary Meyer, vice provost for undergraduate programs and teaching, said he does not remember the topic of a January term coming up in administrative meetings during his time at Marquette but said just because J-terms have not been discussed does not mean Marquette would never have one.

“If there was demand and interest (in a J-term), I would be open to talking about it,” Meyer said.

Meyer said if Marquette added a J-term, it would fall in the two weeks between New Year’s and the start of spring semester.

“We could offer two-week courses as long as the courses could be prepared and delivered meeting the high expectations at Marquette,” Meyer said.

Most January terms last four weeks at other colleges and universities, but Meyer said the logistics wouldn’t work.

“We do not have four weeks (in the academic calendar),” Meyer said. “We just don’t.”

He said one of the most difficult parts of adding a J-term at Marquette would be creating the courses.

“It would need to be an undertaking of the entire faculty to develop courses that could be taught over a two week term,” Meyer said. Some summer courses that last three or four weeks have already been developed.

He said he thinks it would be difficult to engage deeply in a topic in such a short time span.

One university that offers four-week J-terms is the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic university in St. Paul, Minn. Terence Langan, dean of St. Thomas’ College of Arts and Sciences, said of their 6,000 undergraduates, about 900 study abroad during their J-term while another 1,700 are taking a class on campus.

Langan said the university has added many more January offerings in recent years  to keep up with the growing demand.

Kara Audette, a St. Thomas sophomore, is taking a Spanish course over her J-term, working toward her Spanish major.

Most J-term classes at St. Thomas meet four days a week for three hours. Audette’s Spanish class is partially online, so they meet only twice a week for two hours.

“Since an entire semester is fit into four weeks, J-term classes demand more self-discipline in terms of out-of-class work,” Audette said. “Professors expect you to prepare for their class for the majority of time you spend outside of class.”

Audette said it is common for St. Thomas students to study abroad during J-term, so campus is noticeably less crowded. J-term is optional so many students spend the time at home or working. She also said dining hall options are limited which makes it difficult for students living in the dorms.

Meyer said he would prefer to see more study abroad options during winter break over a potential J-term. He said more students would study abroad if there was a J-term so they would not have to leave Marquette for an entire semester or need to give up working or an internship over summer.

“Students want to do it all and sometimes it just doesn’t work,” Meyer said.

Molly Mullane, a junior in the College of Communication, said she would want to study abroad during a January term, precisely because of its abbreviated length.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable studying abroad for a semester,” Mullane said. “While studying abroad during the summer is a great option, many students don’t want to give up internships.”

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