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Semester System vs. Quarter System in California Universities

June 25, 2018

Semester System vs. Quarter System in California Universities

California universities use either the quarter system or the semester system. Do you know what the differences are between the two? Learn more here.

Semester System vs. Quarter System in California Universities


The semester and quarter systems are two different types of academic terms. Colleges and universities choose between having one of these systems.

Semester systems have semesters that are roughly 15 weeks. In general, a semester system is broken into:

  • Fall semester (late August to December)
  • Spring semester (late January to May)
  • Summer semester (June and July)

There are sometimes short classes offered in January, between fall and spring semesters.

Quarter systems have quarters that are roughly 10 weeks. In general, a quarter system is broken into:

  • Fall quarter (early October to December)
  • Winter quarter (early January to March)
  • Spring quarter (late March/early April to mid-June)
  • Summer quarter (July and August)

In both the quarter and semester systems, the summer sessions are typically shorter. This is a great time to advance in your studies (or to catch up if you are behind schedule for graduation).

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Where they are used

The semester system is used at:

  • All California Community Colleges
  • Many California State University schools (see below for a list of quarter system CSUs)
  • University of California, Berkeley

The quarter system is used at:

  • All University of California schools (except UC Berkeley)
  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • California State University, Bakersfield
  • California State University, Hayward
  • California State University, Los Angeles
  • California State University, Pomona
  • California State University, San Bernardino

Most students do not choose a college based on its academic term length. However, it is important to know the pros and cons of each when deciding which school to attend.

Semester System vs. Quarter System in California Universities

Semester system advantages

The main argument in favor of the semester system is the length of exposure to a subject. Students spend a longer time taking one course, which allows them to learn more about the subject. With the semester system, students have time to really absorb new ideas.

Many believe that semester systems are also better for new students (students coming from another country or from high school). There is more time in between midterms and finals, which gives students more time to study and write papers.

Some professors argue that the semester system works better with most textbooks, which are often written for the semester style class.

Semester System vs. Quarter System in California Universities

Quarter system advantages

The quarter system allows students to take at least 3 terms (fall, winter, and spring) each year. This increases the number of classes that students take, which also means that students are learning about more subjects. After several years of study, this adds up: students are exposed to many more subjects, teachers, and classes than students from the semester system. This creates students who are more well-rounded and knowledgeable about more topics.

This also allows students to be more flexible with their class choices. With this system, it’s possible to take more elective classes, which provides more of a variety to each student’s educational experience.

Perhaps the best part about the quarter system is how quickly it goes by. If a student does not like a teacher or course, it’s over 5 weeks earlier than if the student were taking the course through a semester system.

The quarter system also has less time between quarters. This means that students do not have time to lose their study habits and motivation that they built during the quarter.

Semester System vs. Quarter System in California Universities

Whether you attend a school that is on the quarter system or the semester system, the end result is the same: a degree! Which system will be a part of your college experience?


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