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What is the Difference Between College Quarter and Semester Systems?

Updated on December 4, 2011

The school systems between State Colleges and seemingly more elite Universities, such as, University of California-Davis, Santa Barbara etc.are academically like night and day. Besides all of the usual issues when comparing them, costs, prestige, locations are most critical. As far as education, at the university level, students are on the quarter system. This is rapid. It is learning on a fast track in a concentrated mode a lot of material. Think cramming for a final. State colleges, like, California State college at Sacramento, are on the semester system, which is much slower and longer. Yet, at the end of it all, the student receives their degree. Which is better?

Good question. State colleges have two semesters, universities have three quarters usually, one incredibly short one from mid-Sept to mid-Dec (3 months). State colleges have one semester, from early Sept to Dec. 20 or so, about four months. For students at the university, many feel it the education is rushed by the professors, some are more interested in non-teaching duties and have teacher aides conduct many of their classes. Many feel, especially those coming from semester systems, that the learning is not sticking because they have little time to assimilate the information in meaningful ways before the teachers rushes into another topic. There is disconnect between real world and what is learned. For many internships a the UC level, one has to have experience and 4.0 GPA, but that is the whole point of such a thing, it is to provide the experience, so why is it required to get the internship? Students find themselves taking finals and going to regular classes, so the idea of "finals week" is moot.

The State College system is still highly valuable as education, it simply approaches much of the same classes and courses in a slower manner, allowing students to digest the material and make learning it deeper. There is ample pressure in the system. It is equally demanding of students.

One of the reasons the UC system is more costly is because of the quarter system, students pay again the tuition and books each new quarter, so instead of paying twice as in State Colleges on the semester system, you pay at least 3-4 times. The Winter quarter is only 2.5 mos. long, from Jan. 9 to March 25.

Many students have issues about unit equivalency. Basically, 10 hrs of class time = one quarter unit. To convert quarter to semester:

3 = 2 semester units, 4 quarter units = 2.75 semester units, 5 quarter units = 3.33 semester units, 6 quarter units = 4 semester units


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