As the last few weeks of summer dwindle down to autumn, I’m faced with one curious, and perhaps slightly daunting, issue. Everyone I know has gone to college. Everyone, that is, but me. There are a few oddballs like me that haven’t yet started school, but for the most part, I’ve been hearing nothing but assorted tales of mischief, all-nighters and alien spaceships from my collegiate friends.

It’s a rather interesting predicament, but it all boils down to the preferred school system. In my case, it’s a quarter system. In everyone else’s case? Semester. But really, what’s the difference aside from a later start date in school?

Let’s throw it back to the basics a bit.


1. Colleges chop their years differently.

A quarter system splits our nine months of schooling into three parts while a semester system splits it into halves. And before you tell me quarter means four, the fourth quarter is derived from summer sessions for all you overachievers out there. Like the semester system, a new quarter starts with new classes.

2. Same goes for doling out units.

Speaking specifically for my school, Northwestern, most classes give 0.5 – 1 unit and a student needs (give or take) at least 45 units to graduate. Sounds like a ridiculous amount, doesn’t it? At least, that’s what my initial thoughts were, upon hearing that my semester friends received 3 – 4 units a class for a total of around 18 units a semester.

3. So what’s this about study habits?

Some might argue for one system over another, but honestly, it all boils down to what kind of learner you are.

The quarter system is perfect for adventurers and explorers, particularly with the twelve different classes one can possibly take in a single year. And, if you happen to get that one professor that everyone seems to hate, at least you’ll only have them for a few months! It does have its cons, though – time for absorbing and understanding that really dense textbook is condensed into ten short weeks and time management becomes a required skill.

Likewise, the semester system has its awesome perks. Learning can go at a little slower pace (not to say it’s easier!) and there’s more time to dig deep for the details. There’s more time for research projects (though we all know how those, coffee and all-nighters go) and immersing in a new language or topic you really love. Unfortunately, longer time spent in the class also means more exams and papers.


As for me? Having been a semester student all my life, I’m not sure I’m ready for the quarter system (which, I’ve heard from older peers, requires staying on my toes and keeping up with a rapid pace). I’m used to having longer periods of time for procrastination and wallowing forever in the most boring chapter of the entire textbook.

But it’s something I look forward to, yet another avenue of unexplored adventures on this huge map simply labeled “College.”