How Long Is A
College Semester?

Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M. • 10 Minute Read

Are you starting school at an American college? Whether you're anxious about how long it will take you to complete a semester in college or just trying to gain some knowledge for prospects, it doesn't have to be a long and daunting process. Find out exactly how long semesters are and how many of them there are in one year. Just keep reading to find out all you need to know.

Firstly, it's important to know what we're dealing with. Most colleges in America use either the quarter or semester system. You might be wondering whether there's a difference, and there is.

The semester system allows students to learn more and get to know their professors better. The quarter system is more flexible as there are smaller course loads in each term.

It would be problematic for a student to transfer their courses from a semester to a quarterly basis. There are a few more intricacies, so let's get into them.

Semester System

The semester system usually includes two 15-week terms: one in the fall, another in the winter break, and one in the spring and summer break after that. The average full-time student takes on about five courses per term or roughly 15 credits.

A semester school generally begins in late August and ends in early May. Approximately 95% of US institutions of higher learning use the semester system.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Students have more time to study. The extra time is especially helpful to graduate students who need more time to complete long and difficult assignments.
  • Since the system is similar to the high school and community college academic year, it's easier for high school and college students to adjust.
  • The class periods are shorter, from 50-75 minutes, allowing for the students' attention spans and information retention.
  • A longer time on campus means students have more opportunities to access student-faculty interaction and relationship-building, a great bonus to have when you're looking for recommendations for jobs and internships.


  • Students who switch majors gather unnecessary expenses. You may end up paying for courses you don't need to graduate, up to 15 credits, resulting in thousands of dollars. 
  • It isn't easy to raise your GPA. Students who performed poorly on a semester calendar may find it hard to push their GPA since each term will carry a larger load than quarter terms.

Quarter System

A quarter system has four 10-week terms during the fall, winter, spring, and summer. The average full-time student has about four courses per term or nine credits. The academic year running on the quarter system will run from mid-September until the beginning of June. Students can take the summer quarter and allow them the opportunity to take on more classes and graduate earlier.

The most popular universities that run on this system include the University of Chicago, Stanford University, the University of California, and the University of Washington.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Students have the opportunity to join more classes and interact with more of the faculty. Many of them take around six other courses, which is way more credits than with semester courses. More options allow you to test out different majors, try a double major and register for elective courses.
  • Full-time students can take fewer classes making it easier to maintain focus and complete their courses successfully.
  • A shorter-term means students spend less time in their least favorite classes.
  • Shorter breaks between terms allow for fewer distractions. The students stay focused on their studies, and it's easier for them to remember all they've learned.


  • Students find it difficult to find internships because businesses set their program dates around the semester schedule.
  • Students studying in the quarter system may be ineligible to study abroad as they are likely to run on a semester schedule.

How Long Is a College Semester in Months?

Generally, a semester is 15-weeks long, which is around four months. Trimester terms are three months, and quarters are two and a half months.

How Long Is a Semester in Community College?

Most community colleges run on the semester schedule, so every fall and spring semester is less than four months. If you choose to do summer semesters at college, you're looking at three months.

How Long Is a Semester in University?

One term at a four-year university depends on whether it runs on a semester schedule. If that's the case, the semesters are the same as at a community college.

How Many Semesters Are in a College Year?


On a semester schedule, a college year is two full semesters during the fall and spring.


You'll attend for four terms to finish a year if you're running on the quarter system. 

Special Cases

1. The Quarter System

  • The fall quarter is 10 weeks. It starts in September and ends at the beginning of December.
  • The winter quarter is 10 weeks. It starts in January and ends in the middle of March.
  • The spring quarter is 10 weeks. It starts towards the end of March and ends at the start of June.
  • The summer quarter is 10 weeks. Generally, it starts in mid-June and concludes in mid-August.

2. Trimesters

There are only a few universities that use the trimester system. It separates the academic year into three parts:

  • The fall trimester is 12 weeks.
  • The winter trimester is 12 weeks.
  • The spring trimester is 12 weeks.
  • The beginning and end of the trimesters vary with each institution.

How Long Is A Summer College Semester?

We mentioned earlier that summer semesters are optional. But, you can attend classes in advance during the summer to graduate earlier. Summer classes usually happen after the conclusion of the second semester and are eight weeks long.

Some schools have a definite schedule for their summer semester, which begins the first week of June and ends in the second week of August.

Are Online Semesters Shorter?

Regarding credits, online classes are just like traditional classes; the only difference is that you're attending remotely. However, some colleges do offer accelerated programs.

Accelerated degree programs are shorter courses at an intense pace. You are still required to complete the required credits to complete your degree, but you have to study much coursework. So, you have to get over 18 credits per semester, which means more study hours.

You can expect to earn your degree after three years. Some colleges guarantee less if you can fit in more credits. However, you can attend classes in advance if they are available in the summer semester.

Accelerated Courses

As we mentioned earlier, accelerated courses are completed faster than the regular college classes; they take about six to eight weeks to finish, whereas the full semester is 15 weeks and the quarter is 10 weeks.

  • Fall accelerated courses are two blocks of 6-8 weeks.
  • Spring accelerated courses are two blocks of 6-8 weeks.
  • Summer accelerated courses are one block of 6-8 weeks.

Accelerated courses have strict requirements and usually go to students who want to move on to higher levels at a faster time frame.

How Many Days Do I Have Left To Study At The End Of The Semester?

Some universities have a reading period at the end of the semester. So, college students get five to seven days to study the material learned over the term in preparation for final exams. The final exams run between one and three weeks.

How Many Hours Do Students Work Per Semester?

We told you that semesters are 15 weeks long. If you multiply that with the number of credit hours you have and then multiply that with the hours of study you put in per credit, you should have a rough estimate of how many hours you'll be investing in your semester.

How Do You Find Out How Many Credit Hours I Have Taken?

Credit hours refer to the hours spent in a classroom, field, or laboratory every week. Each subject needs a certain amount of credit hours per week. For example, when your program says that you have a four-credit-hour class, you must attend that class for four hours a week. Depending on specifics, it could be an hour a day, four times a week, or a four-hour session.

How Many Hours Should I Work Per Credit Hour?

For a 14-week course, each credit hour equates to at least 3 hours per week. But, most students do more than what is required. To work out how many hours you should have per credit hour, note how many hours you need to work in a week and divide it by the number of credit hours you take.


College isn't easy and takes time, whichever way you choose to do it. The most important aspect is that you gain the necessary skills and knowledge to become the professional you wish to be. You can only do that if you put in the time. It's not about how fast you go but rather how well you finish.

If you are currently or about to go to an American college in the you might be confused as to how various colleges or university calendars are organized. Here you can read a breakdown into the different academic calendar systems used in most colleges and universities in the United States (US).

American colleges use either of these systems - semesters, quarters and trimesters. There are also accelerated online classes or courses that allow students to study online. The differences between these most common academic calendars used in colleges will be explained.

This article will further discuss how college semesters work and, according to the unit of measurement, so that you can have a better guide to plan your future college classes.

Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
Related Articles
Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
Related Articles
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