Almost all colleges adhere to one of two types of academic calendars: semester or quarter. Knowing the difference between semesters and quarters can help you pick the type of college you want to attend. Semesters are the most common, according to Study.com, approximately 90% of colleges use semesters. A semester is generally 14 to 17 weeks in length. Schedules for final exams are preset for the last week of the semester. A quarter, used by less than 10% of colleges, is generally 10 to 11 weeks. Final exams are also preset for the last week of the quarter.
Clearly, the major difference between these two academic calendars is the length. Semesters are about a month longer than quarters. This difference in duration is what makes it difficult to transfer from a college that runs on the opposite academic calendar. For students who start on quarters and then want to transfer to a college that runs on semesters, it is commonly challenging because you might end up with fewer credits than you need for your program of study.
Remember The Seasons
It’s quite simple to determine when semesters and quarters are offered. Academic calendars name their semesters and quarters after seasons, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Colleges start their academic calendars in the Fall and end in Summer.
The majority of colleges use semesters. They divide their academic year into two terms: Fall and Spring. So, there are 2 semesters in a year. Each semester is roughly divided into two sections with a break in the middle. Traditionally, there is a week-long fall and spring break. Generally, students attend a single class 3 hours per week (e.g., Monday/Wednesday/Friday 1 hour per day, or Tuesday/Thursday 1.5 hours per day) to earn 3 credits. Each student typically takes about 5 classes each semester to equal 15 credits.
In general, colleges on the semester system are on the following academic calendar:
- Fall semester: August to December
- Spring semester: January to May
- Winter Intersession: January
- Summer Session: June and July
15 credit hours per semester x 2 semesters per year = 30 credits per year.
A 2-year associate degree equals approximately 60 credits.
A 4-year bachelor’s degree equals approximately 120 credits.
Less commonly used, quarters are divided into 3 major terms: Fall, Winter, and Spring. The fourth quarter, which is the Summer quarter is optional. The Summer quarter presents an opportunity for students to take additional classes to catch up or to graduate early. Predominately, students attend a single class 1 hour per day, 5 days a week, or 2 classes, 2.5 hours per week to earn 5 credits. Each student takes about 3 classes each quarter to equal 15 credits.
In general, colleges on the quarter system are on the following academic calendar:
- Fall quarter: September to December
- Winter quarter: January to March
- Spring quarter: April to June
- Summer Quarter: June to August
15 credits hours per quarter x 3 quarters per year= 45 credits per year.
A 2-year associate degree equals approximately 90 credits.
A 4-year bachelor’s degree equals approximately 180 credits.
General Formula For Converting Credits
Converting Quarter credits to Semester credits
When converting Quarter credits to Semester credits you will divide.
3 academic quarters equal 2 academic semesters. This 3-to-2 ratio can also be expressed as 1.5 = 1.
Therefore, to convert quarter credits to semester credits, divide quarter credits by 1.5.
3 quarter credits ÷ 1.5 = 2 semester credits
9 quarter credits ÷ 1.5 = 6 semester credits
12 quarter credits ÷ 1.5 = 8 semester credits
180 quarter credits are equal to 120-semester credits (180 ÷ 1.5= 120)
Converting Semester credits to Quarter credits
When converting Semester credits to Quarter credits you will multiply.
To convert semester credits to quarter credits, multiply semester credits by 1.5, or: Semester hours x 1.5 = quarter hours.
3 semester credits x 1.5 = 4.5 quarter credits
9 semester credits x 1.5 = 13.5 quarter credits
12 semester credits x 1.5 = 18 quarter credits
If you transfer credit from an institution that operates on a quarter credit system, the credit hours will be converted to semester credits. Normally, a 5-credit quarter will satisfy if 3-credit semester requirement while a 3-credit semester course will satisfy a 5-credit quarter class requirement even though the course transfers as 4.5 credits. It’s important to remember that some courses may not be equivalent. Certain non-equivalent courses may result in you taking a different course to make up for credit deficiencies. Be aware when you transfer quarters to semesters because you may fall short in the credits required for graduation. You will be responsible for making these credits up to earn the minimum total credit hours required for graduation.
If you plan on transferring from a quarter to a semester, be sure to check with the college you are transferring to because each school is different. I find they are not consistent in their transfer requirements and it’s subjective from college to college. Semesters are the most widely used by both community colleges and universities. For this reason, I recommend semesters over quarters. If transferring is necessary, it usually means you will get to keep all your credits and have a smooth transfer.