How Many Semesters in a Year at University


There are a lot of things to consider if you are someone who wants to go to a university at this point in your life. A key element of university education is how many semesters are there in a year at your preferred university.

One of the main things to take into account is the academic calendar of each university or even college.

Most university degrees last 2-4 years but that doesn’t mean you are always in university constantly. Of course not! University would be even more intense and stressful than it already is.

This article will provide the best and latest information on how many semesters are in a year at university, or how many semesters are in a 2-year college.

What is a University Semester?

A university semester also called a ‘term’ in some universities, is used to split the academic year to separate different blocks of teaching and assessments. On average each semester lasts 12 weeks and consists of a mixture of lectures, tutorials, assessments, and holidays.

The semesters will remain the same throughout your university degree and may differ slightly with different degrees.

The semester dates may also differ if you are doing a postgraduate degree, in comparison to an undergraduate degree, whereby their semesters tend to be longer and they don’t have as many holidays.

How Many Semesters in A Year?

Every academic institution operates according to an academic calendar, with terms marking the beginning and end of each session of classes. A semester is a calendar that divides the academic year into 15 – 17-week terms.

There are generally two semesters per academic year: Fall (which usually starts in August or September) and Spring (which starts in January). Some semester-based schools also offer a Summer session that is shorter than a regular semester and is not part of the regular academic year.

A quarter is another common type of academic term. Each quarter is 10 weeks in length and there are usually three quarters in an academic year: Fall (which starts in September), Winter (starts in January), and Spring (starts in March).  

A few quarter-based schools offer a fourth Summer Quarter, but it is not considered an official term in the academic year. 

Most US universities use the tri-semester system – the fall, spring, and summer. Each semester is around four months.


The fall semester (starts in August/September)

This is the first semester of the year, and it starts mid-August. The academic year begins this semester, and most aid and assistantships are offered during this period. Also, most new intake is during this period.

The fall semester starts in August or September and ends in December. The fall semester is usually 15 weeks long. Some universities also call this the autumn semester.

The spring semester (starts in January)

The spring semester usually starts in January and classes begin around the first or second week of January and end in May. Most universities (roughly 85%) also admit new students during this semester, but the student intake is less compared to the fall semester.

The chance of aid and assistantships is lesser, but other on-campus part-time jobs are accessible year-round, and good enough to take care of your living, accommodation, and personal expenses.

Just like the fall semester, the spring semester is also 15 weeks long. Some universities also call this the winter semester.

The summer semester (starts in June)

This is the shortest of the three semesters and spans for two months or 12 weeks and usually, starts at the beginning of June. Very few universities have summer intake.

Even if the university, on the whole, may have summer intake, the department might not accept new students so ensure to confirm that your department does accept new students in the summer semester (this also applies to the spring semester as well).

In most cases, regular students don’t enrol for this semester and work full-time on campus (40 hrs/week) or take up industrial training.

If you take classes in both the fall and spring semesters, then you are considered to have taken a full year of college at a university. You may decide to take summer classes, as well, but they aren’t required unless otherwise stated.

What Is the Difference Between Quarters, Semesters, And Trimesters?

One cool thing about studying in America is the ample choices you have for advancing your education. While many universities might offer the same program, some may be on different academic calendars, and that can affect the number of courses you take each session.

Universities in America break up the academic year into different lengths of time. The academic calendar systems used in the U.S. are the quarter system, semester system, and trimester system.

What is a Quarter?

A quarter system divides the academic year into four sessions: fall, winter, spring, and summer. This corresponds with the four seasons of the year.

Generally, the summer session is not required but it can be used to complete classes that weren’t offered during other sessions or to complete your degree in advance. With a quarter system, each session lasts roughly 10 weeks.

Each quarter you can take three or four classes depending on how many credits each class is. The school year, generally, starts at the end of September and finishes in June. Community colleges and colleges offering associate’s degrees usually make use of the quarter system.

If your school uses the quarterly system, you will have to attend school all four semesters, or year-round, to complete a full college year. This includes mandatory summer courses. Attending only two terms on the quarterly system means you have only received half a year of college credit.

Stanford, Dartmouth, and Northwestern are all examples of colleges on the quarterly system.

What is a Semester?

A semester system divides the academic year into two sessions: fall and spring. Each session is nearly 12- 15 weeks long with a winter break in between the fall and spring session and a summer break after the spring session.

Each semester you can take four to six classes depending on how many credits each class is. Approximately 90% of universities in the United States run on the semester system, making it the most common type of academic schedule.

Most new intakes are done during the beginning of the fall and spring semesters.

Some community colleges still use the K-12 schedule, which consists of two 18-week semesters. The fall and spring semesters are usually 15 weeks long, with optional summer semesters typically lasting only 12 weeks.

What is a Trimester?

A trimester system divides the academic year into three sessions: fall, winter, and spring. Each trimester is roughly 12-13 weeks long. Each trimester you can take three to four classes depending on how many credits each class is.

Many universities using the trimester system offer a summer session which is closely related to the quarter system. In the U.S, many middle schools and high schools use the trimester system while most higher education institutions use semesters.

Florida Gulf Coast University, the Universities of Toronto, and Winnipeg, and Leeds College of Music are examples of universities that use trimesters rather than semesters.

Accelerated Courses

An increasing number of universities, especially those offering online courses, are allowing students to enroll in classes lasting between five to eight weeks.

Currently, the most common accelerated course format is 8 weeks.

  • Fall semester 1 – 8 weeks
  • Fall semester 2 – 8 weeks
  • Spring semester 1 – 8 weeks
  • Spring semester 2 – 8 weeks
  • Summer semester – 8 weeks

When enrolling in accelerated classes, you typically take 2 courses at a time, but some universities allow you to take 3 or more classes if you can keep your GPA up.

If you take the typical two classes per semester and stay continuously enrolled, you may be able to earn 30 academic credits each year. If you take additional courses in a fast bachelor’s degree program, you can finish your degree at a quicker pace.

The types of degrees offered in an accelerated format tend to be those that don’t include science labs as part of the academic requirements for graduation, such as biology or chemistry.

How Many Semesters are in a 2-Year College?

What people refer to as “two-year colleges” are just community colleges. And a vast majority of community colleges are on the traditional semester schedule.

If you take classes in both the fall and spring semesters, then you are considered to have taken a full year of college at a two-year college. You may decide to take summer classes, as well, but they are not required.

What Happens in Between Semesters?

Most universities have a period of 3-4 weeks in between each semester (the semesters are not consecutive) which relate to the formal holiday’s Christmas, Easter, and the summer holiday, respectively.

During this period, most students return to their homes to spend time with family and friends, as well as continue their revision for any upcoming exams.

Also, most universities have ‘reading week’ which is typically towards the end of semesters 1 and 2 or in the middle of the semester depending on the university you go to.

Reading week may be seen as a holiday to some students as there are usually no lectures, however, the point of this week is to provide a ‘breather’ within the university timetable to allow time to catch up with any work, chase up a lecturer if you need help, read ahead for the upcoming semester or just rest.

How Long Is a Semester in University?

The length of a term at a four-year university depends entirely on whether or not the university is on the semester schedule. If so, then the semesters offered at a university are the exact same lengths as those offered by community colleges.

However, if the university you are attending is on a trimester or quarterly system, then the term lengths will be the same as those mentioned above for trimester and quarterly systems. The same is true if you are taking accelerated courses at a university.

Which Is the Best Term Format?

There is no best term format. There is only the best term format for you. Each of these options has its pros and cons. What you should do is to examine each term from all sides and see which one is going to fit your life and schedule best.

Pros of Semesters

  1. Better for incoming freshmen.
  2. In-depth study.
  3. Optional summer classes.
  4. One-on-one instructor time.

Cons of Semesters:

  1. Stuck in the same classes for 15 weeks

Trimesters and Quarters

Because their term lengths are so close – 12 and 10 weeks respectively – trimesters and quarters have many of the same pros and cons, such as:

Pros of Trimesters and Quarters:

  1. Light Schedule – Only Three Classes a Term.
  2. Light course load.
  3. Two graduation dates per year.

Cons of Trimesters and Quarters:

  1. Faster paced learning
  2. Shorter breaks between terms

Accelerated Courses

The biggest pro for accelerated courses is, of course, that you may finish far faster than you would through any of the other options.

Pros of Accelerated Courses:

  1. Ability to finish your degree in less time.
  2. Juggle only 2 courses at a time instead of 5 courses.
  3. Get out of unenjoyable classes sooner.

Cons of Accelerated Courses:

  1. Fast-paced learning.
  2. Assignments have shorter deadlines.

So, if you prefer spending 15 weeks going in-depth in a class, then a traditional semester may be a better choice. However, if you find yourself ready to move on to the next class by the time mid-terms roll around, then accelerated classes might be a better option.

Watch More Information About How Many Semesters Are In A Year In College | Video

Final note

Understanding each academic calendar will help students have a better idea of what their academic school year will be like in terms of course load. Irrespective of which academic calendar your school uses, the end goal is the same: to graduate and receive your degree.

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