Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Why Have a Quarter System? A Look at University Terms

Luca Del Carlo

Quarters or semesters have long been a debated topic in the academic world. In the U.S., only about 5% of universities use the quarter system. Semesters are typically 14 to 15 weeks long while quarters are 10 to 12 weeks. The amount of contact hours in the classes are the same for semesters and quarters, but how the time is split up is different. 

Quarters do not meet as often but have longer block times while semesters meet more often for shorter class periods. With semesters, students have more classes to pay attention to compared to quarters and you meet more often. 

The difference between these two structural systems, in terms of academic benefit, comes down to personal preference for both students and faculty. Some students find that midterms arrive quickly in the quarter system but instead of having five different midterms later in the year, they only have three midterms. 

Kendall Kageyama, a second-year psychology major, prefers being able to take a variety of classes on the quarter system.

“I like the concept of breaking our classes up, usually in the semester system you take like five classes for half a year, and I like that I can have different classes,” Kageyama said. 

Kageyama also expressed that in the quarter system, classes pass more quickly. Because of this, she feels that she is working through her degree requirements more quickly.

“If there is a professor that doesn’t work with my learning style, I know that I will only be with them for a quarter and not a semester, which makes it easier to wait out,” Kageyama said.

The topic of switching from a quarter system to a semester system has come up at Seattle University numerous times, but never fully gained support from faculty. In a semester system, certain administrative and staff processes–such as grade submission–would happen twice a year instead of three times. 

Eric Severson, a professor of philosophy at Seattle U, has taught for 10 years at a semester college and 10 years at an institution with quarters. He believes that each term system has its benefits and drawbacks. 

Severson believes that semester systems help classroom dynamics and relationships, which he believes to be crucial to a learning environment. 

Semesters also allow for pedagogical development that encourages strong and productive peer learning relationships between students. Inclusive pedagogy relies on trust among faculty and students, and this is sometimes hard-won,” Severson said. “The quarter system often means a class ends just as students are finding their groove in teaching one another, and trusting their professor.”

Regarding the quarter system, Severson discussed the delicate give-and-take of having more class opportunities, but less time to explore them. 

“Students have the chance to investigate a wider variety of curiosities, and learn with a broader collection of faculty and student colleagues. The quarter system exchanges some depth for some breadth. The breadth is valuable, particularly when we hope to maximize the educational experiences that students have throughout their undergraduate years,” Severson said.

Severson teaches UCOR philosophy classes, which are part of the required Core Curriculum at Seattle U. Many in favor of semesters argue that the shorter length of quarters do not allow students to fully grasp the nuances of the subjects they are studying. 

For some majors in STEM fields, UCOR classes are the only exposure that students will have to courses like philosophy and social sciences. Some argue that these students need to spend more time in their STEM classes, while other students argue that UCORs are beneficial for all Seattle U students to explore and spend a full quarter’s time engaged in.

Emily McDonald, a second-year pre-law student, thinks that time in both arts and STEM are equally important for all students, regardless of major.

“I believe that with a holistic education in mind, all students should spend the same amount of time on arts and sciences as well as STEM because we want to make people better humans and people-centered education has a place in every discipline,” McDonald said.

Severson believes that in his field, he can cover the right amount of material and not anything less than what a professor teaching the same course on semesters could.

“In philosophy, the goal is rarely to cover a finite collection of material. My discipline focuses on teaching students to think about the world they together inhabit, to engage thoughtfully the ideas, arguments, injustices, hopes and complications of the world,” Severson said. “The more one engages in these investigations, the better. But schools with a semester system don’t necessarily devote more student hours to philosophy.”

When he was a student, Severson attended both semester and quarter schools and he preferred the quarter system more. He believed that he was able to take more experimental courses and look into more interests than he would have been able to with a semester system.

Now, as a professor, he also believes that diverse classroom experiences for students is beneficial for their learning.

“The great benefit of the quarter system for students is found in the wider availability of courses. This effect is somewhat muted in busy majors, like engineering and nursing, but even in those majors, students are able to take more core classes, engage with more faculty and student peers and move through more experiences of succeeding in diverse classrooms,” Severson said.

Sean McDowell, professor of English at Seattle U, believes that taking only three classes on a typical course load allows students to be more focused on their courses rather than having their attention divided among five, as they would on a semester system.

“I think quarters, for the majority of professors and students, is the superior way to go. Both faculty members and students can concentrate more on what they’re doing without having their attention further subdivided,” McDowell said.

He is also concerned about the amount of time that faculty would be able to spend outside of class with their students, including office hours.

Sirena Sawyar, a first-year environmental studies major, sees non-lecture time with professors as very valuable, having gone to their professor’s office hours and finding them beneficial.

“After every class my professor encourages us to come to her office hours, and if we can’t make it, then email her and we’ll be able to figure out a different time that would work for both of us,” Sawyar said. 

From personal experience teaching at both semester and quarter schools, McDowell found that allotted time for office hours is sometimes strained on the semester system because the number of students is increased.

McDowell recognized that both systems are not perfect, but believes that quarters allow students to find a balance between school and outside activities such as jobs, sports, socializing, clubs and volunteering. 

“Every system is going to have some flaws, things you can’t do. But I think it’s better overall, and on trying to live more balanced lives,” McDowell said.

Melody Kuoch, a first-year computer science major, is adjusting to quarter life from high school. Changing from five classes in high school to now only three, she feels like she has more free time and can have more balance in her life. 

“I now have time to do things like intramural volleyball, working out, having a job and socializing more than I ever did in high school,” Kuoch said.

As students navigate work-life balance, academic exploration, and communication with professors, the structure of school terms can either inhibit or promote success in these facets. Luckily for many Seattle U students and faculty, they have found that the quarter system is beneficial both educationally and personally. 

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Luca Del Carlo, Lead Designer

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