Types of Academic Calendars

Types of academic calendars can vary depending on your university and the program you are enrolled in. There are many benefits for colleges to have different calendar systems since there are so many students who want to attend. Not every student will need a traditional school schedule so it’s important for colleges to cater to everyone. 

The division of a student’s college years and their terms can make a huge difference. Students can graduate early, take extra courses, and even prepare for their graduate program easier when they choose the right term. Academic calendars are not always the first consideration when choosing a college which is why we’re shedding some much-needed light on this topic. Semesters, trimesters, quarters, 4-1-4s, and continuous are the most popular calendar systems for colleges. They vary in length, courseload, and graduation time to help a wide variety of students who have different goals. 


Many colleges operate on a semester calendar system. This consists of 2 terms that last from 14 to 20 weeks and take place in the fall and spring. The fall semester typically starts in the middle of August and will end in the first week of December. The spring semester will start at the beginning of January and end in May. 

These typical semesters are used by most colleges and are the chosen calendar system for many students. Colleges will also include a summer semester that can last a shorter amount of time, usually in June and July. 

Schools with Semesters:


Trimesters consist of 3 terms that will last 10 to 12 weeks but do not include the summer. With a trimester calendar system, you’ll have less days or weeks in between your terms but this will allow you to graduate faster. 

During the fall portion of a term, students will begin classes in the middle of September and end in the beginning of December. The winter portion starts at the beginning of January and will go until the middle of March. The spring portion will start in the beginning of April and end in the middle of June. 

It’s important to stay focused and organized during trimesters since each term is completed in a shorter amount of time. The faster you complete your credits, the faster you’ll get your degree. Choosing a trimester is great for college students who want to finish quickly and immediately get a job. 

Schools with Trimesters:


With a total of 4 terms, an academic quarter will last around 9 to 11 weeks. During each quarter, students will take around 3 or 4 courses. Your academic year will be broken down into the fall, winter, spring, and summer sessions. 

The fall term will start in the middle of September and go into early December. The winter term will start in January and end in March. The spring term will start in the middle of April and end in the beginning of June. The summer term will start in the middle of June and go until the end of August. Some colleges require students to take a summer course so, if your future college does, this would be a convenient choice. 

Schools with Quarters:

4-1-4 (J-Term or Maymester)

4-1-4 or 4-4-1s are similar to a semester in which they last about 14 weeks. There are 2 4-month terms during this calendar system with a mini-term of a few weeks included. What makes them different from a typical semester is the mini-term in January or May which is often called the J-term or Maymester. 

The benefits of this include focusing on just 1 or 2 courses for a shorter amount of time. If you need a prerequisite for a course you want to take the following semester, the mini-terms are the perfect time to do so. Many colleges will offer students the opportunity to study abroad during this mini-term which is why it is a popular choice for many college students. 

Schools with J-Terms or Maymesters:


During a continuous term, students will not have a gap in between their sessions. Students may be taking a smaller course load but will immediately start new classes after their previous ones are finished. The calendar year will start in September and end in August of the following year. Continuous terms are a good choice for college students who are very organized and would like to quickly finish their college education. 

Schools with a Continous Calendar System:

Which Types of Academic Calendars is Best for You?

College students are not all the same, which is why different types of academic calendars exist. No matter your learning style, you should be able to receive a college education on a timeline that works best for you. Choosing the right system for your personal and academic needs allows you to succeed inside and outside of the classroom. If you can learn at a fast pace, choose a system that offers shorter terms and helps you graduate early. If you need more time in between each term, choose an option that gives you more than a few days off.

Use College Raptor’s match tool to find the best place to further your education. You’ll find schools based on your goals and can even see your financial aid eligibility!

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