How Long is a College Semester – (And Why)?

Exact Answer: 6-15 Weeks

This is one of the questions every enthusiastic first-year college student wants to know when planning a learning schedule. A semester is a portion of an academic year (a period in which the college holds classes).



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Northern hemisphere countries have an academic year lasting from August until June the following year. In the southern hemisphere, an academic year starts from February and ends in November or December.

Most countries have an academic year that starts in early autumn or late summer and ends during spring or the following summer. Apart from the semester, there are two other different academic systems; the Trimester and the Quarter.

In a semester system, college students attend classes for two semesters each academic year. They are commonly known as the fall semester and the spring semester.

How Long is a College Semester

How long is a college semester?

Etymologically the word semester was German, referring to an academic term of 6 months. It is used in America and other countries, referring to the two periods of the college academic calendar.

A college semester is typically fifteen to sixteen weeks long, depending on the college. In the United States of America, the semester system is the most used, but some colleges offer courses on a trimester system.

An academic year in the US has thirty-six weeks; therefore, two semesters each 18 weeks long. The trimester system has the:

  • Fall semester – 15 weeks long
  • Spring semester – 15 weeks long too
  • Summer semester – 6 weeks long

A summer semester is typically nine to twelve weeks long. Some colleges have two very short summer semesters, usually six weeks each.

Semester lengths may vary from college to college, with a range of one to three weeks. Florida State University and Western Michigan University have this type of academic calendars.

The length of a college semester depends too on how many semesters the college has per academic year. With the increase in the number of online schooling, eight weeks semesters have become a norm.

Holidays may sometimes appear in the semester’s calendar. It means that if a class is canceled due to bad weather or traffic, it cannot be compensated for at the end of the semester.

Why different semesters have different Lengths

Fall and spring semesters both have fifteen weeks. They are the typical college semesters. The length of a semester determines the number of classes a student needs to take per semester. It also impacts on the time taken to complete the course.

When planning a learning schedule, a student needs to know that not all colleges offer the same classes every semester. Schools often post in advance the courses they will provide and in which semester of the academic year so that students can plan their learning schedule.

Summer semesters

It is termed the “time to catch up or advance.” Summer semesters are an opportunity to accelerate or supplement a student’s college program. To some students, it is time to take a break.

These semesters are usually shorter, which means that classes are expected to be more prolonged or more frequent. If a student is looking to join an accelerated college program or maybe make up for courses not taken in the fall and spring semesters, summer semesters come in handy.

Mid-semester courses

Some colleges offer mid-semester courses. There are two scenarios for these courses. They may:

  1. Start at the same time as the fall and spring semesters but end halfway through the semester.
  2. Start halfway through the semester and end at the same time, the fall and spring semesters end.
    Once a student knows how long the semester will last, creating a learning schedule and planning for classes becomes easier. Each class, a student, takes is measured in terms of “credit hours.”

A typically scheduled course has one credit hour per week, while an accelerated course has two to three credit hours per week. An average of 15 credit hours is expected from every student, with a minimum of 12 credits and a maximum of 18 credits.

The knowledge of how many semesters are there and how long they last help a student plan ahead wisely.


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