How Long Is a Semester in College? [Semester Length]

If you are planning to go to college, it’s important to know how the semester system works; specifically, how long each semester is. How long is a semester in college?

A semester in the colleges and universities in the United States lasts up to 15 weeks. The first semester starts in the fall and is followed by a winter break. The second semester starts in the spring and is followed by a summer break.

An academic year in most colleges and universities in the United States is divided into two separate semesters, each with a 15-week duration. An exam week follows at the end of each semester.

Read on to learn more about how long a college semester lasts. In addition to details on college semester length, we’ll look at the difference between semesters, quarters, and trimesters.

How Long Is a Semester in College?

A semester typically lasts up to 15 weeks. A semester is half of the academic year in most colleges and universities in the United States.

The first semester usually starts in the fall. A winter break follows this. The second semester begins in the spring. A spring or summer break follows this. Professors give exams a week before the semester ends.

Higher educational institutions in this country use various academic calendars or schedules. However, the semester system is the most common academic calendar system.

In other words, the typical academic year in the United States has two 15-week semesters, two one-week exams, and two school breaks. Once you are enrolled and accepted in a college or university in the U.S., the university is responsible for arranging your classes.

How long is a college semester in months? Typically, it takes approximately four and a half months to complete one semester. Historically, a semester is one half of the academic year.

However, an academic year does not include the summer session. Moreover, the actual duration of each semester will vary from one school to another.

how long is a semester in college

Credit Hours Defined by the Federal Government

Lately, it seems that the federal government is moving to make the duration of a semester more consistent across the board. Since the federal government defined what a credit hour was in 2011.

By doing this, the federal government clearly delineated the parameters that can constitute a semester. The federal government has a right to do this because it provides more than $150 billion of educational funding each year for higher education.

According to the directive of the federal government, a credit hour is either of the following:

  • One hour of classroom work or direct faculty teaching and at least two hours of student work done out of class. In total, this sums up to 15 weeks for one semester or 10 to 12 weeks for the one-quarter hour of credit. It can also be the equivalent quantity of work over a particular amount of time, or
  • An equal amount of work done by the student in other means such as practical studio work, internships, laboratory work, and other education-related work leads to credit hours. In short, the 15-week is only approximate, and it can also be the equivalent amount of class or out of classwork done over different amounts of time.

In the U.S., the academic year starts in September and lasts until August of the succeeding year. The fall and spring semesters are the primary semesters that last up to 15 weeks.

The spring semester starts in January. Meanwhile, summer terms usually occur from May through August.

Varying Duration of Semesters

A semester refers to the period of time a person spends learning a certain course of study in a college or a university.

Since there are many types of study courses, schools, and universities, there will be some differences in how the term ‘semester’ is defined. In general, the term ‘semester’ always refers to the duration of time.

How Long Is a Semester in Community College?

A semester in community college can be from 15 to 16 weeks. It can start in the fall or the spring. There are educational institutions that use the quarter system. Each quarter in this system consists of six to nine weeks.

There is also what is called mini-mesters. This period consists of four weeks of very intense study.

Some schools offer mini-mesters once or at most twice a year. During this time, students can take up to six classes depending on each class’s number of credits.

How Long Is a Fall Semester in College?

In most colleges and universities in the U.S., a fall semester will take about 15 weeks. Professors will give several preliminary tests throughout this 15-week period.

One week before the 15-week period ends, you will undergo final examinations. The final exams usually last up to one week. Then, a winter break follows.

How Long Is the Spring Semester in College? What Is the Typical College Semester Length?

A typical academic year in the United States consists of two semesters, fall and spring. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the spring semester will have the same duration as the fall semester, which is 15 weeks.

After this 15-week period, you will go on a summer or spring break – one of the most anticipated events for college students in the U.S.

How Long Is a Summer Semester in College?

Summer semesters in most schools of higher learning in the U.S. take a maximum of 12 weeks. Since summer is between the fall and spring semesters, which are both 15 weeks in duration, the maximum time it can last is 12 weeks.

how long is a college semester in months

Some summer semesters are even shorter, about six to nine weeks, depending on the college or university and the course that you will take. The variation between schools ran the range from one to three weeks.

Universities and colleges include holidays in the school calendar. However, Professors usually do not conduct makeup classes when classes are canceled due to inclement weather or other unforeseen events.

Keep in mind that summer classes are usually longer in terms of hours per class. Since you are using a short string of time, the idea is to make the most out of the time that you are given. It can even be possible that you must do classroom work and meet more often during the week.

These things will limit the number of courses you can take in the summer semester. Take note that usually, students who want to graduate earlier are the ones taking summer classes.

Some students also take summer classes to take a course not offered in the previous semester.

How long is a semester in college? A semester in college typically lasts for 15 weeks or about three months. This usually ends with final exams, which lasts for at least a week.

Differences Between Semesters, Quarters, and Trimesters

If you want to go after higher education, the United States’ educational system offers you many options. Several colleges and universities offer almost the same undergraduate, graduate, masters, and doctorate degrees in this country. However, their school calendars and/or academic years may vary significantly. 

But generally, this country uses the academic calendar systems that consist of the semester system, quarter system, and trimester system. Let’s discuss them one by one:

1. Semester System

In the semester system used by schools and universities in the U.S., the academic year is divided into two. The first is the fall semester, and the second is the spring semester. There are breaks in between the two semesters.

A winter break comes after the fall semester and a spring or summer break after the spring semester. In the U.S., several colleges and universities, about 90%, use this system, thus making it almost the standard academic schedule.

2. Quarter System

In the quarter system, the academic year in the U.S. is divided into four segments, which coincide with the country’s four seasons. They are fall semester, winter semester, spring semester, and summer semester.

Of the four, the summer semester is generally not required. But students can take it to speed up their diploma attainment or take classes that were not offered during the regular semesters. Typically, it is the latter reason why students take summer semesters.

Every session in a quarter system lasts around ten weeks. You can take from three to four classes depending on the amount of credit for each class. In this system, the school year usually starts near the end of September and lasts in June.

The quarter system is mostly used by community colleges and other colleges that offer associate degrees.

3. Trimester System

In a trimester system, the academic year is divided into three semesters. These semesters are called fall, winter, and spring. The duration of each of these semesters is around 12 to 13 weeks.

You can take three to four classes each semester, depending on the credits that you can get in each class.

semester length

The majority of schools using this semester system offer summer sessions similar to those offered in the quarter system. Many high schools and middle schools in the U.S. use this system in contrast with higher education systems, which use the traditional two semesters only.

The differences in these systems will affect your schedule as a student. You must check the academic calendar of the school that you want to enroll in. No matter what school calendar they use, it should contribute to your goal: get the right education, graduate, and get a college or university degree

What Is an Academic Term?

An academic term refers to the portion or part of an academic year. The academic year is the period in which a college or university is holding classes. In the United States, this period coincides with August, September, or October to May, June, or July.

There are variations in defining the duration of an academic term. The exact definition is based on the type of semester system used. There are three ways an academic term can be defined:

  1. Semester academic term – consists of two terms. Each term can last from 14 to 20 weeks.
  2. Trimester academic term – consists of three terms. Each term can last from 10 to 12 weeks and does not include summer.
  3. Quarter academic term – consists of four terms. Each term can last from nine to 11 weeks, summer included.

What Is an Academic Year?

The academic year refers to the two periods where teaching classes are held in most colleges and universities. One teaching period runs from January to June, and the other runs from July to December.

Each of these periods includes the primary 13-week study period and the block and intensive study period.

In the United States, the academic year is comprised of the fall and spring semesters. Each of these semesters lasts around 15 weeks. There are additional summer classes, in between fall and spring, during the year.

The academic year starts from early September and runs up to the end of May.

Conclusion: How Long Is a Semester in College?

In the United States’ higher educational system, a typical semester in its colleges and universities lasts up to 15 weeks. A whole academic year consists of two semesters. The first semester begins in the fall and then followed by a winter break. The second semester starts in the spring, which is followed by a summer break.

As such, an academic year in the majority of U.S. colleges and universities is divided into two separate semesters, each with a 15-week duration. There is an exam week that follows at the end of each semester.