For those unfamiliar with these systems: An academic year composed of quarters involves 3 academic terms (+ a summer term = 4 quarters), each of 10 weeks duration (fall, winter, spring). An academic year composed of semesters involves 2 terms, each ~15 (±) weeks duration (fall and "spring", the former of which may include the end of summer and the latter of which includes the winter season).
Some of my colleagues and students experience the "block plan" (1 intensive course per 3 week period), but I have not, so I will confine my comments to quarters v. semesters.
Both quarter and semester systems have advantages and disadvantages for professors and students, but these pros and cons may shift around from course to course depending on various factors related to course content and professorial teaching ability.
- Terms are shorter. Boring classes are over sooner, and boring professors can inflict less damage.
- The content and format of some courses, even very enthralling ones, are better suited to a shorter term.
- Quarters typically start later (September in the US) and end later (June) than the semester-based academic year. You may like or dislike quarters owing to this feature; alternatively, you may like this feature in late August and early September (when your semester colleagues have started their academic year) and hate it in May and early June (when your semester colleagues already have their grades done).
- It may be easier for professor to get a research leave for a quarter than it is to get a semester leave.
- Students on the quarter system may be at a disadvantage in the summer because their academic year ends late relative to the start of some summer internships and other jobs.
- Semesters can seem very, very long. Your joy at making it to Spring Break may be a bit dampened by the realization that the semester is only half over.
- You can, however, explore more topics in more depth than you can with a shorter term. You may have more flexibility in course content, owing to the longer term.
- You get to know your students better. You might even learn all their names.
- You may start the academic year before you are ready for summer to end, but you are done in the spring.
- Depending on your institutions policies re. teaching load, you may have fewer course preps/year.
- You only have to deal with beginning and end of semester craziness twice instead of 3 times. In an academic term, the first couple of weeks and the last week or two can be quite chaotic, but in a semester, there is plenty of time in the middle to get into a routine in which the logistics of the course are at least functioning well.
As a student, I didn't have a strong preference, even once I had experienced both systems. Depending on how many courses I was expected to take at once and what the course offerings were, I may have had a slight preference for one over the other, but overall it didn't matter a lot to me.
As a professor, I think I prefer the quarter system, recognizing that semesters do have some distinct advantages. For most courses, I feel that I can convey the most essential information in 10 weeks. I wouldn't like quarters if I had to create new courses all the time, but for a relatively stable set of courses and only the occasional new course to prepare, quarters are better for maintaining a high energy level and morale from term start to term end.
Which do you like? Semesters or quarters or something else?