From my limited experience, many universities in North America with two-semester (full year) type schedule has the following timeline,

  • Semester 1: Early September - Late November (or Late August - Early November)
  • Semester 2: Early January - Late April (or late January - Early May)

During each semester, the students are expected to take 4 - 5 courses. After a designated number of years, the student graduates.

Is there a case to be made for adjusting how academic semesters are currently scheduled in North America (for selected schools)? My question is not whether or not it is feasible/do-able to implement these schedules at this moment in time. I understand that we need to respect the highschool-university-research/industry pipeline, which has adapted itself to the fall-spring schedule.

But I wonder if there is a case to be made (for selected schools, for instance) to adjust these dates to something that takes into consideration of factors such as regional climate or local culture (or some other factors).

For example, here is a possible schedule,

  • Semester 1: Early January - Late April (or late January - Early May)
  • Semester 2: Early September - Late November (or Late August - Early November)

The advantage of this schedule could be for high school students to have more time to decide on their major and more time to prepare for their dream universities, instead of having to prepare for it during the semester when they also need to do well on their coursework and other extracurricular activities.

Here is another schedule,

  • Semester 1: Early March - Late June
  • Semester 2: Early August - Late October

For instance, for schools located in the Northern parts of North America, this schedule takes into account of the climate of that region, which is characterized by cold weather and short daylight hours, both of which contributes to lower productivity and even seasonal depression. This schedule takes full advantage of the warmer summer months, where students can get more work done. During the winter, instead of staying at school, students can take internships abroad in warmer regions of the world. Furthermore, it gives high school student ample time to explore and decide on their future studies (or "taking a gap year").

Do these alternative proposals make sense? What are the potential drawbacks? Are there universities that do implement these alternative schedules?

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    Both suggestions would completely mess up international students exchange. I can talk for Germany where we're altready struggeling with the current situation since our lectures are from Oct-Feb and mid of March till end of June / beginning of July. – OBu Mar 11 '18 at 8:59
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    What kind of "question" is this? Is there a case to be made? You just did it, so yes, a case "can be made". – user9646 Mar 11 '18 at 11:18
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    @Najib Idrissi, I think OP is asking whether the reasoning is sound. – henning -- reinstate Monica Mar 11 '18 at 12:32
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    @henning I guess my point is that this is not a question so much as an invitation for discussion. "Is the reasoning sound?" Yeah, sure, but consider also these things you've overlooked. But here are counterarguments. And more arguments. It's not a yes or no question with a definite answer. – user9646 Mar 11 '18 at 13:21
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    American university students do not graduate after a "designated number of years". They apply for graduation after completing all requirements for the degree they have chosen to pursue, which generally include over 100 - 120 "credit hours" and possibly other tasks such as passing tests or completing projects. Many programs only require the credit hours, which are granted for each class passed. The credit hours must be earned in specific areas. Programs are almost always designed to make it reasonable to earn all the necessary credits in four years, but more or less time may be needed by some. – Todd Wilcox Mar 12 '18 at 7:21

The following are more diverse comments than answers, but they don't fit in the comment box.

  1. In the northern hemisphere temporary employment is generally more available in the summer tourist season (in the low population areas near winter sports areas this is wrong, but in general tersm it is not). Many students, particularly in an expensive system like that in the US, need to be able to work when they don't have classes, and, generally speaking, there are far more options during the summer (beach related, fire fighting, etc.). Most students aren't in internships or degree related employment, at least not until the final years of their study program. Students mostly find internships and summer work locally. Most can't afford to pay for living far from home, and, in any case, it is generally more difficult to find opportunities in a place one does not know.

  2. The premise that "students can get more work done" during the warm summer months is debatable. Before there was air conditioning, one of the main reasons for summer breaks was that studying and exams are difficult when temperatures get above 30C. Outside the US many regions do not have air conditioning in schools. I have had the misfortune of giving an exam at 17h on a 42C degree day in July (the air conditioning broke). It was worse for the students. On the other hand, the long dark hours of winter are often good for studying - there are not as many distractions available as there are in the warmer months.

Many considerations work in favor of some level of homogenization of academic calendars across systems. For example:

  1. The scheduling of classes should take into account the needs of professors as well as the needs of students. Professors also engage in research, and the scheduling of classes should take this into account. Currently conferences and the like are concentrated in the summer months when it is easier to travel. I work in a system where exams continue through June and July, and realistically it sometimes complicates attending research activities.

  2. International exchange programs suppose some homogenization of schedules. In Finland the fall semester starts in August, the spring semester in early January; in Germany the fall starts in late October and the spring semester can start as late as April in some universities. This already makes exchanges difficult between these countries and others with the more standard September, late January or February starts. Likewise, such disjoint calendars complicate research visits by faculty (who travel more easily when not teaching).

  3. Beginning the academic year in January might make sene from some point of view, but it would require also rescheduling primary school calendars, and making similar changes in multiple countries, and those sorts of changes seem hopeless in the current situation. In most universities simply changing a class from 9 to 10 causes lots of headaches ...

  4. The premise of giving students more time to choose a major is almost peculiar to North America. In most systems the student chooses a field of study before entering the university, and is admitted directly to a specific degree program. I personally prefer the US system, but changing the structure of other systems in this regard would be very difficult, even were there sentiment in favor of doing so, which I don't think there is.

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    Yeah, I too work in a system where exams continue through June and July, and if I want to attend a conference in that period (like this year), I have to plan the attendance almost one year in advance to allow the faculty to define the exam calendar as to leave me one free week across the right dates. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 11 '18 at 9:38
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    "I work in a system where exams continue through June and July, and realistically it sometimes complicates attending research activities." - of course, that is only a real problem if any particular staff members must be present when a given exam takes place. – O. R. Mapper Mar 11 '18 at 11:54
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    "In most systems the student chooses a field of study before entering the university, and is admitted directly to a specific degree program." - while that may be true, having the "first semester" start at a later time after high school graduation is just as beneficial in those systems where you choose your major before entering the university, if one wants to gain "more time to decide on their major". However, I am skeptical about whether that is a worthwhile goal, given that it may well just lead to more procrastination rather than a more thorough decision, and if you discover you want to ... – O. R. Mapper Mar 11 '18 at 12:02
  • ... switch to a different major after the first or second semester (based on the actual content of the major you started, rather than "hearsay" you found during your decision phase), you will have lost even more time. – O. R. Mapper Mar 11 '18 at 12:03
  • What does "at 17h" mean? – Todd Wilcox Mar 12 '18 at 7:23

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