How could one characterize the typical academic calendar in the USA? I never managed to understand how it works (from Wikipedia, etc.)! It is so confusing.

In Belgium, you basically have this:

  • September-December: class + Winter recess (2 weeks in December)
  • January: Exams
  • February-May: class + Spring break (2 weeks in April)
  • June: Exams
  • July-early August: Summer break (1 month and a half)
  • Late August: Exams
  • winter semester starts in winter, not spring. fall semester starts in fall – user60543 Aug 18 '16 at 18:01
  • Having your exams after two weeks off sounds like a pain in the butt. – Azor Ahai Aug 23 '16 at 19:15
  • @Azor-Ahai actually, the winter break is used for studying by students here. So yeah, people spend Christmas+New Year time studying, then exams in January :p Horrible – Jeoffrey Aug 25 '16 at 20:57

Most universities in the US (90% according to this website according to), are on the semester system in which there are two academic terms, fall semester (sept-dec) and spring semester (jan-may). In this semester system, exams happen at the end of each semester, not in a separate time period.

Some universities have a quarter system, where each quarter is identified with a season and students typically have the summer quarter off. Still other universities have a trimester system which "divides the academic year into three terms of 14 to 16 weeks each, with attendance required in two trimesters per year, to total 28 to 32 weeks of instruction" (wikipedia).

  • 1
    Also, most universities on the semester system also have a short summer session that offers some classes compressed into the May-August time frame and may also offer two sets of summer classes compressed into May-mid-July and mid-July-August. These classes are truly compressed since a typical full semester is 14 weeks and there's not really enough time for that in the summer break. – Bill Barth Aug 18 '16 at 12:07
  • What has confused me in the past is that the quarter-based systems I'm familiar with (other UC schools, Stanford, UW... etc) have three quarters for most students—the fourth quarter is summer. – Tikhon Jelvis Aug 18 '16 at 17:00
  • @TikhonJelvis Yes, those were what I was calling "trimester" systems above, to avoid confusing them with schools that basically have basically four half-semesters in the academic year, i.e. not counting summer. However, both what I was calling trimester and what i was calling quarter systems are quite rare in the States. According to this website 90% of colleges in the US are on the regular semester system. – shane Aug 18 '16 at 17:06
  • @TikhonJelvis Looking again, I can see my terminology was confusing. Edited per your comment. – shane Aug 18 '16 at 17:15
  • My current university calls it "winter semester" instead of spring. It's confusing. – Chris Cirefice Aug 18 '16 at 18:00

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