UC Irvine’s Quarter System Gives Students a Better College Experience

It feels like the long summer break just ended, but the calendar says otherwise. One day I was shopping for school supplies during those back-to-school sales, and now it is already week eight. The quarter system is quick and I honestly don’t know how I have made it through my first two months of college.

UCI students are forced to hit the ground running, and if we do not keep up with the pace, we are going to fall behind. But despite the quicker pace of classes, the transition from a semester system in high school to the quarter system was not as much of a struggle as I expected.

Eight of the ten UC campuses use the ten-week quarter system with only UC Berkeley and UC Merced on the 15-week semester system. Every UC campus was on the semester system until all campuses switched to the quarter system in the late 1960s. The quarter system was meant to increase the class capacity and year-round operation of the schools. Eventually, the quarter system was accepted by the majority of the UC campuses while UC Berkeley switched back to the semester system. UC Merced, upon its founding in 2005, followed the semester system as well.

The quarter system is beneficial because it allows students to take more classes and learn from more professors. This can be especially helpful when a student wants to take another class with the same professor or move on to a completely different class and professor. There is more opportunity to take a variety of classes, which enhances and diversifies the college experience.
Students also have a greater chance to improve their GPA as they can take more classes and keep improving their study habits and time management skills. Because of this, the quarter system is more forgiving, especially to freshmen and transfer students who are still adjusting to a new college experience. Although there is little room to fall behind, students are rewarded for their hard work with a longer summer break.

However, the quarter system can also force professors to rush through each topic without going as in-depth as they would be able to with more time. It can also feel like the fall quarter is too short since it takes time to get acclimated to the school year after being so used to the freedom of summer. Meanwhile the spring quarter can feel too long as students await for summer break to come. Most students in the semester system will have finished their school year by May while the quarter system students are unable to finish until mid-June.

Along with UC Berkeley and UC Merced, most private schools are also on the semester system. This may be beneficial for students conducting research because there is more time to work and collaborate with their research teams and professors. Likewise, students can have more time and ability to work on complex projects for classes or extracurriculars. Having the 15-week system may also align better with faculty needs related to academic conferences, working with colleagues from other universities, and submitting research proposals.

Although the semester system can seem more efficient, there is a lot of free time in between midterms that may be wasted. It is easy for students to procrastinate during this time and feel like the semester is neverending. There may also be too much detailed information to retain as professors may try to cram a year’s worth of material into one semester. It is also harder to try new extracurricular activities or classes since there are fewer opportunities to change schedules and time commitments.

The quick pace of the quarter system at UC Irvine is reflective of the rest of the world. The quarter system prepares us for the rigor of the real world and tests our sense of personal responsibility.

Amy Huynh is a first-year aerospace engineering major. She can be reached at ahuynh10@uci.edu.