Widgets Magazine


Making Stanford more competitive through schedule shift

Stanford is a quirky university that holds pride in its modern founding. From our band to fountain hopping and Full Moon on the Quad, we have traditions that are not too antiquated, but which have rather evolved with the University to be open and to be socially conscious (to the best of their abilities) while still holding on to their sense of tradition.

One major area where Stanford University has held on to as a tradition, however — much to my chagrin — is its academic calendar, which starts so much later than most semester schools. The reason, quite sensible in a vacuum, is so that our fall trimester finishes at winter break. This scheduling, though well-intentioned, has many negative consequences for students and puts us at an academic disadvantage to comparable semester schools. In general, the problem is not that we start the year so late, but rather, that the late start date forces us to end late as well.

Although the quarter system allows us to take more courses than students at most other universities, many summer research and internship programs have very specific starting dates for which students must be at for training, orientation and so on. These dates tend to begin around Week 9 of spring quarter, dead week or final exams. Programs cannot make special exceptions to train Stanford students (read: one or two individuals) at a separate time from everyone else. As a result of this, many summer positions are automatically impossible for Stanford students to attend. For a school that prides itself on producing graduates with a “practical education,” it seems odd that we would align our calendar to put students at such a disadvantage.

Moreover, there is a social disadvantage that every student from pre-freshman to rising senior knows: the awkward month at the end of the summer when every one of their friends has left for school and they are sitting at home or work with no one around. While it is true that this quirk creates an opportunity to visit friends at nearby schools, it can also be quite isolating.

The social problem also further extends to athletics on campus. Because NCAA bases its schedule around those of the majority of universities (i.e. not Stanford), athletic events begin well before our school year does. As a New Englander, I personally recall missing three of Stanford’s home games two years ago — half the home schedule — because I was at home, but our athletics schedule had begun a month earlier.

The flip side of this is that fall athletes get to be on campus without having to take classes for the first portion of their season, allowing them to focus on their training, but it certainly makes it difficult for most of the roughly 50 percent of the student body from outside of California to attend their friends’ sports games. This consequence also extends beyond sports to non-varsity extracurricular activities. For example, many universities hold mock trial, debate and model United Nations conferences before our year starts, effectively preventing Stanford students from competing.

While there are many problems associated with our schedule, there are also solutions. We might simply, for example, move the start of the school year five weeks earlier and begin winter break halfway through our winter quarter, lining up nicely with the end of midterms (in other words, forcing teachers to make winter midterms actually come midway through the term). This would have the added benefit of adding a much needed break in the middle of winter quarter, which has no vacations and thus a reputation on campus for being quite depressing. Some might argue that they do not want to have to remember knowledge over vacations, but for an academic institution, that is not a fantastic argument.

Shifting everything in this manner would also allow us to have a longer winter break like most other universities. That would give students more time to be at home and catch up with their friends. Furthermore, it would allow spring quarter to start and finish four weeks earlier, eliminating the disadvantage in the job/internship search.

For a university proud of the fact that our youth allows us to evolve with the times, not wedded to antiquated traditions, our late academic calendar is one tradition that could certainly some reconsideration.


Joe Troderman is a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering. Contact him at jtrod93 “at” stanford.edu.