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Pros and cons of the quarter system

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It’s the middle of September and you’re sitting at home, bored out of your mind. You have absolutely nothing to do. All of your friends are gone and back at college, probably at least four weeks into their first semester. Even your high school is back in session. If you live on the East Coast, the leaves have already started changing colors, and yet, you’re still on summer vacation. How is this possible? It’s the quarter system.

“What even is the quarter system?” I remember asking my sister, a current junior at Stanford, now well-versed in the four-part year setup, as I prepared for NSO.

“It’s basically exactly what every other school doesn’t do,” she explained, quite unhelpfully.

So why does Stanford insist on bucking the trend and dividing its year into three (four if you count summer) 10-week sections instead of the normal two-semester system almost every other university adheres to? Surprisingly, it’s not just California being alternative (Dartmouth also uses the quarter system).

On their official website, Stanford boasts that the “unique quarter-system calendar allows students to take advantage of dozens of additional courses not possible under a more traditional semester calendar.”  This is really true. Instead of only getting two chances to pick classes, we get three. That means more options and more change. It also means that if you end up really hating a class (and don’t realize that until after the add-drop deadline), you only have to suffer through it for a few weeks instead of several months. Having a more flexible schedule also makes taking a class unrelated to your major or outside your normal area of interest much less daunting. You’re only taking it for 10 weeks, so it’s much easier to make the time.

Also, an underrated perk of the year being divided into three instead of two parts means that finals fall directly before each break from school, so winter and spring breaks are always completely stress-free.

However, there definitely are downsides to the quarter system. For instance, because you only have 10 weeks, professors have to work through the same amount of class material in a short span of time. This is especially true for large introductory classes, where a certain curriculum must be covered, but is less detrimental for classes where professors can pick and choose what they want to teach. However, because classes move quickly, I very rarely find myself bored, which is definitely a plus.


Contact Elizabeth Dunn at eldunn14 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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