Caracotsios: The case for quarters

Caracotsios: The case for quarters

Julian Caracotsios, Summer Columnist

Last Friday, I went out to dinner with some old friends from high school. July is coming to a close, so it was inevitable that one of them remarked, “Man, I can’t believe it. I go back to school in a month!” I exchanged glances with a friend who goes to the University of Chicago, and we immediately started to chuckle. Every year, it’s the same story. Although I’ve been generally content with the quarter system, the advantages and disadvantages of our weird schedule has been on my mind a lot lately, especially as my younger brother heads off this fall to Reed College, which is on semesters.

Quarters – or as some of us affectionately call them, “quadmesters” – are without a doubt a love-hate relationship. However, despite our weird schedules, rapid-fire sequences of midterms and papers, and the fact that we take finals three times a year — my personal favorite — I’ve grown fond of the quarter system, and I would even advocate for it over semesters.

The first thing that I appreciated about quarters became apparent to me during my first year at Northwestern. I noticed that despite taking a rather tough schedule, I had less of that feeling of exhaustion and boredom that accompanies a seemingly endless journey toward Finals Week. What was hitherto ineffable I now dubbed “semester fatigue.” Mind you, the quarter system by no means abolishes exhaustion and boredom, but I do think it mitigates them in a certain way.

The key strength of having three quarters per academic year and an optional fourth during the summer is that it allows us to take more classes at a lower cost per course. I use “cost” not in the financial sense, but in reference to the amount of time and effort you have to put in for a given class. Why’s that so important? Easy. If you take a class with a professor that you hate, with a workload that you cannot stand or with material so boring that you’d rather watch paint dry, then it’s only 10 weeks until you – barring major requirements – never have to think of it again. The light at the end of the tunnel is much closer.

The same logic applies to grades. One bad grade carries less weight when you have more grades on your transcript. Furthermore, taking a greater number of shorter classes allows for a lot more sampling and exploration, so if you don’t find what it is you’re looking for right away, another chance is right around the corner. This also performs the added benefit of preventing boredom from setting in in classes that you already like, which was often why semesters seemed to drag on until the end of time back in high school.

In short, quarters allow for more experimentation than semesters do, which makes them less punishing when you screw up and more conducive to trying things out. For confused college students like me who went through four — yes, four — majors before finally settling on the only thing left, this is exactly the sort of system I needed.

Julian Caracotsios is a rising Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, leave a comment or send a letter to the editor to [email protected]