Gates: Time to rearrange the quarter system


Matt Gates, Columnist

Heading back to my dorm this week in negative double-digit weather, I couldn’t help but think of my semester-schedule friends resting at home. Northwestern’s quarter system results in students returning to school earlier in January than those who attend semester schools. NU students also begin and end their summers later.

Though abolishing the quarter system has been discussed, this would eliminate many of the unique opportunities that made us choose NU. We can take up to 50 percent more courses than many semester schools allow. We can study abroad for a quarter, even a semester, and only miss a third of the academic year. We know a class we hate will be over relatively quickly and any one class has less of an impact on our grade point averages than it would at a semester school.

However, many students have recognized the quarter system calendar has its drawbacks. One reason NU’s academic calendar is so strange is because scheduling Winter Break in the middle of a quarter would be a nightmare. Therefore, we cannot start Fall Quarter any earlier than late September. Yet, there is a solution. Scheduling two quarters prior to Winter Break would maintain the benefits of the quarter system but avoid its many drawbacks. School could begin in early August and end in early April.

Currently, NU fits two quarters and Spring Break in just more than five months, between early January and the second week of June. Why not try to fit two quarters between Aug. 1 and Dec. 23? Losing a few days of class each quarter would be worth it to give students better opportunities to work or intern by starting their summers earlier.

Winter Break would shift back, beginning right before Christmas and ending later in January. This would avoid students having to begin their second quarter during the coldest period of weather in Chicago and align further with our semester school compatriots.

Meanwhile, summer would move forward, beginning in early April and ending in early August. Students looking for summer jobs near their hometowns would not be at a disadvantage by returning home later than other students. As an East Coaster, my summer vacation begins about a month after many of my friends from home. Students who come to NU from a southern state may be home a month and a half after peers in their hometowns. With this change to the quarter system, students would be able to begin job searching and working earlier in the summer.

Students could also take advantage of summer courses at a college near their home. Many schools have a two-part summer session, where the first course in a sequence is only offered during the first session. NU’s late summer prevents students from taking a class during the first session at many schools. This makes it difficult for students on a quarter schedule to take classes in a sequence. An early calendar may keep students from finishing a course sequence over the summer. Students would be better served by being able to begin or to complete a course sequence over the summer at another school than be unable to take this opportunity at all.

While an early August start date may seem extreme, when one considers the schedules of some other schools — especially those located in the south — this schedule does not seem so radical. University of Georgia’s orientation this year began Aug. 7 and classes started five days later.

NU should change the academic calendar so that it can still maintain the quarter system, but shift the placement of the quarters themselves. This would allow us to have all the benefits of quarters but reduce their drawbacks.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].