What’s the Quarter system? An insider’s guide to the academic system at NU

The Office of the Registrar, where the magic of course selection, academic scheduling and grade requesting happens. They also outline the dates of each quarter; this Fall Quarter will stretch from Sept. 16 to Dec. 8

Daily file photo by Catherine Buchaniec

The Office of the Registrar, where the magic of course selection, academic scheduling and grade requesting happens. They also outline the dates of each quarter; this Fall Quarter will stretch from Sept. 16 to Dec. 8

Daisy Conant, Reporter

Hello, you eager incoming-student you. I know you’re ready to take Northwestern by storm — why else would you be reading an article about the lovely academic system? Hopefully this guide will provide some tips on how to make it from your first class to your final assignment, and through your first quarter at NU in one piece. If not, don’t worry! You’ll get the hang of it.

The start of something new (aka “syllabus week”)

Ah, syllabus week. A time for settling in, spending time with friends and doing anything but schoolwork. I wholeheartedly embrace this approach — these first few days of lectures are focused on introducing you to the structure and content of each class, and your homework is often to simply read the syllabus — hence why many call it “syllabus week.”

You only have until Sept. 22 to add a class to your schedule that you weren’t previously registered for, so using those first few days to “shop around” is key to avoiding being stuck in a course that isn’t for you or missing out on taking a great one. If you’re as indecisive as I am, register for five classes at the beginning of the quarter, and then drop whichever one (or two) you like the least before the Week Eight deadline.

Also, this is the only week I can (almost) promise you won’t have a midterm. Revel in it.

Wait, midterms? Shouldn’t those happen in the middle of the quarter?

Okay, so the word “midterm” at NU is used very loosely, often to describe evaluations (think: exam, essay, project) that occur in a course anytime between Week One and Finals Week. If your professor has any semblance of a heart, they’ll assign a midterm and return your grade to you before the drop deadline (more on that later), probably sometime in the Week Three to Seven period. You can have multiple midterms in a class, or you could have none at all.

You mentioned a “drop deadline?” Please explain.

Nov. 6 is the last day to “drop” a class, or stop taking it altogether without any penalty. If you drop a class before the deadline, it won’t show up on your transcript, and you can take it again later if you wish. Although you often don’t need an advisor’s approval to drop a class, it’s definitely helpful to consult them, your professor or someone who has taken the class before to see if it’s worth staying.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “If I drop a class, won’t that mean I’ll only be enrolled in three? Is that ‘underloading?’ How will I graduate on time?” While taking four credits is an average course load, it’s not required that you do so, and one of the few silver linings of the quarter system is that there is flexibility (credit-wise) to take three classes here and there throughout your time at NU.

The “Week Seven slump” (dun dun dun)

It’s not uncommon that after cramming for a few midterms or overloading on caffeine while finishing an essay, you may feel a bit burnt out. This usually happens around the Week Seven mark, unaffectionately dubbed the “Week Seven slump.” But never fear — after pooling a representative sample of students from every school (fine, one student from every school — sorry to my Introduction to Empirical Methods professor), I’ve accumulated a few tips for getting through the slump.

First, take time for yourself. I won’t tell you how to destress, but a quick walk around the Lakefill or attending whatever (virtual) theatre performance/A&O event is happening that week are always great options. That Netflix show isn’t going to watch itself.

Second, make sure you balance your time well. It’s okay to skip out on that club meeting. If you need to grind through an assignment but are having awful writers block, you can utilize the Writing Place to help you make sense of the prompt. If it’s safe, change up your study spot every few hours, even if it is just moving from your desk to your bed.

So how much reading actually happens during Reading Period?

For those who are unfamiliar, Reading Period is the four-day period between the end of your Weinberg classes and Finals Week. I know, quite cheeky of NU to only give Reading Period to courses housed in Weinberg, but I digress. Anyways, the answer to your question depends on who you ask, and what classes you have in your schedule.

If a class is in Weinberg: Students who don’t have classes often use the free time allotted during this period to study, go to teaching assistant-led review sessions or relax. I recommend a healthy combination of the three. However, teachers can still assign projects, essays, etc. to be due over these days, and the language department will also often schedule oral exams during this period. So while reading isn’t required during this small break, you may find yourself with some work.

If a class isn’t in Weinberg: you’ll still meet during the regularly scheduled period, only now you’ll do so remotely, as in-person classes are suspended before the Reading Period begins. However, it’s common that professors will decide to use those last few meetings as their own finals period — meaning you’ll take an exam or turn in a project before Finals Week, but you’ll also be done with the class forever.

And then, finally, we have finals?

Correct! Finals Week falls on the 11th-ish week of the quarter, this year spanning between Wednesday, Dec. 2 and Tuesday, Dec. 8. Depending on the professor, your final could be anything: papers, projects, oral exams, music videos, you name it. But if it’s a timed exam, it will likely take place during these seven days, during a period assigned by the Office of the Registrar.

That means that your final won’t necessarily be the length of your normal class, take place during the same hours of the class, or even fall on the day your class usually meets. I’ve sat for finals at 9 a.m. on a Monday and 7 p.m. on a Friday (both equally fun). You’ve got this.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @daisy_conant