Fine: Keep the Quarter System, Switch the Schedule

Simona Fine, Assistant Opinion Editor

In years past, the thought of staying at Northwestern over Thanksgiving break would have never crossed my mind. My family always gathers for the secular holiday instead of for Christmas and, as a result, it’s often the only time I’ll see my cousins in a year. However, traveling back and forth for that weekend from college has become a hassle, as I would be quickly thrown into reading and finals weeks, only to then return to New York a few days later upon the completion of the quarter. Additionally, flights are particularly expensive around Thanksgiving weekend, adding to the strain of trekking back and forth.

Following Northwestern’s COVID-19 policies, I left Evanston this year just before Thanksgiving and stayed home until the beginning of Wildcat Wellness, completing my final assignments remotely. While taking exams over Zoom or asynchronously via Canvas was not ideal, the added stress associated with travelling was absent. This has led me to ponder how the academic calendar could be permanently altered to lessen the pressure placed on students during Fall Quarter finals.

Although the rapid pace of the quarter system can be frustrating at times, I love the flexibility in classes that it affords. If I attended a semester school, it would be nearly impossible for me to double major between engineering and the humanities, but the quarter system gives me space to fit both subjects into my schedule. However, changing the structure of our winter break could easily be done while maintaining this unique feature of our university.

If Northwestern moves the start of Fall Quarter up by a couple weeks, we could finish finals before Thanksgiving and go on winter break until the beginning of January, circumventing the issues posed by returning to campus for finals in December. Some universities on the quarter system have already adopted this shifted schedule. For example, Dartmouth generally starts fall classes in the middle of September and concludes finals near the end of November, before bringing students back for the winter term the same week that Northwestern does. Other institutions such as DePaul University and Savannah College of Art and Design also conform to this academic calendar.

The other advantage to this modification is that we would return to campus earlier in September, losing the awkward and lonely weeks before our school year begins. In the past, I dreaded this extra time after my summer job had ended and my friends from high school had departed our hometown for their own colleges. Resuming classes sooner in exchange for additional time off in the winter would be more relaxing for students and provide time that is more valuable for socializing.

Notably, this schedule shift would not impact the timing of Winter and Spring Quarters, maintaining our late end date which often causes issues with summer internships and programs, so other possible changes to the academic calendar should also be considered to potentially solve multiple problems at once. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid adjustments were made to Northwestern’s schedule to manage the crisis, but with more time and planning, I think that the University could devise permanent switches that will better accommodate students.

Simona Fine is a McCormick Junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.