From your first day to finals: What you need to know about NU academics


Illustration by Angeli Mittal

With a quarter system, NU’s academic system has its quirks.

Kara Peeler, Senior Staffer

Everyone knows about Northwestern’s beloved quarter system. But what does that mean for academics? From syllabus week through your first finals season, here’s The Daily’s guide to what it’s like to be a student here and how to survive it. 

First things first 

During Wildcat Welcome, incoming students will register for their first course load using CAESAR. 

Don’t worry if you get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of course offerings — NU’s quarter system lets you take more classes over your academic career than the semester system. A standard course load is about four regular courses — but “underloading” with three courses is totally valid, too. Once the term begins, you can add a fifth credit and “overload.” However, don’t feel like you need to overdo yourself your very first quarter (or ever!). 

If you’re not sure where to start, your academic advisor probably has some advice. You can book an appointment with them through the online advising platform ConnectNU. It’s always a good idea to start with some basic classes to meet your major, or knock out some distros. You can also go to your Peer Advisor for advice from another student.

Lots of people use, an NU-specific planning tool, to map out their schedules. The CAESAR/Salad pair is simply delicious. 

Starting the quarter off strong 

It’s official: You’re a college student! The first week is often known as “syllabus week” because it often just covers course logistics, though some professors do dive straight in. You can prepare by checking your course pages on Canvas to preview the syllabus and do any required readings or assignments. 

It’s normal to change your mind. Keep an eye on the Academic Calendar for key dates about making schedule changes, like adding or dropping classes. 

What even are midterms? 

Because of the quarter system, “midterms” have a reputation for keeping students on their toes, and they don’t always land in the middle of the quarter. They may even start as soon as Week 3. Chances are, your professor will assign some sort of big essay, project, or test before finals. If it doesn’t go so well, remember that handy dandy “drop deadline,” allowing you to drop your class with no record on your transcript before Oct. 28 for Fall Quarter 2022. 

With that comes the fondly named “Week Seven Slump.” Pushing through all those weeks of work but not quite entering finals is tough. It’s easy to get burnt out, but I recommend prioritizing self-care alongside your studies.

So close but so far: Reading Period, Finals Week and whatnot 

If you’re in Weinberg, you’re blessed with Reading Period. This break before Finals Week is meant for … well, reading. It doesn’t always work out that way, but study for your finals and rest up. 

Then, the Sunday before finals week, join your peers at 9 p.m. for Primal Scream. Shriek your stress away. Really, just let it all out. Finals Week is hard for everyone. But no matter how it goes, by the end of Finals Week, one thing is for sure: It’s finished! 

Wait, that was graded?

NU uses a 4.0 grading system from A through F. You can also opt to take some classes Pass/Not Pass through Friday of the eighth week of classes. Specific grading policies vary between professors and schools, so check out your syllabus first, and ask if you still can’t find it. 

NU’s individual schools also have a Dean’s List, for students who meet certain requirements with a certain GPA. Didn’t make it the first quarter? Don’t sweat it. Study hard and do your best, but grades aren’t everything. Starting college is a huge accomplishment itself. 

Rinse and repeat 

The quarter system makes time fly by. Before you know it, you’ll be pre-registering for Winter Quarter. You’ll have the hang of it in no time with one quarter under your belt. Just be sure to celebrate your hard work and take a break — you deserve it. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @karapeeler

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