This article is a part of the START issue, a guide for all incoming Oregon State University students and their families going through START, which aims to help familiarize them with the campus, college life, academic success and more.
Just like the other six public universities in Oregon, Oregon State University runs on the quarter calendar, in which each academic year is broken up into four 10-week terms: fall, winter, spring and summer.
Nationwide, most four-year higher education institutions follow one of two types of academic calendars: the quarter or semester system.
On one hand undergraduate students at OSU typically enroll in three 10-week terms—fall, winter and spring—with fall term beginning in late September and spring term ending in early June. Students need to take 12 credits per term to be considered a full-time student; however, many students choose to take 15 credits per term if they are aiming to graduate within four years. Students also have the option of enrolling in a fourth summer term if they want to get ahead or catch up in their credit count.
On the other hand, students attending semester system schools enroll in two 15-week terms, fall and spring, with the academic year typically beginning in late August and running through early May. Like many quarter system schools, semester system schools also offer the option of an additional summer term.
According to the 2018 academic report,Semesters or Quarters? The Effect of the Academic Calendar on Postsecondary Graduation Rates, 95% of U.S. four-year institutions run on the semester calendar. One of the advantages of a semester calendar is the timing and availability of summer internships. Since the semester calendar is the most common academic calendar in the U.S., many companies schedule internship start and end dates that correlate with the semester schedule.
While each system does have its own pros and cons, Anika Lautenbach, the lead strategist at the Academic Success Center, a student resource for learning at OSU, said it’s important for students to plan and focus on time management, and also to find ways to practice what they are learning in classes.
“With a quarter system, students are able to take more classes and really get a breadth of knowledge that can span over many topics,” Lautenbach said. “The pace is quick, and sometimes it can be relieving to know there are only so many weeks until the next term and the next set of classes. It can also be exciting to learn so many new things in quick succession. During a semester, students get to spend more time in a class and have the opportunity to do a deeper dive in some subjects.”
It can be tricky for students coming from semester system schools to adapt to the quick-paced and shorter quarter terms. Lautenbach herself did her undergraduate coursework at a semester system institution and this year, with her graduate degree, she received first-hand experience in the transition into the quarter system. While planning for the term, Lautenbach suggests students look at the term at both the macro and micro level.
“At the start of the term, we recommend that students read through all of their course syllabi and get a sense for work, deadlines and exams across the full 10 weeks,” Lautenbach said. “It helps them see when they have high-intensity times and when things are a little slower. It’s important to think about midterms and projects, and then to plan out the week so they can get a sense of what each day will be like. This kind of early, proactive planning is so beneficial and can help to reduce stress overall.”
Lautenbach said the ASC has many planning tools to help students, such as theTerm at a Glance,Weekly Calendar andWeekly To-Do List. She said students should get in the habit of planning each week on either Sunday or Monday. This way they have a picture of what’s ahead each week, which will in turn also help them decide how to effectively divide their time.
While the quarter calendar does make everything feel fast-paced, Lautenbach said that if students need help, they should seek it early and often, instead of waiting until things get too stressful.
“Things move quickly and it’s not just coursework but studying and finding time for assignments outside of class,” Lautenbach said. “And, there’s a lot to juggle in addition to coursework, like engagement opportunities, work, family, self-care, etc.”
Lautenbach suggests reaching out to instructors, advisors and peers as sources of support, as well as the ASC. At the ASC, strategists can help students identify their challenges and then refer them to specific resources that can help them.
“I also want people to know that they don’t have to do it alone,” Lautenbach added. “Transition from a semester to a quarter system can be challenging, and there are many people at the ASC who would love to help you develop a plan to be successful.”
One of the critical factors in academic success is effective time management. Lautenbach suggested strategies to help students develop effective study habits and to better understand their own learning processes.
“The more students can get away from study marathons and get into the habit of spreading their study out regularly throughout the week, the more they will be working with how their brain learns best,” Lautenbach said. “Even just taking a few minutes after class to revisit notes and ask themselves questions can be so beneficial in the long run. This kind of review and self-testing helps students to identify gaps in their understanding early so that they can learn content as they go, instead of trying to teach themselves content as they’re studying for exams.”
Lautenbach recommended the idea of taking breaks between study sessions because they help to improve focus, as well as give the brain some time to rest and build in time for self-care. She suggested a good way to get started is tryingthe Pomodoro technique, in which break times are utilized for eating snacks, stretching or listening to music—activities that involve moving away from the screen and letting the body move a little.
Whether students need help with academics or are feeling a bit overwhelmed, Lautenbach said the ASC is a great place to reach out. Someone at the ASC can help them get through the situation and direct them to beneficial resources that may help them.
“We can also help them connect with another support resource on campus, like CAPS, if that would be the most helpful,” Lautenbach said. “It really just depends on what their experience is—we want to make sure people have a network of support.”