Monday, November 12

The Quad: Weighing the pros and cons of UCLA’s quarter system


(QingQing Su)

(QingQing Su)


The quarter system: the dreaded 10-week sprint of never ending midterms, papers and finals.

We’ve all heard that chipper UCLA tour guide telling a fresh batch of applicants that although the quarter system is challenging, UCLA students eventually learn to love it.

Well, after two quarters at UCLA, I can confidently say as a first-year student that no, I don’t love it. In fact, I dislike it for requiring us to cram copious amounts of material into such a short amount of time.

Surprisingly, UCLA didn’t always have the quarter system. Back in 1919, when UCLA was founded, it was on the semester system like UC Berkeley. In 1966, the UC system switched over to the quarter system, and while UC Berkeley switched back to the semester system in 1983, UCLA stuck with the quarter system.

Even UCLA’s law and medical schools switched back to semester systems in 1978 and 1987 respectively.

According to a study from 2012, 14.7 percent of universities nationwide are on the quarter system, while 71.2 percent are on the semester system. So, with an overwhelming favorability towards the semester system, why are we on the quarter system?

Quite frankly, I don’t know. But here’s my attempt to break it down.

  1. Classes: The quarter system allows students to take a wider breadth of classes and experience a greater variety of subjects. If the average quarter-student takes three to four classes, while the average semester-student takes four to five classes, students on the quarter system are able to take six more classes during their four years.
  • But just because we get to take six more classes, doesn’t mean we actually get to learn more.
  • Most students have little flexibility in choosing classes because of all their major requisites, and many of our series use three quarters instead of two semesters, meaning those extra six classes get used up learning the same material.

2. Exploring your interests: Because of the quarter system, students can take classes that focus on their interests, which they may not have been able to do with the semester system.

  • If a student is actually interested in a course, they probably wouldn’t mind the additional five weeks of instruction.
  • Also, with UCLA’s extensive list of fiat lux and Undergraduate Student Initiated Education courses, students can explore their interests without committing to an actual class.
  • Lastly, with the cycle of midterms from Week Three to Week Nine – even sometimes 10 – students aren’t able to truly enjoy the class they’re taking for fun because it either becomes less of a priority than their major classes or becomes an overwhelming nuisance when combined with their other classes.

3. The pace keeps you engaged: Some argue that the quarter system allows students to stay focused on their academics with a quick turnaround after finals.

  • Every student would agree that shorter breaks are not a good thing. With the end of winter quarter and the start of spring so close together, students don’t have time to recuperate after finals and often feel burnt out early in spring.
  • Also, many summer internships begin in mid-to-late May or early June, when we’re still in school, which puts quarter system students at a disadvantage when applying.

4. The quarter system keeps costs down: According to a Daily Bruin Opinion piece from 2010, the quarter system allows professors to take time off for research and also allows UCLA to pay them less.

  • If you ask me, this is the real reason we are on the quarter system: because it’s cheaper.

But when are universities going to stop putting profits above people, and start addressing the mental and physical health of their students?

Not only does the semester system allow students more time to absorb the material, it also gives students enough time to recover after finals. Also, with a “Reading, Review and Recitation Week,” or “Dead Week,” as UC Berkeley calls it, students are able to adequately prepare for their finals, instead of in the quarter system where some students are given a single day between their last class and first final.

While the quarter system does have some benefits, it does far more to hurt students who are already overwhelmed with balancing classes, extracurriculars and social activities.

But, fortunately for us, it’s never too late to change. UCLA last discussed switching to the semester system in 2002. After 15 years, it’s high time to open another dialogue.

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  • Billy Nguyen

    Just a point of clarification. As a med student, although we technically are on the “semester” system, our final exams are given at the 10th week and in some blocks the 6th week. So in some cases even shorter than the undergraduate quarter system.