There are two main ways to divide an academic year: semester and quarter. Each college / university applies either one of them, not combined. A few colleges apply a trimester system. However, this system is not commonly used.
An academic year is mainly divided into two semesters: Fall and Spring. In between Fall and Spring, there is a short semester called Summer semester. In this semester, the classes offered are relatively few, and not many students enroll in classes.
Normally, Fall semester is considered as the beginning of the academic year. However, you can also begin your study in the Spring or Summer semesters. Since Fall semester normally starts the academic year, more scholarships and assistantships are offered in this semester. In addition, more prerequisite classes are also offered in this semester. Therefore, if you start your semester in the Spring or Summer you might have to wait until the next Fall to take these classes. However, you should not worry about it. In the meantime you can always take some other classes.
Some universities / colleges do not offer admissions in the Summer semester, except for Research scholars or post-doctoral students.
- Fall semester: The period from mid August to December (16– 18 weeks)
- Spring semester: The period from January to mid May (
16– 18 weeks)
- Summer semester: The period from mid May to mid August
(10 – 12 weeks)
An academic year is divided into four quarter: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. As it is of the semester system, Fall quarter is normally considered as the beginning of the academic year. Likewise, most scholarships and assistantships are granted in this quarter. Summer quarter is also shorter than the other quarters.
- Fall quarter: The period from late September to December (12 – 13 weeks)
- Winter quarter: The period from January to late March (12 – 13 weeks)
- Spring quarter: The period from April to late June (12 – 13 weeks)
- Summer quarter: The period from July to late August
(8 – 10 weeks)
Once you enroll in a program, your academic advisor will provide you a course structure. A course structure is basically a list of courses that you need to successfully complete in order to get the degree. Normally, one course can be of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 credit hours. As an international student you have to maintain your status as a full time student. In order to be a full-time student, you are required to take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester (for undergraduate students), and 9 credit hours per semester for graduate students and PhD candidates.