College transfer student

What’s the difference between quarter and semester units?

Knowing the difference is crucial when you are trying to transfer college credits!

In the United States, colleges and universities usually operate on either the semester system or the quarter system, which determine the academic calendar and how courses are structured and scheduled throughout the year.

Semester System:

Timeframe: Typically consists of two main semesters in an academic year – fall and spring. Each semester lasts around 15-16 weeks.

Course Load: Students generally take a heavier course load per semester as they have more time to cover material in-depth.

Breaks: Often includes a longer winter break between the fall and spring semesters.

Calendar: Classes usually start in August and end in May.

Quarter System:

Timeframe: Divides the academic year into quarters: fall, winter, spring, and sometimes a shorter summer term. Each quarter typically lasts around 10 weeks.

Course Load: Students take a lighter course load per quarter but cover material at a faster pace due to the shorter duration.

More Frequent Breaks: With shorter terms, there are more frequent breaks between quarters.

Calendar: Classes usually start in September and end in June.


Both systems have their pros and cons, and preferences often vary among students and institutions. Some students may prefer the faster pace of the quarter system, while others might appreciate the depth of study in the semester system.

Transferring between Systems

When all of your colleges are on the same system, transferring credits is a breeze! However, when students transfer between colleges that operate on different credit systems, things can get a little messy.

Unit Conversion:

  • Semester System to Quarter System: Typically, 1 semester credit is equivalent to 1.5 quarter credits. So, a 3-credit semester course would be worth 4.5 quarter credits.
  • Quarter System to Semester System: Conversely, 1 quarter credit is equivalent to 0.67 semester credits. For instance, a 4-credit quarter course would translate to approximately 2.67 semester credits.

Thus, your academic level is determined by the number of college credits you have earned, and which they are on. See chart below:

Academic Level Semester System Quarter System
Freshman 30-32 credits 45-48 credits
Sophomore 60-64 credits 90-96 credits
Junior 90-96 credits 135-144 credits
Senior 120-128 credits 180-192 credits

If you receive a transfer credit evaluation from your new school, and it doesn’t seem to have the correct number of credits, ASK QUESTIONS! Make sure you get the right number of credits! These systems are confusing and anyone can make a mistake. College registrars are human, too 🙂


Can you transfer quarter units to a semester school?

Yes, but you may need to keep a close eye on your credit evaluation when transferring to make sure no classes got lost in translation.

Will changing credit systems make me lose my academic level?

No, as credits will convert! But you should reach out to your new school if you get an evaluation and it seems like you don’t have the right amount of credits or your transfer credit evaluation report. 

Is semester or quarter system easier?

It depends on personal preference. Some students like the fast pace of the quarter system, while others prefer the depth of material taught in a semester. 

author avatar
Jaime Smith Certified Educational Planner
Jaime Smith, M.A., MS.Ed., is a Certified Educational Planner with 25 years of experience working in education. As a college counselor, Jaime specializes in transfer admissions, homeschoolers, neurodiverse learners, and other non-traditional applicants. In 2023, she completed a Post-Master's Certificate in Transfer Leadership and Practice at the University of North Georgia in collaboration with the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students. A California native and former homeschooling mom, Jaime now lives the empty nest life in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and pet rabbit.

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