Trimesters or semesters: What works best for students?

The trimester system can be hectic for students, but the semester system can make finishing a degree take longer.

In defense of the trimester …

Stuart J. Lipper is the dean of the graduate school of business administration at Fordham University in New York City.

How did Fordham arrive at a trimester system?
The MBA has always been the largest master’s program at Fordham, and it was largely a part-time program. We wanted to make it as flexible as possible for people that had to work. But we’re not keeping it because ‘this is the way it’s always been done.’ Current students like the flexibility.

What are the drawbacks?
It makes the jobs of administrators a bit crazy. It can be hectic for students, too: Sometimes the semester ends on Friday and the new one starts on Monday. There’s not a lot of downtime.

But you also complete the degree faster.
That’s the ultimate goal. Full-time students can usually go through a program reasonably quickly. But in this program, part-time students can finish in three years.

In defense of the semester …
Kate Lehman is the assistant dean for student success at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

How did Otterbein University arrive at a semester system?
We just switched from trimesters to semesters. We are placing an emphasis on experiential education — learning through real-world situations. Our faculty felt that semesters were better suited to this due to the extended time in a term.

What are the drawbacks?
Some students like a shorter term so they can experience more topics over time. The sheer number of classes is fewer when you have fewer terms.

Do trimesters work better for grad students, because they are typically more interested in finishing sooner?

Grad students take more summer courses than undergrads, and some of that is regardless of the calendar you’re operating under. But, yes, graduate students are more interested in going to school year-round.


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