Hsu: Abandon the Quarter System

by Caroline Hsu | 10/29/14 6:07pm

Dartmouth stands out from its peers in a variety of aspects, not least of which is its quarter calendar. More and more colleges are switching to a semester system, and Dartmouth should join them. While the quarter system has its benefits, like quicker class turnover, transitioning into the semester system would immensely benefit Dartmouth’s students and faculty.

As a freshman, I have already noticed just how concentrated the term is. As much as I enjoy my classes, the speed with which we are expected to cover material can be overwhelming. After spending hour after hour cramming at the library from Monday through Friday, many students seek a way to relieve the tension once the weekend hits. They choose to engage in high-risk drinking and other self-harming actions. Being in such a stressful environment, due largely to how terms are so accelerated, prompts many students to adopt unhealthy lifestyles. Switching to the semester system would relieve a large part of the academic stress that Dartmouth students face. Spacing out the term and giving students more time to learn could greatly diminish the stress in our lives.

This would likely lead to a lessening in hazardous, extreme behavior. Research over the last 30 years has shown that stress may contribute to the human tendency to engage in heavy and high-risk drinking. The recent debate over Greek life relates — a large complaint regarding Greek life is the prevalence of high-risk drinking on campus. If pressure is alleviated, then risky behavior should decrease.

Even past the widely acknowledged social drawbacks, several academic downsides infect the quarter system. Many textbooks are written specifically with the semester system in mind. Attempting to cram half a year’s worth of knowledge into a couple of weeks puts pressure on students as well as professors, who must teach a massive amount of lesson material in a relatively short amount of time. If the College spread out classes rather than constricting them to a few weeks, students would have a more meaningful learning experience. We would have time to digest and absorb the new information we face — rather than having to cram it into our heads the night before an exam. Having more class time would allow professors to go more in depth with the lesson, so students would have more time for intellectual exploration in the classroom. And with a semester system, professors would have the same students for a longer period of time. They could invest all their attention and focus onto those students for 18 weeks instead of 10, which could greatly increase the quality of their teaching and improve students’ academic experience.

Furthermore, going from high school to college can be an extremely stressful and overwhelming transition, and switching from a semester system to a quarter system exacerbates that stress by accelerating the learning process. Finally, for every term, there is approximately a week solely dedicated to exams. A college with a semester calendar would only lose two weeks — at Dartmouth, nearly four weeks are wasted. When these weeks accumulate, the amount of learning time lost is significant. Moreover, Dartmouth only grants two days for its reading period, whereas most schools have an entire week to prepare for exams. A semester system may help Dartmouth better allocate time for exam preparation.

Professional drawbacks exist as well. We end our spring term significantly later in the year than most other college students. While this fact may seem arbitrary, timing can be crucial in today’s unforgiving job market. Because Dartmouth students graduate a few weeks later than students from most peer institutions, they are at a disadvantage, entering the job market after other students. Additionally, while the “flexible” D-Plan is supposed to make finding internships easier, in reality, it complicates students’ job search. Given that many internships are based on the semester system, many employers would not want to take an intern or employee for half of the time they are used to.

Dartmouth has long been known for its unique quarter calendar, which admittedly has its benefits — mostly pertaining to class turnover. However, changing into a semester system would allow high school students to more easily adjust to Dartmouth life, enhance our learning experience and help our professional lives.