Studying in America and Canada  
8.2 The Program Structure - Semester and Quarter Systems

The semester system used in America and Canada is similar to the semester systems used elsewhere in the world. The quarter system is rather unique to America. The academic year is approximately 9 months long in America and 8 months in Canada. The academic year starts in the fall. Institutions typicaly offer a summer term as well.

The semester system has 2 terms in an academic year. In the American semester system, each semester is approximately 15 weeks long. The academic year starts in the late August with the Fall semester. The Fall semester ends in mid-December. The second semester, called the Winter or Spring semester, starts in early January and ends in mid to late May. Under the Canadian system, the semester is approximately 13 weeks long, with the Fall semester starting in September and ending around mid-December, and the Winter semester starting in early January and ending in late April or early May.

The quarter system, unique to America, has 3 quarters in an academic year, with each quarter being approximately 10 weeks long. The Fall quarter starts in early September and ends in early December. The Winter quarter starts in early January and ends in mid-March. The Spring quarter starts in mid-March and ends in late May or early June.

The word "term," from now on, refers to either a semester or a quarter, depending on the context. One hour of classroom instruction or two hours in the laboratory per term is referred to as one credit hour. A Bachelor's degree typically requires the successful completion of 120 credit hours in the semester system. The similar requirement under the quarter system is 180 credit hours. The actual credit hour requirements may vary considerably depending on the college and the discipline. A course load equivalent to 12 credit hours is typically the minimum required to maintain a full-time student status. One is expected to take 15 credit hours per term to complete the Bachelor's program in 4 years.

The credit hours requirements for graduate (Master's and Doctoral) programs vary considerably across institutions and disciplines, and across America and Canada. Also, the credit hour requirements are more of a guideline for graduate programs, compared to the undergraduate program, due to the inclusion of dissertation or thesis requirements. The work on a dissertation or thesis requires the completion of the research project, rather than the actual hours spent.

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