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The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

DePaul’s Quarter System – A double-edged sword

Maya+Oclassen
Maya Oclassen

The quarter system has long been a defining feature of academic life at DePaul. While some students praise its benefits, others struggle with its difficulties, leading to a long-running debate about its effectiveness. Personally, I am in the middle. 

Explaining the quarter system to those who only know semesters leads to a vortex of questions: “But how does it work?” “You’re so lucky for such a long winter break.” “Why do you start so late?” This opens an intriguing discussion on whether the quarter system has value in education.

While the quarter system offers flexibility and academic challenge, DePaul students often find themselves wondering if it is worth it. But is it worth it? I feel torn between what I was accustomed to and my reality now.

Transitioning from the semester-based University of Central Florida in the fall of 2022 posed mental health challenges, as I moved a thousand miles away from home to settle into both a new city and an unfamiliar academic structure.

I had to learn how to adapt to 10 weeks of course material, handle my extracurricular activities, and still find time to live.

Taking almost six weeks off from before Thanksgiving until after New Year’s Day offers much flexibility in travel plans. 

As a first-generation student and first-generation American, this benefits me because I try to take as much time off throughout the year to travel back home to Colombia to see my family and reconnect in my comfort zone.

Don Moseley, co-director of the DePaul Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence,  sees how the quarter system supports academic focus on deadlines, especially for the up-and-coming student journalists in his classes with co-instructor and Chicago journalist Carol Marin.

“We structure it so that students know that they have deadlines to meet,” Moseley said. “The expectation is, as it will be once they become journalists, that they have to meet that deadline.”

While only about 5% of colleges and universities still use the quarter system, according to the American Economic Association, Moseley said he is neutral about whether DePaul’s quarter system should change. However, he thinks it can be difficult to provide a comprehensive education in a short period of time. The semester system, he said, could provide more time for evaluation and interaction.

Sergio Cervantes Jr., a DePaul junior and computer science major, said it can be difficult to retain material in a 10-week quarter. 

“I feel that many details are skipped over that could be useful,” he said. “I am not grasping the material, moreso just memorizing it.”

Cervantes is in favor of DePaul changing to a semester system. 

“I am for it! I don’t want to take four extra classes right after winter quarter, and I’d be able to focus on what I’m doing rather than thinking about what classes I need to pick,” Cervantes said.

In comparison, semester-based schools offer longer courses — often 15 weeks instead of 10 weeks — encouraging deeper understanding.

DePaul’s quarter system offers a combination of advantages and challenges, providing a focused academic environment while requiring professional performance.

Ultimately, performance depends on balancing learning the material while actually understanding it. But we also need to consider students’ health, including mental health, when creating policies.

A quarter system can cause a lot of anxiety and stress, which is something that should be taken into account. 

“When you’re taking computer courses, back to back, it becomes easy to be burned out,” Cervantes said. 

Personally, I have had to ask for extensions on my internship start dates due to finals occurring during the start date at the beginning of summer.

This has caused me to finish my internship later in the summer or even deny offers because some companies do not offer extensions. 

On the one hand, the quarter system keeps you moving. You’ve got deadlines coming at you left and right, and before you know it, boom, the quarter’s over. It’s like blink and you miss it. But it keeps things interesting and keeps you on your toes.

Semester students have a bit more time to breathe, to really dive deep into subjects without feeling like they are racing against the clock. 

I broke down the quarter system at DePaul to my next interviewee, and she was intrigued but saw where it could get tricky.

When considering the quarter system, Robin Sluzas, nontraditional senior studying journalism at Columbia College Chicago, said, “That’s brutal, I have to admit. I am sticking with a semester system.” 

“I start looking at the syllabus, and put the due dates on my phone. I just do my work,” Sluzas said. As one who’s getting her degree later in life, she feels she has a stronger work ethic compared with her peers.

The quarter system can be intense, without a doubt. You have to be the best all the time without slacking off.

To answer the question: would I switch to semesters if I could? Honestly, I don’t think so. 

The quarter system has its challenges, sure, but it’s also shaped me in ways I never imagined. 

The rigor and consistency of the quarter system have kept me consistent, which has prevented me from slacking off.

Because of that, I’ve been awarded multiple scholarships and internships and have even had the honor of attending the White House for a K-12 STEM briefing in partnership with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. 

It’s like a rollercoaster ride — scary at times but exhilarating too. And hey, isn’t that what college is all about?

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