Cal Poly is the only California State University (CSU) remaining that runs on the quarter system.
The other 22 CSUs follow the semester system, which runs sixteen weeks long. Cal Poly’s schedule comprises of 10 weeks per quarter. Students are in a constant rotation of classes on the quarter system in comparison to the semester system. From this, several pros and cons in terms of how the quarter system impacts life on campus have emerged.
Amy Lan, a freshman Public Health major said the transition from the semester system at her high school to entering college on the quarter system was “fine first quarter, but really hit second quarter.”
“There was just so much work and it was very stressful … with only 10 weeks to accomplish everything. It is a lot pressure – your whole grade can be determined by one final,” Lan said.
She also said breaks would be nice, but because of the fast pace of the system, she has become more focused on spending more time working and admitted there is “less procrastinating” since there is hardly any extra time.
A downside to the quarter system, however, is that teachers tend to take longer to put in grades. There is simply less time to grade papers since there are only 10 weeks before final grades are reported. Due to this, there tends to be fewer assignments that count for more so a grade may only be based off of a few components instead of several.
On the semester system, Lan said students along with teachers have more free time so students have the ability to redeem themselves if they receive a bad grade and teachers have more time to collaborate with their students, instruct, and review their coursework.
On the quarter system, some students said there is pressure on students to perform well on every single exam and for teachers to get through material as fast as possible.
“No one really enjoys the quarter system, but it’s not too bad,” Lan said. “The fast pace of the quarter system makes you work hard and learn more.”
Agriculture business freshman Grace Pagliuso had a different take on the quarter system.
“I love the quarter system because it allows me to take more various classes throughout the school year,” Pagliuso said.
For her, she said the adjustment from high school to college was made easier due to AP classes she took that consisted of heavy work loads. The fast pace of the quarter system was not as much of a shock and Pagliuso said she finds it enjoyable.
“The quarter system makes you prioritize and it allows for constant exposure to new ideas since you are switching your classes so often, which is something I like,” environmental earth and soil sciences junior Monique Rae said.
A simple chart that better outlines the difference between the quarter and semester system was found on Quora.
The shortness of the quarter seems to also put an intense pressure on students to manage their time well, especially if students want to fit in outside activities. Students have to squeeze in participating in clubs or sports within their fast paced study schedule.
Professors, like students, also like the quarter system on varying degrees.
“One of the things I like about the quarter system is that it moves so fast – you can do lots of different things in the span of the year, but it also prevents you from having in depth kinds of investigations of topics,”Professor Steven Ruszczycky from the College of Liberal Arts department said.
According to Ruszczycky, faculty do not have to submit grades until the Tuesday of Spring quarter so they only get four days off.
“I have to turn around and prepare to teach whole new sets of classes. Winter and Spring end up feeling like one gigantic quarter, or one gigantic term so its exhausting,” Ruszczycky said.
Prior to Cal Poly, Ruszczycky taught in New Zealand on a semester system that was 14 weeks long. Students would attend classes for six weeks at a time and then have two weeks of a break between each semester.
“It was nice to have that rest,” Ruszczycky said. “It would be nice if there was something like that institutionalized even with the quarter system.”
In terms of change, there was a survey that circulated around asking staff if they would be interested in having three day classes per week, such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday rather than a two day class schedule. Classes would be 90 minutes rather than 110.
This is a benefit of the quarter system because teachers and students would be in the classroom for shorter periods of time. This would give everyone a breath of fresh air and slightly lessen the pressure of having to focus for such a long period of time in class and consume or teach a large chunk of information all at once.
The results of this survey distributed by the Cal Poly Administration were not available and no change has occurred after it was given.
A complete change in the system would be a tremendous amount of work due to the complex conversion of units from the quarter to semester system, because students would only take eight classes a year versus twelve.
The conversion would benefit transfer student however, because it would align their requirements or units up with several other CSU’s, making the switch a lot easier.
For now, the the Cal Poly administration is committed to to keeping the university on the quarter system.
“Cal Poly has carefully evaluated the quarter system and believes the pace and variety of courses taught by our esteemed faculty is essential to Learn by Doing and prepares students for a lifetime of learning and success,” University Spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News.
Still, Cal Poly welcomes a new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs this year, so the debate between the quarter and semester system continues to linger and is always very much on the table.