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Pros and Cons of Carleton’s Trimester System

Bennet discusses his opinions of and experiences with Carleton's trimester system.

Bennet discusses his opinions of and experiences with Carleton's trimester system.

Before Carleton, I went through seven years of my education in a boarding school that used the trimester system of education. Therefore, I was pretty comfortable with Carleton’s trimester system. Nevertheless, there is a big difference in the academic calendars and course structures of the two schools. Carleton’s ten-week academic calendar recurs every term while my boarding school has a 15-week calendar for the first term, a 10-week calendar for the second term, and a 7-week calendar for the third term. Courses are taken for the entire academic year at my boarding school, but students at Carleton are expected to choose new courses every term. I’ve found that there are both pros and cons associated with Carleton’s trimester system.


Carls take Nine Courses an Academic Year

Because there are only ten weeks, the college prefers that students take courses worth 18 credits a term, totaling 54 credits a year. There are options for underloading (taking 2 courses instead of 3, for instance) or overloading (taking more than 3 6-credit courses). The latter sometimes requires permission from the college.

You can check the Campus Handbook for more information about Academic Load. Most of my friends from other colleges tell me that I learn more than them although I take three 6-credit courses a term while they take 4. Their schools’ semester systems allow for only 8 courses per student for an academic year while a typical Carl takes 9 a year. Combined with a liberal arts education, the trimester gives more room for students to try out new subject areas.

Two of the courses I will register for this coming Fall Term. I’m still contemplating what my third class will be.

Lots of Externship, Internship, Career and Off-Campus Study (OCS) opportunities

During their winter and spring term, many Carls students are thinking of potential career opportunities or study abroad programs for the summer. Additionally, the trimester system facilitates an extra long 6-week winter break! While my friends are still in school from November to December, I have the opportunity to do a one-month internship at a software company or study abroad.

Fast-paced learning

A term at Carleton passes very fast, and classes might seem fast-paced. I have had multiple instances in which I did not complete the readings for my Religion class due to other priorities. But somehow, I always find new ways to resolve such issues. Generally, the best advice is to try to avoid falling behind in your classes. Most students often adapt to this style of learning after a few terms at Carleton. I personally think this style of learning helps Carls develop a very disciplined, balanced lifestyle.



Aside from academic life, a student’s work study, health, and social life are big features of the college experience. Being sick and skipping class for several days might cause a lot of academic problems. Trying to resolve a conflict between friends might give you headaches and distort your focus on academics. After a few days of procrastinating, finally sitting in your dorm room just to be surprised at the number of assignments you have might even lead to a complete lack of motivation. Sometimes, you might not have energy left after a shift at your campus job. These are all factors that students should account for while completing a rigorous academic term.

Ben is a freshman from Bamenda, Cameroon, who is eager to experience snow for the first time. Aside from an interest in Computer Science, he is excited to explore Cinema and Media StudiesEconomicsStudio ArtCognitive Science, and Mathematics. At Carleton, he wants to participate in a few clubs and other campus activities, while keeping an academic-social balance. In his free time, Ben enjoys watching anime and random TikTok videos, listening to music, and hanging out with friends. Meet the other bloggers!