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What’s the Trimester System Like?

Sherry shares her experiences with Carleton's unique trimester system.

Sherry shares her experiences with Carleton's unique trimester system.

The academic system is undoubtedly something special about Carleton. Unlike most colleges that operate on a semester timeline, Carleton has a unique trimester system. What does this mean? It means that our academic year is divided into 3 terms: fall, winter, and spring. Each trimester is 10 weeks long, and students typically take 3 classes per term.

To give you more detailed an impression of it, here’s a week-by-week overview of my experiences with the trimester system!

Week 1-3: Off to a good start

This is probably the happiest time of the term. After a relaxing break, students are energized and ready for the new term. Week 1 is the best time familiarize yourself with classes and routines. When should you get up so that you are not late for morning classes? Which dining hall should you to go to so that you can avoid the peak hours and share a meal with friends? Where can you study after class? Most importantly, you’ll need to figure out if the classes fit you well, because the course add/drop deadline is shortly after the term begins.

Aside from getting used to the professor’s teaching styles and understanding their expectations, it’s also time to get to know your classmates and make friends. In addition, I also like to mark on my calendar the dates of exams and paper deadlines. This gives me a sense of the amount of work I need to do in the term. It helps me avoid missing deadlines.

The (very ugly) marks on my calendar

As life is still chill, you also get time to go to the professors’ office hours. You may ask questions about the syllabus, advice for studying, or simply say hi to them. All professors at Carleton prioritize students’ learning experiences and they like to get to know you in person. Chatting with professors like friends and getting to know them is one of my favorite parts of the liberal arts experience.

An example of course schedules

Week 4-5: The 1st exams and papers

As the term proceeds, things start to pick up. Some classes have 3 exams throughout the term. The specific dates differ for each course, but they are typically arranged in the 4th week, the 7th week, and the 10th week. For some subjects in which exams are not applicable, you might have your 1st paper due during this time. Lots of Carls go to office hours and appear at TA sessions. My biggest motivation for studying during this time is the mid-term break on the Monday of week 6.

Week 6: Blank?

Week 6 is often uneventful for me—nothing remarkable is happening during this time. If you have a M, W&F schedule as I do, after the Monday mid-term break you don’t have classes again until Wednesday. It gives you a feeling of having a 4-day-long break. I benefit from this time to catch up with my work, relax, and prepare for the last 5 weeks.

Week 7-8: The 2nd round of exams and papers

Things get intense. Let me share my past 8th week. On Monday, I had the unfortunate experience of taking 3 consecutive exams from 8:30 am until 1:40 pm. On the weekend of 8th week, I worked on 3 papers along with my usual homework load. I spent a lot of time with a psychology paper, a French paper on Sartre, and a statistics project. Needless to say, it was a busy week.

Week 9: CHAOS

It’s the 9th week as I write this blog post. There are many responsibilities to attend to. My friend invented the term “Week 9 Syndrome,” which is defined by an abundance of homework and studying during this period of Carleton’s academic calendar.

A big week 9 mood

Week 10: Almost there!

After ten weeks of hard work, it’s time to demonstrate your learning to your dear professor! The final exam period is 3 days long in the “11th week,” with 2 Reading Days before that. Some people are lucky—they either finish exams in the 10th week or do not have a final exam.

At the end of fall term, one of my exams was arranged on the last day of the finals period. When I was walking to the academic building at 8 am that morning, I saw students boarding the bus to the airport with their luggage, ready for the break. I almost threw my textbooks away and got on the bus! Yet, the satisfaction of finishing my exams was so much better than escaping from the reality. After the busy 10 weeks, it’s finally the time to relax.

Our winter exam schedule

In Summary

The trimester system is a rewarding and challenging experience. I’ve discussed some of the stressors I’ve dealt with to show that they’re normal and navigable. The positive outcomes are also many! My favorite thing is the possibility of change. If you don’t like a class, you will be done with it within 10 short weeks. Being able to take 9+ classes in a school year is also amazing. Carleton’s liberal arts curriculum offers a wide variety of interesting classes and encourages a great deal of academic exploration.

Going back to work now, wish me luck for week 10!

Sherry is a first-year student from Hangzhou, China, and holds a real passion for travel and food. She is thinking about majoring in Mathematics, but would also like to explore more in Economics, Computer Science, English, and French. Things she likes to do in her free time include hanging out with friends, taking photos, writing random stuff, and finding the funny in everyday life. She also got started with alpine skiing and is always ready for the trip to Welch Village every Friday! Meet the other bloggers!