Those of us who attended college likely adhered to a two-term academic year, consisting of fall and spring semesters. Students had the option of resting during the summer or taking summer classes as a third term. Several colleges and universities, though, operate on a three-term academic year, which includes fall, winter, and spring trimesters. Others offer this option for certain programs of study. Trimesters are broken down into eight, 10 or 16 weeks. Three-term years benefit both students and faculty members, reducing stress levels and increasing productivity.
For instructors, a trimester helps them break down their lesson plans into smaller parts, giving them more preparation time. It lets them really concentrate on information that is important, thus eliminating the creation of plans just to fill time. If the school has a certain core curriculum, instructors can give students all the necessary information, not just to pass the course. Students get all the instruction they need to move on to the next class in a particular subject area. It is as if each class serves as a door opening to the following courses.
During a typical two-term semester year, students take four or more classes. They are responsible for a heavy workload on a weekly basis. Conversely, three-term academic years are more flexible, allowing students to focus intensely on one or two courses at a time instead of four or more classes. Students can dissect and concentrate on the application of the information presented by the instructor. Thus, students enhance their time management skills and learn effective study strategies. By training their minds to focus on a reduced number of classes, students could better transition to a two-term institution.
The flexibility of three-term academic years gives students a chance to explore other passions. Students get to try elective courses during this time without having to commit for an entire semester. The American Association of School Administrators says students get to take classes that may not normally fit into their schedules. The AASA says that for one course, family and consumer science, the number of students enrolled grew from 76 in a two-semester year to 433 in a three-semester year. Increases occur in other electives as well. Students, therefore, get to pursue other fun activities in an academic year.
Student-athletes often don’t get a chance to study abroad because pre-season practices usually take place during one semester and their sport occurs in the other. A three-term academic year gives them a change to take part in study abroad programs without forgoing athletic pursuits. They don’t have to worry about studying abroad and sports overlapping. Students return home in time for practice and the season. In essence, they don’t have to dedicate the entire year to the classroom or the field.
Probably the most appealing aspect of a three-term academic year is a longer break. In a traditional two-year academic term, students likely have a fall break, a few days off during Thanksgiving, and two weeks during December before returning to school in January. In some cases, winter break starts at Thanksgiving, and students return to school in January. Students get a longer break and are refreshed before returning to their academic routine. College students get to spend more time with friends and family, or even get to take vacations away from everything.
Granted, all types of academic years have pros and cons, and usually personal preference determines whether students like one or the other. While it seems like the majority of academic institutions prefer the traditional two-term format, many are choosing the three-term, or trimester, academic year because of the benefits to instructors and students. Trimesters provide focus while, at the same, time allowing students to add a little variety to their learning process. Students somewhat evenly divide their year between learning and relaxation, thus increasing their ability to manage time.