Student points out the flaws and disadvantages of the trimester system


Among many distinctions from other liberal arts college, having a trimester system has always been one of the clearest differences Union offers. The college has been running this academic calendar for years now, and Union students think of it as natural. However, are trimesters really natural? Or, in other words, does the trimester system really work? In the Fall term, classes start in the week after Labor Day and end before Thanksgiving. The Winter trimester starts in early January and wraps up at the end of March. The third begins in April and ends in the first week of June. Each term has 10 weeks, and each student has to take at least 3 courses to be considered a full-time student. During these 10 weeks, instructors put out their best effort to squeeze what should have been taught in four months in their syllabus, often omitting the last or “unimportant” chapters of the textbook. But is any chapter “unimportant,” having been included in the textbook that our instructors trusted? Accordingly, Union students have to study at a higher pace, and thus, they understand the material more superficially than their peers at semester-based colleges. By the end of an “Introduction to Economics” course, students who spend 15 weeks with the same material undoubtedly have an advantage over those who only spend 10 weeks briefly familiarizing themselves with the textbook’s tone. Moreover, sometimes one term has one class less than it usually does (like last year’s Winter Term), making the professors’ and students’ “marathon” to cram the knowledge even fiercer. Learning is a progress, one that should be cherished with deep, mindful reading sessions and prolonged practice periods. However, due to the restraints of the trimester system, that learning enjoyment is somewhat impaired. The trimester short duration also affects the students’ class selection process. At other colleges, it is normal for students – especially those who are undecided – to try out classes and find their niche. At Harvard College – Union’s dear friend, students don’t have to register for a class “until they’ve spent a week getting to know that class.” Furthermore, they have a “Shopping Week,” during which Lena Fenton of “Harvard College Student Blogs” says students can “attend any class, leave any class in the middle to shop another class, and shop six or seven classes but only end up taking four or five.” Our registration does allow students to drop out and add in new classes until the end of the first week, yet the risk of “fishing around” at Union is high because by the end of a trimester’s first week, classes will have finished one to two book chapters, and some will have already had quizzes. The course’s pace is always fast, so students have to make up their minds very quickly. Yet isn’t the liberal arts education all about trying new things, allowing for time to ponder all options with an open mind? Some say that with the trimester system, we are allowed to try out more courses. Are we? At other colleges, students usually take four to five courses each 15-week semester, summing up to eight to ten courses a year. At Union, students normally take three courses each ten-week trimester, summing up to nine courses a year. Except for Scholars, students can only take one extra course per year, given that they are of good academic standing. It is quite clear that not only we are rushing course selection and materials, but we are also taking less or the same number of courses compared to other colleges. On the other hand, we are always paying the full price of textbooks and access codes, while our courses always end well before those codes expire. With the same amount of tuition and fees comparing to other colleges, we are learning less. Last but not least, the trimester system creates abnormal break times. When our friends are still in classes, we are already on our winter break. While they already have their summer breaks, we still have classes and exams to cram for. Internships and summer programs are greatly affected by trimesters: some summer schools and companies require students to start immediately after a semester ends. The system may be throwing away a lot of opportunities for its students.


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