The College Quarter System – What People Don’t Tell You

My son was an A/B (sometimes C) student throughout high school–which was not an easy task. He worked hard for these grades. School was not a natural fit for him.

Skateboarding was a natural fit. School? Not so much.

But he did it. Through consistent effort, he got the grades he needed to get into the college of his dreams. He was going to his first choice college and he was thrilled. We celebrated this victory and breathed a sigh of relief.

One of our most heartfelt hopes for our kids is that they work hard for what they want and, ideally, the work pays off and they are able to achieve their goals. We moved him cross country, settled him in his dorm, and kissed him goodbye.

All was good.

If your teen is going to a school on the quarter system, be prepared. (Twenty20 @MarinaIrina)

No one talks about the challenges of the quarter system

And then we learned the lessons that no one warned us about…why do people not talk about these things? I don’t understand. We can’t be the first people to have struggled with these situations.

So I will tell you what no one told us–quarter systems are tough! Nine weeks of classes
leading to a week of finals goes quickly–really, really quickly. Especially, first quarter freshman year. My son was absolutely not prepared for this academic schedule.

He was just beginning to navigate life on his own in a completely new environment as far away from home as physically possible. He was figuring out where and when to get food, how to hang his hoodies to dry in a tiny dorm room, how to manage sharing a living space with roommates he had never met–all the typical situations that college freshman face, except that a month into this crazy new experience, he had midterms.

Midterms that would count for 40% of his grade. Needless to say, he was not prepared. When I asked how the tests went, his response was, “Well, now at least I know what they were expecting me to learn.” Hmmmm, not a great sign of success.

Then, seven weeks into his freshman year, he had to register for his next quarter classes. He felt as though he had just started the classes he was in and was, truthfully, struggling to make up for his low mid term grades. So his full focus was on those classes but here was the deadline for registration. Already, he needed to meet with a guidance counselor to figure out what classes to choose next. It was overwhelming.

So lesson number one is that if your child is going to a school that works on a quarter system, be prepared. Help them to be prepared. I am not saying it is a flawed system. Now that my son is in his second year, he knows what to expect. He likes being able to change courses quickly and take lots of different classes in a short period of time. It’s a great system. It’s just different and a heads up would have been helpful.

Here is what you need to know about the quarter system:

1) I wish that we had understood how different the schedule would feel so we could warn our son that the quarter was going to be fast and furious. It is a very different schedule than most high school students have experienced. I wish we had known how different it would be so that at least we could have helped him mentally prepare for the change.

2) I wish we had worked with him in advance to develop more focused time management and study skills. I wish we had helped him learn to map a study plan, to use an outlook calendar, to set specific work times every day for each of his classes, and encouraged him to stick to that schedule no matter what. We assumed his study habits from high school would carry him through college. We were wrong. He needed more advanced tips and tricks to navigate this new challenge.

3) We told him to utilize the tutoring centers on campus but, in retrospect, I wish we had told him to schedule tutoring sessions on the first day of class. With only nine weeks, there isn’t enough time to wait until you fall behind to try to get the help you need. Recognizing the tight timeline of the quarter system, we would have helped him to think more proactively.

4) We encouraged him to engage with his professors, go to office hours, develop
relationships. What we didn’t realize is that with such a short time frame, he needed to do this during the first week of classes. He felt like there was plenty of time. There wasn’t.

5) I wish we had suggested he take easier classes first quarter freshman year. We were so happy for our son to be attending his dream school, we didn’t question his choice of classes. We were surprised–lots of science courses with labs–but we were excited that he was excited. He should have been more strategic that first quarter. I wish he had registered for classes that played to his strength to help offset the struggles of adjusting to life on campus.

The second major lesson we learned is that academic probation is not the end of the world. I promise. Whether you are on a quarter or semester system, there is a learning curve to college. If your child struggles the first part of freshman year, they are not alone. So if you find yourself in this position, do not despair. You can stress (a little) and definitely help your child find solutions, but don’t despair and do not let your child be discouraged.

College has a learning curve. Life has a learning curve. Finding the strength to overcome obstacles, be resilient, and recover from tough situations are far more valuable lessons than whatever they are teaching in the classroom. Just remember to share these lessons with others.

I wish someone had shared them with us. We are always stronger together.

You Will Also Enjoy:

The Hardest Part of Parenting is Watching our Teens Make Mistakes

Hey Parents, Teen Dating Isn’t What it Used to Be in the 90s

About Kristin Parrish

Kristin Parrish is a mother of three living in Cocoa Beach, Florida. She is an almost empty nester, raising almost adults, and almost holding it all together. Long walks on the beach help.

Read more posts by Kristin

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.