AskDefine | Define semester

Dictionary Definition



1 one of two divisions of an academic year
2 half a year; a period of 6 months

User Contributed Dictionary



  • (UK) /sɛˈmɛstə/, /sE"mEst@/
  • (US) /sɛˈmɛstɚ/, /sE"mEst@`/
  • Hyphenation: se·mes·ter


from German Semester < Modern Latin semestris (from sex six + mensis month).


  1. Half of a school year such as fall or spring semester
    I will graduate at the end of the spring semester.
  2. A term divided in two





  1. vacation, holiday
  2. a trip done during one's vacation


Derived terms

Extensive Definition

An academic term is a division of an academic year, the time during which a school, college or university holds classes. These divisions may be called 'terms', 'semesters', 'quarters', or 'trimesters', depending on the institution and the country.
In most countries an academic year begins with the start of autumn and ends the following summer.

Australia and New Zealand

In most of Australia and New Zealand, the school year lasts from late January to early December, and is split into four terms. Two terms equal one semester.
  • Term 1: Starts late January or early February and ends 1 or 2 weeks before Easter
  • Term 2: Starts 1 or 2 weeks after Easter and ends in late June.
  • Term 3: Starts mid July and ends mid September.
  • Term 4: Starts early October and ends mid December.
The exact dates vary from year to year, as well as between states, and for public and private school. In Tasmania, the school year is split in to three terms, the first one being the longest and including an extended Easter holiday. The following is a link with details on Australian term dates for 2008.
In New Zealand, the law requires schools to be open a minimum of 380 half-days for secondary schools and 394 half-days (384 half-days from 2008) for primary and intermediate schools.
Australian universities have two semesters a year, between February and November. Many universities offer an optional short summer semester. One recent innovation in Australian higher education has been the establishment of the fully distance / online Open Universities Australia (formerly Open Learning Australia) that offers continuous study opportunities of individual units of study (what are called courses in North America) that can lead to full degree qualifications. Open Universities Australia operates 4 13-week study periods each year. Since students study only part-time and offcampus these study periods mesh reasonably easily with existing university offerings based on semesters.


The Austrian school year for primary and secondary schools is split into two terms, the first one starts on the first Monday in September in the states of Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland and on the second Monday of September in Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Most schools have holidays between the national holiday on October 26 and All Souls Day on November 2, but those are inoffical holidays not observed by all schools in Austria. Christmas holidays start on December 24 and end on the first weekday after January 6. The 1st term ends in Vienna and Lower Austria on the first Friday of February, in Burgenland, Carinthia, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg on the 2nd Friday of February and in Upper Austria and Styria on the 3rd Friday of February.
There is a one week break between the two terms. In the 2nd term there are the Easter holidays, the Mayday Holiday on May 1 and the long weekends of Pentcost, Ascension and Corpus Christi. The school year ends in Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland on the last Friday of June, in Upper Austria, Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg on the first Friday in July.


In Brazil, due to the Law of Directives and Bases of Brazilian Education, the academic year must have 200 days, both at schools and at universities. The school year usually begins during the first week of February. There is a 3-week long winter break in July. The Brazilian school year ends in December, summer in Brazil.
In Brazilian universities academic terms are defined as periods or semesters (período, semestre). The majority of undergraduate courses are 8 semesters (four-year) long or 10 semesters (five-year) long.


In Bangladesh, universities follow yearly, bi-semester or tri-semester system. Most of the public university follow yearly system except most of the universities of Applied Science subjects.Most engineering and agricultural universities follow bi-semester system with a length of six month semester each.Engineering universities describe the academic year system as LEVEL-X(1-4),TERM-X(1-4).This system is followed by universities like BUET,SUST etc. Most of the private universities follow tri-semester (e.g. East West University) system though there are few exceptions that follow bi-semester (e.g. Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology).
Some of the universities and their semester title are as follow:


Generally in Canada, high schools run on a two-semester arrangement (often with a between-semester school holiday including Christmas and New Year's Day), also known as fall and spring semester, the first semester starting from September to January and the second running from February until June. The semesters are often divided into two terms each. Some schools in Canada run on a three-trimester system, the first running from September to January, the second from January to March, and the third from March until June. The trimester is more common in elementary and middle schools (K-8) than in high schools (9-12). In Canada the school year for elementary and high school consists of 190 days. There are a few school boards in Canada experimenting with a year schooling.
Most Universities usually run from early September until the end of April or early May. Often this winter session is split into two terms running September to December and January to April. Various forms of summer studies may be offered May to August. Some, such as Simon Fraser University, runs a full tri-semester system, which provide full courses during summer.


In China, all schools including elementary, middle and high schools, colleges and universities have two semesters, one from February or March, depending on the date of Chinese New Year of that year, to July, the other from September to January.

Czech Republic

In the elementary and high schools in the Czech Republic, the school year usually runs from 1st of September to 30th of June of the next year.


In schools in Denmark, the school year runs from August to June. In universities, the academic year runs from around 1 September to 1 July, and is often divided into an autumn semester (with January set aside for exams) and a spring semester (with June set aside for exams). Since 2004, some Danish universities and faculties divide the academic year into four quarters, each of which may consist of eight weeks and an exam week, and being separated from the next quarter by a one-week break.


In Estonia, elementary and high school begin at the 1st of September and end in the beginning of June. Universities start on the first Monday of September and usually end in the middle of May or in the beginning of June.



The school year in Germany runs from September to next September and includes six breaks/holidays:
  • Christmas Break Two weeks around Christmas and New Year
  • Winter Break / Carnival Break: One week or two weeks of February or the beginning of March.
  • Easter Break: Two weeks of March / April
  • Whitsun Break: One week or two weeks around Whitsun (not in all states)
  • Summer Break: Six weeks from July to September
  • Autumn Break: One week or two weeks in October/November
Due to the Germany's federal structure, all breaks may differ depending on the state. The exact dates for the beginning and the end of school breaks are kept different state by state and changed every year. This is meant to keep holiday traffic as low as possible.


German universities run six month long semesters. They are from April 1st to September 30th (Sommersemester) and from October 1st to March 31st (Wintersemester). The semester is divided into a time with and without lectures. The lectures usually start two to four weeks after semesters beginning and run for three months. The lecture free period is for writing exams, doing internships, lab courses and for earning money.
The University of Mannheim changed their schedule to conform with international standards in fall of 2006. The semesters there are now from August 1st to January 31 (Herbst-/Wintersemester) and from February 1st to July 31 (Frühjahrs-/Sommersemester).


In the elementary and high schools in Hungary, the school year usually runs from 1st of September to 10-15th of June of the next year.


In elementary and high school, the school year is usually from April to March, while in Universities it is from August to April. There is a midyear break, for Diwali from October to November which ranges from 15-30 days. However in the southern states like Kerala there will be two breaks, one for Onam in August and another for Christmas in December which ranges from 10-15 days.


The primary school year generally runs from the beginning of September till the end of June. There are breaks for Christmas and Easter and two mid-term breaks usually in late October and mid February. Secondary schools run a similar schedule but break at the end May for summer holidays (the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations take place in June). Third level institutions run a much shorter calendar, generally from mid to late September, sometimes early October, through to December for their first semester. The second semester usually runs from January through to mid to late May with a break for Easter of up to a month.
It usually lasts for a minimum of 183 days in primary schools, and about 168 days in secondary schools.


The school year in Israel starts in elementary and high schools on September 1, and ends on June 20 (high schools) or June 30 (elementary schools). There are no fixed holidays of equal length, with breaks occuring on national holidays, usually two or three days. On Hannukah (December) there is a 7 days break, and on Passover (spring) the break is 2-3 weeks long.
The university academic year starts after Sukkot (typically mid to late October) and ends in June.


In Japan, almost all schools run a three-term school year. Most schools have a first term from April 1 to mid-July. The exact date of the beginning of the summer break and its duration vary across regions, but commonly the break lasts for about one or two months. The break originated to avoid the heat in summer, so elementary and middle schools in Hokkaidō tend to have a shorter summer break than the rest of schools in Japan. A second term lasts from early September to late December with a winter break at the end of the year. The term is followed by a third term from early January to early March and a brief spring break lasting several weeks. The graduation ceremony occurs in March, and the enrollment ceremony in early April.
Some universities and colleges accept students in September or October in order to let those students from other semester systems enroll. In recent years a few colleges have begun experimenting with having two semesters instead of the traditional three with the break between two semesters in summer.

Korea, South

In South Korea, the school year is divided into two terms. The first term runs from early March to mid-July. The second term usually resumes at late August and runs until mid-February. In the second term, there is a long winter break from mid-December to early February.


The school years in Oman is divided into two semesters. The first starts in early September and runs to early/mid January depending on the level. The second semester runs from early February to late May. Usually there are exams at the end of each semester. Students get a number of breaks throughout the year: National Day on 18th of November , New Higri year break, Prophet Mohammed birthday break, Eid Al-Fitr break and Eid Al-Adha break. As most of these breaks depend on the Higri year which is 10 days shorter than the Solar year, there is a gradual change on the date of these events in relation to the school year.


In Pakistan the school year runs from September to June. Students have a 3 month summer vacation and two week winter vacation. In the northern areas, Kashmir, and some areas of Balochistan where heavy snowfall paralyzes life in winter season the schools close for two months and in such areas there are two weeks summer vacations.
At university level, the semester system is followed.
Schools and universities are off on national holidays: Pakistan Day (March 23), Independence Day (August 14), Defence of Pakistan Day (September 6), Pakistan Air Force Day (September 7), the anniversaries of the birth (December 25) and death (September 11) of Quaid-e-Azam, Allama Iqbal (November 9) and the birth (July 30) and death (July 8) of Madar-e-Millat. Labour Day (also known as May Day) is also observed in Pakistan on May 1. Both Eid festivals are also public holidays.


The Philippine school year runs for 10 months, and a school year must be at least 200 days as prescribed by law. The school year begins between the first and third weeks of June and lasts until the last week of March.
For primary and secondary schools, an academic year is divided in quarters. Each quarter consists of two and one-half months, and there is a one-week break between the second and third quarters. The one-week break commonly coincides with All Saints Day. For universities and colleges, an academic year is divided into 2 semesters. The first semester is followed by a break consists of two to four weeks before the second semester. The semester break for all universities and colleges usually happens between the second week of October to the first week of November.
The summer break last for two months, from the first week of April to the last week of May. Christmas break usually begins in the third week of December, and class resumes the Monday after New Year's Day. For the Holy Week usually happens in March, most schools end their school year before the Holy Week. Commencement ceremonies are often held in late March or early April.


In Poland the academic year begins on September 1 and ends on the first Friday after June 18. There is a Christmas break in December which lasts until after the New Year's Day. There is also a winter holiday break, usually at the of January but the exact date is different for each province. Winter break is also the dividing line between the two semesters of the school year.
Most universities start their courses on October 1 and end first term in January. Before the second term begins there is an examination session. Second term starts just after the end of examination session and finishes on the first days of June. After it, the next, usually one-month-long, session begins. At some institutions the academic term begins several days before October 1.


The school year in Portugal runs from September to June and it is divided in three Terms (or Períodos, in Portuguese):
  • 1st Term: From middle September until middle December
  • 2nd Term: From the beginning of January until Easter (March-April)
  • 3rd Term: From the week after Easter (April) until the end of June (except for 9th and 12th grades, who finish early due to exams)
During the school year there are several breaks or holidays (interrupções or férias, in Portuguese):
  • Christmas Break: Usually beginning in the 3rd week of December and lasts for two weeks including Christmas and New Year holidays. The 2nd term then begins, often in the first Monday of January.
  • Carnival Break: Three days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) during Carnival. This break used to be one week long but in recent years it has been reduced.
  • Easter Break: Two weeks including Easter. It varies form year to year, but it is usually around late March or middle April.
  • Summer Break: Usually known as "Férias Grandes" (Big Holidays) it lasts during the summer from late June to middle September and it separates one school year from another.
Universities and colleges follow a different academic year, which consists of two semesters.


The school year in Russia traditionally starts on 1 September — The Knowledge Day — and lasts until 25 May which is also known as The Last School-Bell day for the graduates. The school year is divided into four terms, or 'quarters', separated by one- or two-week holidays (first week in November, first two weeks in January, and last week of March). School summer holidays last for three months: June, July, and August.
The academic year at universities also starts on 1 September. It consists of two terms (1 September–circa 20 December followed by a five-week winter exams session and 7 February–circa 20 May followed by a five-week summer exams session).


The school year in Slovenia for elementary and grammar schools begins on 1 September and formally ends on 31 August, although classes and exams are finished by 25 June. July and August thus constitute summer holidays. There are also four one-week breaks during the school year, occurring around All Saints Day, between Christmas and New Year, at the end of February, and around the May Day.
Universities and colleges follow a different academic year. It consists of two semesters - the winter semester starting on 1 October, which ends around 15 January. It is followed by one-month break, during which students sit the exams for subjects they have read in the semester. The summer semester begins on 15 February and lasts until 31 May, followed by the exam period, which ends on 30 June. Students who have not passed the necessary exams have a chance to do so during the autumn exam period in September. Students and faculty are free during in July and August. New classes are held again in October.


There are two semesters in Thai academic year with an optional summer semester. From kindergarten to high school the first semester opens from mid May and continues until the end of September. The second semester lasts from November until end of February (or early March). The university academic year is slightly different, lasting from June to October and mid November to mid March.

United Kingdom

In England and Wales, the teaching school year generally runs from early to mid September to mid to late July, the following year. In Northern Ireland, the school year runs from the start of September to the end of June, and there are also three terms. In Scotland the school year begins mid-August and ends late June/ early July. Both four term and three term systems are used in Scotland depending on the education authority.

English, Welsh and Northern Ireland Schools

Most schools run a three-term school year. They usually have a week's break half way through (half-term) and are structured as:
  • Autumn term: September to December (half-term, October)
  • Spring term: January to Easter (half-term, February)
  • Summer term: Easter to July (half-term, May)
The time between the end of school and the start of the next academic year is known as the summer holiday or, as was the traditional length of the break, the six-week holiday. Term Dates for maintained schools are set by Local Education Authorities, some of which have begun to trial alternative arrangements.

Alternative arrangements

The academic year was originally designed for the pre-industrial era when all able-bodied young people were needed to help with harvesting over the summer. It is thus designed around a long holiday in July and August, placing the rest of the year into three terms arranged around Christmas and Easter, which constrain things still further. The long terms then require a half-term break to give pupils and teachers time to recharge.
The long summer holiday has often been criticised by educationalists who say that the long breaks delays academic progress Even a House of Commons Education Select Committee recommended in 1999 that schools should switch to a five-term academic year, abolishing the long summer holidays. Each term would be eight weeks long with a two-week break in between, and a minimum four-week summer holiday. And no half terms—the idea being that children can keep up momentum for eight weeks without a break. The proposals were introduced at a small number of schools nationally.
In 1999, the Local Government Association set up a commission to look at alternative proposals for a more balanced school year. In partnership with Local Authorities and teachers unions, they were unable to agree a suitable alternative arrangement for terms, but by 2004 came to an agreement with the NASUWT Union for a standardised arrangement of school terms. Since 2004 around one third of English local authorities have signed up to the proposals which see a standard academic year agreed between the authorities, and includes slight variations on the traditional schemes, based on the following principles:
  • start the school year on a September date as near as possible to 1 September;
  • equalise teaching and learning blocks (roughly 2x7 and 4x6 weeks);
  • establish a two-week spring break in early April irrespective of the incidence of the Easter bank holiday. (Where the break does not coincide with the bank holiday the date should be, as far as practicable, nationally agreed and as consistent as possible across all local authorities);
  • allow for the possibility of a summer holiday of at least six weeks for those schools which want this length of break.
  • identify and agree annually designated periods of holiday, including the summer holiday, where head teachers are recommended not to arrange teacher days.

Scottish Schools

In Scotland, school begins in late August, and ends around late June or early July, usually in eastern counties from the third Monday in August to the first Friday in July and in western counties from the second Monday in August to the last Friday in June. Pupils attend school for approximately 190 days a year.
Most schools run a three-term school year and are structured as:
  • Autumn term: Mid-August to December (October Holidays: One Week; Christmas Holidays: Two Weeks)
  • Winter term: January to March (Easter Holidays: Two Weeks)
  • Spring term: April to July (Summer Holidays: Six Weeks)


As with many aspects of UK universities, there are a lot of differing practices that use confusingly similar terminology. Many universities run 10-week Autumn, Spring and Summer terms, though some use different names or a semester system, with the new semester beginning halfway through the second term. Many other universities run unevenly lengthed terms, with the autumn term usually the longest. Even within individual institutions practice can vary from year to year to accommodate factors such as the changing date of Easter. Some universities also have a "reading week" in which no teaching takes place at all, the equivalent of a school half term. At other universities "reading weeks" are not uniform and may be in different weeks in different faculties, departments, modules or even seminar groups. Some reading weeks only cover seminars whilst lectures continue; others suspend both for the week.
Exceptions include the Open University and the University of Buckingham where undergraduate courses do not coincide with the academic year used by universities in Britain and elsewhere. Instead, they largely coincide with the calendar year — they typically start in January or February, with examinations in autumn
In England, academic and judicial institutions traditionally organised their year into four terms:
In Scotland, academic and judicial institutions traditionally organised their year into four terms:
  • Candlemas: 2 February, Candlemas, which fell forty days after Christmas, marked the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.
  • Whitsunday: originally a moveable term day, coming the seventh Sunday after Easter, was fixed in Scotland at 15 May in 1693. Whitsunday was originally the feast of Pentecost, around which a great many christenings would occur, so it became associated with the color white.
  • Lammas Day: 1 August, feast of St. Peter ad Vincula was a corruption of loaf-mass, the Sunday on which the first fruits of harvest were offered, first corn ground, and first loaf made. In Scotland it was associated with hand-fasting and some fairs on this day were called handfasting fairs. (Originally synonymous with betrothal, handfasting became a contract binding a man and woman to live together for a year and a day before they decided on permanent marriage.)
  • Martinmas: 11 November, was known as St. Martin in Winter or St. Martin of Tours to distinguish this from another feast of St. Martin in July.
(Specific dates varied between institutions, and all except Michaelmas were determined by the date of Easter).
Over time, Cambridge dropped Trinity term and renamed Hilary to Lent, then Oxford also dropped Trinity term, and renamed Easter term as 'Trinity' thus establishing the three-term academic year.

United States

Primary and secondary schools

In the United States, the academic year for most K–12 institutions typically consists of two 18-week semesters, each divided into two nine-week marking periods (or quarters), and typically constituting 162 instructional days. An instructional week is five instructional days, measured Monday–Friday at most public and private schools; Sunday–Thursday at some Jewish private schools; Saturday–Wednesday or Sunday–Thursday at Muslim private schools; and so on. Grades are usually reported per marking period, but major examinations are given per semester or per year.
The traditional start date for the school year has been the day after Labor Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in September), but many schools now start in the last two weeks of August and some schools (especially private ones) may start as late as the end of September or the first week in October. There are also some schools, especially in the southern tier of the United States, that begin at the end of July. The school year ends 31 instructional weeks after it begins. Also, some schools are now moving to the first Wednesday in September (usually two days after Labor Day, unless it falls on September 1 or 2) to allow a short week as people adjust to being in school again.
School holidays, which are not counted as instructional days, typically include Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Friday (two days), a winter break beginning on or before Christmas through the day after New Year's Day (about 10 days), Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, Presidents' Day, spring break during the Western Christian Holy Week and sometimes the day after Easter (five or six days), and Memorial Day. Some schools also observe one or more of Columbus Day, Veteran's Day, Lincoln's Birthday, Washington's Birthday, and other state or local holidays. Some schools have additional holidays for students that are workdays for the staff, such as parent–teacher conference days. The aggregate of school holidays typically amounts to 20 days, so an academic year that starts the last week of August or first week of September will typically finish the second or third week of June.

Community colleges

Many community colleges originated as extensions of the primary and secondary school system. These colleges often continue to follow the K-12 system calendar in their jurisdiction. Many, however, have changed to one of the standard collegiate calendars discussed below.

Collegiate calendars

Three calendar systems are used by most American colleges and universities: quarter system, semester system, and trimester system. These are ways the calendar year, measured September–August or August–August, are organized into a formal academic year. Some schools, particularly some business schools and community colleges, use the minimester or mini-semester system.
The quarter system divides the calendar year into four quarters, three of which constitute a complete academic year. Quarters are typically 10 weeks long so that three quarters amount to 30 weeks of instruction. Approximately 20% of universities are on the quarter system.
The semester system divides the calendar year into two semesters of 15 weeks each, plus optional summer sessions of varying lengths. The two semesters together constitute 30 weeks of instruction, so that three academic quarters equal two academic semesters. Thus, academic credit earned in quarter hours converts to semester hours at 2/3 of its value, while credit earned in semester hours converts to quarter hours at 3/2 of its value. Or, to put it another way, 3 quarter hours = 2 semester hours, and 2 semester hours = 3 quarter hours.
In practice, the average quarter course is 4 or 5 units and the average semester course is 3 units, so a full time student graduating in four years would take five courses per semester and three or four courses per quarter.
Some colleges and universities, such as Berea College, MIT, UMass Amherst, Calvin College, Williams College, Linfield College, Oberlin College, Middlebury College, UMBC, Eckerd College, Wofford College, Austin College, Samford University and Colby College, have a 4-1-4 system, which divides the year into two four-month terms (September to December and February to May) as well as a single one-month term in January in which students can do independent study, study abroad, internships, activities or focus on a single class. The one-month term is sometimes called a mini-mester.
The trimester system evolved out of the semester system. It divides the academic year into three equal portions of 10–11 weeks each. Institutions that use the trimester system include the University of Michigan, Lawrence University, and Carleton College. The fall and winter and spring trimesters constitute an academic year of 30–32 weeks. The reduced maximum course load that accompanies the shortening from the traditional semester makes the trimester system compatible with the semester system. Academic credit is thus measured on the trimester system in semester hours; there is no such thing as a "trimester hour" of credit.


semester in German: Semester
semester in Spanish: Año escolar
semester in Esperanto: Semestro
semester in Icelandic: Skólaár
semester in Hebrew: שנת הלימודים
semester in Dutch: Semester
semester in Japanese: 学期
semester in Polish: Rok szkolny
semester in Portuguese: Semestre
semester in Russian: Семестр
semester in Swedish: Läsår
semester in Ukrainian: Навчальний рік

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abundant year, academic year, annum, bissextile year, calendar month, calendar year, century, common year, day, decade, decennary, decennium, defective year, fiscal year, fortnight, hour, leap year, lunar month, lunar year, lunation, luster, lustrum, man-hour, microsecond, millennium, millisecond, minute, moment, month, moon, quarter, quinquennium, regular year, second, session, sidereal year, solar year, sun, term, trimester, twelvemonth, week, weekday, year
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