When Does College Start? Key Dates for Fall and Spring

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

When should you be ready to start school? Learn more about how most colleges plan their academic calendars.

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Every college will set its academic calendar for the school year, so start dates for each term will vary slightly. Across most colleges, the academic year begins with a Fall term, generally around late August or early September.

The length of your college terms will depend on the type of calendar your school follows, typically either semesters or quarters. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these two calendar types, then go into more detail about the most common academic calendar, the semester system.

How to find your school’s academic calendar

To find your college’s specific start date, head to the university’s website and search “academic calendar.” There, you’ll be able to see when classes begin each term, as well as other important dates like holidays, breaks, and final exams week.


College terms: Semesters vs. quarters

Colleges and universities often arrange their academic calendar around a semester or quarter system.

On a semester system, there are two main terms in the academic year, Fall and Spring, each lasting around 15 to 17 weeks, or about four months. Schools may offer condensed Winter and Summer terms between the semesters, which may last anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks.

There are four seasonal terms on a quarter system—Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer—each lasting around 10 to 12 weeks, or about three months. Many students will opt to take classes in the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters and use the Summer quarter as a break. Although many colleges begin their academic year by early September, schools on the quarter system tend to start the Fall term a bit later in September.

Since most colleges organize their academic calendar around the two-term semester system, let’s take a closer look at this timeline.

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Fall semester important dates

  • Start date: Late August through early September

  • Holidays: Labor Day (September), Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October), Thanksgiving break (November)

  • Finals week: Early to mid-December

The Fall semester typically runs from late August or early September through December, with a week for final exams scheduled in early to mid-December.

During the semester, universities will typically close for US national holidays on Labor Day in September, Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October, and Thanksgiving break in November, and will conclude the semester before the Christmas holiday.

Winter break

Colleges on a semester system will often close for an extended winter break starting with the Christmas holiday and lasting through the new year. Many schools won’t resume classes for the Spring semester until mid to late January.

Some schools offer an interim January or Winter term. During the Winter term, rather than taking a full course load, students will typically only take one intensive course, fit between the end of the Fall semester and the beginning of the Spring semester.

Spring semester important dates

  • Start date: Mid- to late January

  • Holidays: Spring break (March or April)

  • Finals week: May

The Spring semester typically begins in mid- to late January and continues through May. Universities will schedule a week for final exams at different points throughout May—some tend to skew toward the beginning of the month, while others conclude closer to the end of the month.

During the semester, some, but not all, colleges will close for holidays like Presidents’ Day in February or Easter, often in April. However, most colleges will close for Spring break in March or April. This break tends to be more substantial, lasting about a week around the semester’s midpoint.

Summer break

The end of the Spring term is typically considered the end of the academic year, with the next academic year starting the following Fall semester. For example, an academic year will often be listed as Fall 2022 through Spring 2023, or Fall 2023 through Spring 2024. Many students use the summer in between semesters as an extended summer break.

However, some students opt to take courses over the summer, accelerating the length of time it takes to earn their degree. Universities offer different options for Summer term—a single course may take anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks. Since the Summer term is shorter than the typical semester, students often learn on a condensed timeline with a lower course load than they might take during the Fall or Spring semesters.

Early start programs

Some colleges offer special programs for incoming first-year students ahead of the start of the Fall semester. These programs, called alternative start or Educational Outreach Programs (EOPs), invite students to acclimate to their college campus and meet some of their classmates over the summer, before most students arrive. These programs tend to be popular among first-generation students, but are typically open to anyone seeking a bit more familiarity with their upcoming college experience.


Flexible college schedule options

Although you have some control when it comes to building your class schedule each semester, in-person colleges may not always have options that best suit your needs. For instance, a required class may only be offered during a set time each week. If you work or have other responsibilities, sometimes it's worth considering flexible learning options.

If your schedule tends to be less predictable, consider these ideas:

  • Asynchronous learning: This learning style doesn’t require in-person interaction, so it can be done on your own time. It may involve watching lecture videos, participating in online forums, and submitting digital assignments.

  • Online learning: Increasingly, colleges and universities are bringing their courses online so that students from all over the world can learn from their institution—and even earn a degree! Although not all online learning is asynchronous, it does come with the flexibility of being able to learn from anywhere with an internet connection.

  • Certificate programs: You may be able to reach your learning goals by pursuing a certificate rather than a degree. Certificate programs tend to be a lower time and financial commitment than degree programs and can help you build the skills you need to qualify for certain positions. Check out Career Academy on Coursera to learn more about careers you can pursue after earning a Professional Certificate.

Keep learning

Explore your learning options with Coursera. Earn your bachelor’s degree from a world-class institution, or pursue your master’s degree completely online from anywhere with an internet connection. Sign up for a free open course, such as Research Design: Inquiry and Discovery or  Contemporary Biology, to see if online learning is right for you.

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