Yes or No: Trinity 12 weeks semesters

Emma Coyle explores the advantages and disadvantages that come with the condensed semester

The 12-week semester – it can be hard to find a student that will advocate for more time spent inside the classroom. All the stresses and woes of college life – assignments, exams, stuffy lecture halls – crammed into short 12-week segments, and the other 28 weeks of the year are left to do whatever your heart desires. You could travel, and broaden your horizons on some lengthy journey through South East Asia (the 4-month summer gives you loads of time to conquer the entire continent if you so wish). Or you could save your pennies, live at home, cut those Dublin rent prices out of your life and indulge in all the home comforts your childhood bedroom provides. You could be career conscious, invest your time in valuable work experience and internships, using your time wisely. The possibilities are endless. 

The 12-week semester means that being a student does not consume every aspect of your life – you have space to grow as a person outside the academic sphere, gain valuable life experience, and gain valuable skills that will serve you after you graduate. Or, if you’re like most people, it gives you loads of time to lie in bed and get through all 20 seasons of Law and Order. But, honestly, that sounds equally as good to me as travelling the world after I’ve crawled my way to the finish line of assignment season.

That doesn’t mean that cramming five or six modules into such a short period doesn’t have its drawbacks. The structure of the academic calendar plays an integral role in shaping our education – modules are constructed with the best learning outcome in mind – the order of the content engages significantly with the way they want you to digest the information. But does this work when they have to be condensed to fit into a rigid semester length? In complex STEM subjects, you’re barely finished learning one procedure by the time you’re moving on to the next. These courses might benefit from a longer period of learning, with enough time to dive into the complexities and gain more hands-on experience. 

”It calls to question the quality of the education you receive if it’s packed so tightly into three months”

For my fellow Arts and Humanities students, how are we ever supposed to read as much as I read the entire time I was in secondary school in 12 weeks? Speaking from mildly traumatic experiences as an English student, reading ten Shakespeare plays in a semester (on top of twenty-odd novels and enough poetry to fry your last remaining brain cells) is not the vibe you want in your first-ever semester of college. It calls to question the quality of the education you receive if it’s packed so tightly into three months – quality over quantity, surely? Pair that with exam prep, labouring over essays and projects, all while balancing a social life, romantic life, and potentially a part-time job. It’s a cocktail designed for disaster – but the light at the end of the tunnel is 14 long weeks of summer. So is it worth it?

Across the country, the 12-week semester is standard. University of Galway, Cork and Maynooth operate on the same system – along with our neighbours UCD, DCU, and TUD following similar structures. The exception to this is in Trinity we have a short reading week to break up our semester: a real blink-and-you-miss it situation. Other colleges nearby, like TUD, UCD, and Maynooth, get two weeks off around Easter, which breaks up their semesters into more bite-sized pieces. It may cut into their summer, but that time off would certainly make the world of difference when you’re 6 weeks in and still struggling to understand what the point of your module even is. Many of these colleges also have their exam period in January, which undoubtedly puts a strain on what should be the most merry time of the year, but certainly gives you a bit more time to get your act together in time for exams. 

Even further afield, Erasmus students are in for a real jumpscare when they land in Italy and learn they have a 20-week semester ahead of them – 14 weeks of teaching and 6 study weeks. Or Norway which follows a similar structure with a 40-week academic year. Students going to Germany for semester two might be confused when they book their flight for January and learn that teaching doesn’t start until April. Their semesters run from mid-October to mid-February, then resume in April and run until July, right in the middle of summer. I for one would not want to be stuck in college during those glorious summer months, but the length of the semesters would definitely be beneficial.

“Having condensed modules can be a godsend when you consider the focus that you have to put in to achieve each component of each module”

On the brighter side, it’s much easier to stay motivated when you have only three months to suffer through – having condensed modules can be a godsend when you consider the focus that you have to put in to achieve each component of each module. The relief of having such a considerable amount of time off is worth it in the end. For the academically inclined, you have all that time to do independent work and research, and the semester for intensive and focused study to get the grades. Or, you have time to recharge with nothing but sleep and Netflix and be ready to throw yourself into the next semester when it rolls around.

Most students I’ve discussed this with have agreed that while it’s a very short time frame when they thought about it, most concluded that they wouldn’t change it if given the chance. I suppose that’s the nature of students; get it done and get out of there. Overall, it depends on specific factors, your curriculum, and your learning style. I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to give – student satisfaction rates remain high regardless of the short semester length, and Trinity remains high in the rankings for the standard of teaching. You could argue on either side of the spectrum. But for now, it seems to be working out, so why change it?