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Jan Term, May Term & the College Schedule


Definition: While most universities run on the semester or quarter system, some private, liberal arts colleges have something they call Jan Term or May Term. The school year consists of two shorter-than-normal semesters, and an intensive month-long term in January or May, when students are encourage to dabble in a class outside their major or take a travel-based course. They might, for example, travel to Goa to study Indian culture, search for a Civil War shipwreck in San Francisco Bay or plunge into an intensive study of aquatic biology.

  • Jan Term: Fall semester typically starts in August, as it would on a regular semester schedule. Jan Term begins immediately after New Year’s, and second semester begins in early February and runs through mid- to late May.

  • May Term: Fall semester is exactly the same, but second semester runs from early January to late April, with a spring break in the middle. And May Term runs, of course, through May. Some students who take travel-based classes opt to remain abroad for some or the entire summer.
Jan and May terms classes are not mandatory, although students who come in without AP units, for example, may need the credits to graduate on time. But the vast majority of students take Jan or May Term classes whether or not they need the units, because the course offerings are so different and enticing. For students on a pre-med or similar track that makes a semester abroad difficult, Jan/May Term offers a taste of the study abroad experience. And from the parent perspective, you’re already paying for the extra term – although travel costs are extra – so your child might as well reap the benefits.
Also Known As: Jan Term, May Term, January Term
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