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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Academic Calendar

Why has the University been examining the Academic Calendar?

The Academic Calendar plays a role in shaping our learning experiences for students. We are examining the calendar to ensure that the timing of quarters and breaks most effectively enhances student learning, decreases stress, and facilitates job and fellowship recruitment. We want to ensure that the calendar serves the changing demographics of our student body, including, for example, both domestic and international students who may find it difficult to travel home for holidays and other breaks. The Faculty Senate endorsed several changes to the calendar and the President and Provost have approved three changes (see below).The Academic Calendar Advisory Group met throughout 2018-2019 in order to advise the Provost and the University Registrar as the Registrar implements these changes.

Are we considering switching from the quarter system to semesters?

We are not considering switching from the quarter system at this time, nor are we still considering the 10-5-5-10 proposal suggested by the Undergraduate Academic Experience Task Force. After much discussion with the Northwestern community, we found that the foundational structure of the Northwestern quarter calendar continues to appeal to many faculty, students, and staff. Under the direction of President Schapiro and Provost Holloway, we are only considering changes within the quarter system at this time.

Are we still considering the 10-5-5-10 proposal suggested by the Undergraduate Academic Experience Task Force in 2016?

We are not still considering the 10-5-5-10 proposal suggested by the Undergraduate Academic Experience Task Force. After much discussion with the Northwestern community, we found that the foundational structure of the Northwestern quarter calendar continues to appeal to many faculty, students, and staff. Under the direction of President Schapiro and Provost Holloway, we are only considering changes within the quarter system at this time.

How long are quarters currently?

Currently, Fall quarter is ten weeks and two days, excluding exams, and Winter and Spring quarters are nine weeks and three or four days, excluding exams. Federal regulations require a minimum of 30 weeks in session during the academic year, which can include instruction and evaluation periods.

How long is the summer break and why?

Summer break is three months long. Many research grants require that faculty are available for research or other activities for the full three months.


Approved Changes

What is the proposed change to spring break? When will it be implemented and why?

The change will add one day to spring break by making the first Monday of Spring Quarter a holiday and commencing classes on a Tuesday, which will result in one less day of class during the spring quarter and provide a 10-day break. This change will be implemented in Spring Quarter 2020. The purpose of this change is to help mitigate the long stretch of 23 weeks of winter and spring quarters from January through June, in order to decrease student stress.

The University Registrar and the Academic Calendar Advisory Group advised against implementing a shortened exam schedule which would allow for a second day to be added to Spring Break because data collected in the faculty survey show that particular fields rely heavily on final exams, thus some students would experience a compression of exam week and still have a higher than average number of in-person final exams.

Will Commencement take place earlier? When will the change be implemented and why?

Details regarding this change will be released in the fall. Commencement will be held closer to the end of exam week in the future, but no change will take place until Spring 2021 at the earliest.

What flexible final examination arrangements are being considered and why?

Proposals for final exam flexibility include early in-person exams, online monitored or proctored exams, and remote proctored exams. Such would provide more flexibility on the administration of exams to address challenges stemming from the late end of Northwestern’s academic year and the lack of central processes for requesting accommodation. A coordinated and centrally administered process for declaring exam flexibility options, as well as systems to manage requests and to proctor exams, would remove the burden of logistics from the faculty and students who opt to use them.

When will flexible final exam arrangements be implemented?

The Academic Calendar Advisory Committee with the University Registrar surveyed faculty quarterly in the 2018-19 Academic Year regarding their interest in flexible final exam options. Based on analysis of these findings, the University will pilot various flexibility initiatives in the 2019-20 Academic year, in order to assess their effectiveness before fully implementing these options across the university.

Will I be required to offer early or remote exams?

No. Offering early or remote exams will occur only at the faculty member’s discretion within the context of the school in which they teach.

What if I do not administer a final examination but instead require a final paper, presentation, or other final assessment?

Not all faculty administer final exams, but instead many require a variety of final graded assessments such as final papers or presentations. Recommendations regarding optional flexible exam administration, such as remote or early exams, will take these differences into account, and faculty will not be required to offer the proposed flexible arrangements.

How do these changes affect my school examination requirements? Will the changes be in effect in all the schools?

Northwestern schools and curriculum or faculty committees are free to make their own policies regarding exams. Several schools currently have policies that prohibit early exams. They will not be required to change those policies, but are encouraged to consider them anew in light of broader exam flexibility discussions. Faculty are free to offer their students any flexibility options deemed appropriate by their school.

Will the flexible exam arrangements apply to undergraduate courses only, or to graduate classes as well?

Exam flexibility is primarily intended for undergraduate students at this time; however, graduate programs and their students may choose to make use of flexibility options in the future and in special circumstances.


Fall Quarter Possibilities

Will changes be recommended to the Fall Quarter?

No major changes are recommended at this time, given constraints including federal regulations and accreditation requirements for time in session, current structure of nine-month faculty appointments, course requirements across all schools, and research grant requirements for a three month summer break.