Beyond College Rankings: January Terms, Interim Terms, and Winter Terms

Picture of globe in front of chalk board

Once you get past making sure a college has your potential major, there are all kinds of ways of distinguishing colleges from each other besides college rankings. There are the obvious ones such as cost, rural versus urban, size, and location. But there are some that can significantly affect a student’s college experience that many have never heard of, much less considered. One of them is the 4-1-4 calendar.

The what calendar?

Sometimes referred to as a January term or winter term, it is a short-term that takes place between the fall and spring semester in, you guessed it, January.

What’s interesting about the January term is that it often provides students a chance to take a course they likely wouldn’t have considered otherwise. And since it is only one course, this opens up incredible possibilities.

Among the most popular of these courses involve study abroad. It’s a great way for a student to travel abroad without having to commit to an entire semester. And the subjects range from studying art, providing medical services, researching food sustainability, examining local politics or history, and of course, language instruction.

The career centers at some schools have set up Career Exploration Classes that include working on a resume, job shadowing, or even short internships. Linfield College’s program was focused on the wine industry.

January terms offer the chance to study astronomy at an observatory, marine life on the sea-shore, or desert biology in the desert. There are plenty of off-campus possibilities that don’t involve leaving the country.

Then there are the on-campus classes that provide the chance to study a subject from a different perspective. Courses include “The Fatherland in Cleats: Soccer and Identities in the Americas” at Williams, “Should Cloning and Genetic Engineering be Part of Our Future?” at Elon, “Algorithmic Trading” at Austin College, and “Japan and Korea through Film” at St. Olaf.

Some schools, including MIT and Williams, offer the classes on a non-credit basis and allow for multiple courses of study. Others require the student to take at least three January term courses before graduation and they are for grade credit. Many of these schools participate in an exchange program that allows students to attend January terms at other campuses.

Some January terms are little more than a way to get in an extra class that you need to get out of the way for graduation. But even these tend to offer students possibilities that wouldn’t be available to them during the regular semester.

A January Term shouldn’t be the only factor to consider when deciding on a college. However, depending on the person, it can be a significant way to distinguish between otherwise similar schools.

The following is a list of schools that have a 4-1-4 calendar according to the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System. This data is also included in the College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet. The four-year graduation rate is used for private schools and the five-year rate for public.


  1. […] January or May terms are one way of allowing students the opportunity to visit a different part of the country to explore their interests. Many schools will have their own off-campus programs for specific majors. However, there are other opportunities for domestic off-campus student and exchanges for students from colleges that don’t offer the previous options. […]

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