Beyond College Rankings: January Terms, Interim Terms, and 4-1-4 Academic Calendar

Globe with study abroad on it representing 4-1-4 academic calendarsOnce 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 academic calendar.

The what calendar?

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Sometimes referred to as a January term, J-Term, or winter term, it is the “1” in the 4-1-4 academic calendar. It is a short-term, usually 4 weeks, 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.

Study Abroad

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.

Study abroad for J-terms is so popular that they are offer by most of the Study Abroad organizations. The study abroad options usually involve costs beyond normal tuition. However, many schools offer students grants to make the option affordable. You can see an example of the variety of courses at Linfield Colleges’ January Term Off-Campus Course History.

Domestic Exchange

Students often can take a January term class offer by another college. Many colleges with 4-1-4 academic calendars have exchange agreements where students don’t pay any additional tuition to take an interim course at their campus. Students may still have to pay housing and travel costs. Not only do these exchanges expand the variety of courses available, they also provide excellent opportunities for student to explore and develop contacts in different regions of the country.

Career Development

The career centers at some schools have set up Career Exploration Classes that include working on a resume, job shadowing, or even short internships. In 2018, Linfield College’s program offers career exploration courses on Sports Management and the Wine Industry.

Research Opportunities

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.

On Campus Options

Then there are the on-campus classes that provide the chance to study a subject from a different perspective. Courses have included:

  • “From Metal to Money: Ancient Numismatics” at Williams
  • “Should Cloning and Genetic Engineering be Part of Our Future?” at Elon
  • “Unity 3D Game Design Workshop” at Austin College
  • “Music and Social Justice” at St. Olaf
  • “Star Wars and Theology” at Saint Mary’s

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.

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.


Colleges with 4-1-4 Academic Calendars

Beyond College Rankings: January Terms, Interim Terms, and 4-1-4 Academic Calendar
  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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