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What is an Academic Year?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An academic year can be defined as the length of time an academic institution is offering classes during a year. It might be easier to say that it is the time period between when schools open and close, but a lot of schools keep some of their services “open” during periods like summer, while the majority of services are not available. Another potential definition would be the period of days per year that students are attending classes.

Different schools may construct their years differently. Some have year round attendance with small breaks of a few weeks every few months. In these cases, the academic year might be defined as the beginning of the start of the year of school to the end of it. The new year would start almost immediately after the old year ends.

Other schools have a shorter years, defining the beginning of summer as the endpoint of the year. The new year then begins in later summer or fall, depending on how many days the school operates per year. As mentioned, however, some things could be occurring at the school or school district when most students are enjoying a break. Summer school might be considered as outside of the academic year.

Number of days of school in an academic year at public schools often are government mandated. The variation gets extensive in private schools, some charter schools, and in universities. Particularly in universities, some students might have a school year that is nine or ten months long, and other have years that consist of seven or eight months.

All schools also tend to split the year in varying ways. They could divide the year in two semesters, three trimesters, or four quarters, for instance. Sometimes, the year is broken into terms, and there might be summer and winter term. Breaks in the year are usually connected to how people are graded; especially in colleges, students may change classes with each new term or division. In high school or lower, however the year is split, it is usually marked by assessments of students at key points. End of year tends to correspond with a final grading period.

Another consideration in academic year is teacher pay. In year round schools, teachers might receive the same paycheck monthly, but in schools where a several month long break marks the end of the school year, teachers may not be paid during this time. Alternately, many schools give the option to teachers of paying them per month a 1/12 share of their year’s salary. This can prove helpful, since it means teachers can expect the same rate of pay during long breaks that they receive during the school year.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Denha — On Jan 05, 2011

@panda2006, meanwhile, even in the United States the dates and even the importance of academic years can have less and less of an impact on a student's education, especially in the post-secondary world. Many colleges and universities offer summer terms, allowing people to finish requirements earlier. Additionally, many people pursuing a master's degree spend their summer months and other "breaks" in the academic year doing internships, research, or taking more classes.

By panda2006 — On Jan 04, 2011

@stolaf23, you make a good point about the fact that academic year dates are greatly affected by the cultural norms of the area. I have many friends who studied abroad for semesters or even a full academic year abroad in college, and this often meant that they either left before our own school started, or they left later and remained until halfway through the summer months- as you mentioned, many European schools go until late into June.

By stolaf23 — On Jan 03, 2011

When asking the question of "How long is an academic year?", there is also a big difference between the United States' system and the systems of other countries and regions around the world.

I currently am teaching in Eastern Europe, and the differences are noticeable. For example, school lasts from September until the end of June, allowing for a 10-month school year rather than the 9-month one to which most Americans are accustomed; similarly, spring break in this region is based around both the country itself and the part of the country; the surrounding area, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, all have very early spring breaks- starting in early February and going until early March. This is because they spend their "spring" breaks doing something very different from the American concept of going to beaches- they all go skiing.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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