Semesters, Quadrimesters, Trimesters, and Dimesters
When an academic year is divided into two halves, these are properly called semesters. The OED says:
A period or term of six months, esp. in German and U.S. universities and colleges, the college half-year.
It is a semester not because it is semi-annual but rather because it is six months long. The ‑mester portion means months, and the term itself derives from the Latin adjective in this OED citation:
Etymology: a. G. semester, ad. L. (cursus) sēmēstris (period) of six months, f. sē‑, sex six + mēns-is month.
Arguably, many academic institutions are on a quadrimester system, where each term is nominally for four months each, with the summer term optional.
However, the mapping of semester, quadrimester, and trimester to periods respectively of six, four, and three months each has grown looser with time. For example, searching Google Scholar for instances of quadrimester yields such inexplciable peculiarities as:
- A student can finish three quadrimesters in one hundred and eighty days and take a fourth quadrimester for the purposes of acceleration or remediation. [N.P. Heller, 1978]
This is very strange, halving quadrimester to merely a two-month period from the four-month one which the word actually means. For the record, a two-month period is a dimester, although this term is rare outside medical journals — and not especially common there, either.
Similarly, you will find also find colleges and universities speaking of the fall and spring semesters — which is fine — but with an optional summer “semester”, which probably is not.
Exact terminology varies across institutions of tertiary education in North America, but many appear to have begun to use semester as a non-specific synonym of term without reference to its actual duration in months.
Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors
In the United States, four-year universities, colleges, and high schools refer to students according to what year of studies they are in:
- A freshman is a first-year student, someone who is yet to complete the first 25% of their studies.
- A sophomore is a second-year student, someone who has completed the first 25% of their studies but not yet completed the next 25% of their studies.
- A junior is a third-year student, someone who has completed the first 50% of their studies but not yet completed the next 25% of their studies.
- A senior is a fourth-year student, someone who has completed the first 75% of their studies but is yet to finish their undergraduate degree.
A fifth-year student who has not yet graduated does not really have a specific name they are routinely known that has been universally adopted. Although the most common term for this is probably a fifth-year senior, not everyone says this. One commenter points out the existence of the neologism super-senior, a term which was virtually unknown twenty years ago.
And while you would probably be understood readily enough, you might not wish to draw attention to this. Not that there is anything shameful here: most students today take more than four years to complete a four-year degree.
It’s important to understand these four terms are actually quartiles. So for example, you may not call yourself a sophomore until you have completed the first 25% of the credits needed for graduation from a four-year curriculum.
Just because someone for whatever reason requires three semesters to conclude a given quartile does not mean they prematurely promote. If a course is open only to juniors and seniors, you actually have to have completed half the credit-hours needed for graduation to qualify. It isn’t enough that you are in your third year of attendance; you have to have done the work.
By the same token, if you take an extra-heavy load or have transfer credits, you can be considered a junior earlier than your third year; it just depends how far along you are.
There’s a profound difference between someone who has completed four years of education and someone who has taken four years to complete their freshman year. :)
In your case, you will be completing your undergraduate studies at such and such a date, or graduating from college or university at the time.