Here in Brazil, all the undergraduations last for 4-5 years and each year is divided by 2 academic periods and we refer to each one as period. Thus as I am a Mining Engineering undergraduate student and this undergraduation takes 5 years, I need to complete 10 academic periods.

My question is: when I'm introducing myself in an internship interview or just to another person, what word/term should I use to express my progress at the undergraduation? When I say "my progress" I'm referring to my degree of completion, that is, how much time is still remaining to complete.

Is period a good word for that? Some brazilians told me that it's ok and also taught me anothers: term (usually used in British English) and quarter (American English). However, quarter induces me to think that a year is divided in 3 academic periods which would implies a wrong understanding.


Hi, my name is Matheus, I'm 24 years old and I am a Mining Engineering Undergraduate Student at [...]. Currently I am in the 7th period and I will conclude the undergraduation in December 2016.

Is that ok? Could I replace it for term in the same meaning? Is there another word for that?

Is this type of introduction usually made in English?

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    BTW, in American English the word undergraduation does not refer to the period of time one is in undergraduate college. It might appear as a measure of how many people graduate per year per college, or something context-specific like that, but it's not in general use. Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 15:58
  • It's worth noting that quarter means one of four equal parts not three.
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 16:03
  • @Frank There may be something else afoot here. A quadrimester is a term of four months, not of three. Terms of three months are called trimesters, as anyone with children can tell you: a nine-month pregnancy has three trimesters, not because there are three of them but rather because each is for three months. Somehow quadrimester has become quarter in common usage, although I cannot begin to explain the how and why behind that transition.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 16:09
  • @tchrist A quarter is a quarter (three months), if it's also used as short for quadrimester (four months), then I was completely unaware of that meaning and can only imagine the difficulty it causes where it's a less well known meaning. What are they teaching kids these days when a third is called a quarter?
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 16:27
  • @Frank, absolutely. Quarter induces me to think that there is a four equal parts (we have a similar word in Portuguese) but when I translated this single word through the Google Translator, it showed me the meaning of trimester. I'm a bit confused now about that. After all, there are two meanings for quarter or I made a mistake?
    – razmth
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 17:05

2 Answers 2


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:

  1. A freshman is a first-year student, someone who is yet to complete the first 25% of their studies.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  • +1 It's quite surprising how many hits there are (from university web sites) for three/3 or four/4 semesters per year. Looks like semester is becoming, or has become, a synonym of term.
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 16:15
  • Some of these are quite odd. For example: A student can finish three quadrimesters in one hundred and eighty days and take a fourth quadrimester for the purposes of acceleration or remediation. See what I mean? The numbers don’t add up. A trimester should be 90 days and a quadrimester 120 days; certainly three quadrimesters make up the full year. But there they have three of them making up only half a year. It is passing strange.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 17:17
  • Thanks a lot, tchrist. I didn't think about semester as an option. At least in Brazil, when we say semester we are specifically referring to a period of six months only. For example: as a matter of fact, I'm in the 8th period of college (I should conclude it at July 2016) but I failed in some subjects then I will conclude it at December 2016 and the University consider that I'm in the 7th period. In fact, I'm in the 8th semester but in the 7th period/term. Is there a solution for that cases?
    – razmth
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 17:25
  • @razmth We speak of years not terms. A first-year student is a freshman, a second-year student a sophomore, a third-year student a junior, and a fourth-year student a senior. Beyond that, well, words escape us. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 17:31
  • @razmth I would agree with tchrist's comment there (and hope he edits it into his answer) because although semester, quadrimester and trimester have hard and fast definitions of 6, 4 and 3 month periods those fixed terms are no longer fixed in common usage. Either go with years or possibly even a percentage; after your 7th semester you are 70% through your course.
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 17:41

In my opinion, the simplest, most positive way to describe your situation to Americans is as follows:

I am currently an undergraduate with three semesters remaining in my degree program.

"Semester" is the American term equivalent to "term" in Europe or "period" in your program. Specifying how many semesters you have left, rather than how many you have completed, bypasses the issue of how long your program should take or is taking you. It's also probably more relevant information for employers.

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