The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

The guide to the academic calendar

4 min read
Picture of the front of George Washington Hall

Contact OIAE at George Washington Hall | Abbey Magnet, The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

In November 2022, UMW considered introducing a J-term into the calendar, which is a three-week optional course during the month of January for students to help fulfill requirements for graduation or just take a course that they enjoy. A J-term would help build credit beyond the fall and spring semesters, increase revenue for UMW’s fiscal health and give students two extra weeks during winter break, which would increase holiday work opportunities.

While a J-term offered a chance for students to have a longer break to work or take classes during the J-term, a lack of student response and concrete faculty support led to a tabling of the discussion, so the next chance to have a J-term will be during the 2025–2026 academic year.

On Nov. 14, 2022, the University Faculty Council sent a survey asking faculty if they had an interest in UMW implementing a J-term. The survey had to be completed by Nov. 22, 2023. 

A similar email was sent to 1,000 randomly chosen students in November 2022, and only 152 of these surveys were completed. The survey was in multiple choice form that allowed students to choose which option was best for them based on the choices given.

The results for both surveys showed that those who responded had serious concerns about impacts on spring and summer semester schedules. Also, the school would be affected because the semester would be too condensed since this was a problem with the J-term that took place in 2021. The semester seemed longer in 2021 because the J-term shifted the semester forward, causing the spring semester to go into May. 

The spring semester is already packed tightly compared to the fall semester; therefore, the J-term would add more work for offices such as student health, financial aid and student accounts. 

The University Faculty Council reviewed the responses to determine whether UMW has faculty support for the J-term, as they didn’t want to implement a J-term until faculty support was affirmed. Ultimately, the faculty decided to push the discussion to a later date.

“The faculty voted to table the discussion at the general faculty meeting in April 2023,” said Rachel Graefe-Anderson, the University Faculty Council chair. 

At that point, the calendar had already been set for the year. 

“The J-term could not have started this year because the university requires that the academic calendar be approved in advance,” said Graefe-Anderson. However, the faculty support was not obtained so there will not be a J-term implemented in 2024-2025. 

There are so many rules about creating the academic calendar, and it is sometimes confusing to understand it. “Changing how this calendar appears and runs is up for consideration,” said Schleef. “The calendar may not look like this forever.”  

In fact, the 2023-2024 academic calendar may look different from previous years at UMW because it is based on a five-year calendar that changes the start date of classes. “The later start to spring 2024 classes is a result of the way the calendar turns over from year-to-year,” said Provost Tim O’Donnell. 

UMW’s Office of Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness is responsible for setting the calendar and updating it when necessary. The current year, like all prior and future years, is based on a rather simple rule. According to Debra Schleef, the associate provost of OIAE, this rule dictates that the fall semester starts between Aug. 22 and 28—no earlier and no later. This principle determines the calendar for the rest of the academic year.

Every year, the fall semester starts a day earlier except for when that day is Monday, Aug. 21, in which case the calendar is pushed forward to the following week.

“The fall of 2022 started on August 22, which would mean that this year that Monday fell on the 21st, so it had to cycle around again; the fall of 2023 started on the 28th,” said Schleef. 

The spring semester operates in a similar way, as UMW’s spring break can start in February or March, depending on how the calendar started in the fall. As for graduation, the earliest the commencement ceremony can take place is May 6 and the latest is May 12. For this reason, some years, UMW’s graduates will don their caps and gowns on the first Saturday in May, while other years the ceremony will land on the second Saturday of the month.

Although the spring semester has ended in April the last few years, it will end in May this coming year. 

“The 2023-2024 calendar ends in May because the academic year started the latest it possibly could – August 28th,” said Schleef. “At least half of the years in a seven year period, the spring semester exam week ends during May.”

While it might seem that the school year starts at some random date in the month of August, there is an explanation for the alternating schedule, and this dictates the rest of the school calendar. 

Sometimes, academic years will overlap with each other. For instance, in 2017, 2023 and 2028 — that is, about every five years — UMW’s fall semester starts on Aug. 28. Some might think that this occurrence would happen every seven years, but leap days in 2016, 2020, 2024 and 2028 have to be accounted for. 

The online academic calendar on UMW’s website only allows students to look at the next two years. This can be difficult for people who want to plan graduation or vacation time in advance. However, graduation dates are available now through 2026 and can be found on the UMW website.

“The five year academic calendar has not been made available for students and parents but making more years available is up for consideration,” said Schleef.