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University Term Times and Holidays – UK

Generally, the UK university academic year runs from approximately September to June, and a masters student will then have the summer months to write up their dissertation

There is, however, an increasing trend for some postgraduate programs to start in January, which can be a great option for students who are not ready to go into postgraduate studies immediately after completing their undergraduate degree. This is also a good choice for international students from the Southern Hemisphere, as this start date aligns with their term times.

However, whenever you choose to start your postgraduate course, the exact start date, end date and vacation times varies from university to university, although all are usually consistent in giving students a long break in the summer months, and a few weeks over Christmas and Easter.

The UK university academic calendar can be confusing for both British and international students alike, as it is quite different to academic schedules in other parts of the world, and indeed other parts of the British education system.

Here is a quick guide to the UK academic calendar and what it means for you as a postgrad student.

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University terms

University term times and holidaysIf your university academic calendar is split into terms, then your university terms will usually be divided into three sections:

Term

Approximate term time

Autumn term

September–December

Spring term

January–March

Summer term

April–June (undergraduate)
April–August (postgraduate)

 

The amount of work you must do varies a lot between the three terms, especially the final term which is usually the ‘exam term’. It is quite common for universities to set projects or essays for each term with due dates for the end of term, so if that applies to you then try to keep early December and early March as free as possible.

Terms are more common in older universities and at some institutions they even have special names: for example at the University of Oxford the three terms are called Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity, while at Durham University they are Michaelmas, Epiphany and Easter.

Postgraduate term dates

For postgraduate students, the academic year is slightly longer. You will be expected to complete your dissertation during the final summer term.

Before starting your postgraduate program make sure you check specific course details to find out the exact term dates so you can plan your time accordingly.

The final summer term is a good opportunity for masters students to focus on dissertation research without the distraction of any other modules. Obviously if you are a January start-date student then this would be time well spent in the autumn term.

As a postgraduate student, by this time you will have developed a strong understanding of how to complete independent research, which is why the dissertation is usually left as a sole project at the end of term. 

University semesters

Semesters – where the school year is split into two – echo the structure of American universities and are becoming much more common in the UK. Some UK universities, like the University of Liverpool, use the semester system so that they can alternate the timetables throughout the year, meaning you may have different classes and class times at different points during the year.

What is the difference between a term and a semester?

In education, a term is a period of time within the academic calendar. UK universities generally use terms to divide the academic year, whereas US universities generally use semesters. A semester is a six-month period, dividing the academic year into two.

University term times and holidays

Main holidays

The main vacation times in the UK are Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays. UK university holidays vary in length, but are generally 3-5 weeks or 12-14 weeks long:

Holiday

Approximate length of time

Christmas break

3-5 weeks long

Easter break

3-5 weeks long

Summer break

12-14 weeks long


During vacation times, you may find that some university facilities have limited access and opening hours, and there are some periods (usually the week between Christmas and New Year and then over Easter weekend) when many facilities will be outright closed. 

If you live in university accommodation, then most students will be requested to return home during vacation time, although alternative arrangements are usually made for international students. These long holiday periods provide international students with the ideal opportunity to explore the UK.

Do masters students have holidays?

UK masters students have holidays throughout the year, including the Christmas, Easter and summer breaks. Although masters students generally have a shorter summer holiday than undergraduate students because they will usually be completing dissertation work throughout this period.

You will still be able to take planned vacation throughout the year.

Bear in mind that the university holidays will differ from university to university and will also depend on the type of masters course you are studying. 

Always check full course details before booking any holiday to make sure you know when your university holidays are so that you don’t miss anything important in your masters course.

Reading weeks

University term times and holidaysSome universities have ‘reading weeks’ where students have a week-long break from classes. While this might seem like a perfect vacation opportunity to relax and tune out, the point of reading weeks is in the name – you are supposed to use the time to read!

Many courses (especially in arts and social science subjects) have long reading lists that are difficult to conquer, so some universities give students a week off of teaching halfway through their first term/semester (this is often in late October/early November). 

However, reading weeks are becoming less and less popular and usually only apply to certain subjects at certain universities.  

Examinations

There are usually only two examination periods during a postgraduate program and these fall in the autumn term and the spring term.

Each is designed to examine students on the specific modules studied during each term

As well as using examinations to mark a student’s progress, several courses will also use assessments throughout both terms, such as essays, presentations and group projects.

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