University Term Times and Vacations

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 those 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

If your university academic calendar is split into terms, then you will usually have your academic year cut into three sections. These terms will usually run from September-December, January-March and April-June. The amount of work you must do does vary 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 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.

University vacations

University Semesters

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

Main Holidays

The main vacation times in the UK are Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays. These vary in length but generally are 3-5 weeks, 3-5 weeks and 12-14 weeks long respectively. During vacation times you may find that some university facilities have limited access and opening hours, and there are some times (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 students with the ideal opportunity to explore the UK.

Reading Weeks

Some universities have ‘reading weeks’ were you 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 subjects) have long reading lists that are difficult to conquer, so some universities give a week half way through their first term/semester (usually the last week of October/first week of November). Reading weeks are becoming less and less popular and usually only apply to certain subjects at certain universities.   

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