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Fall or Spring?

Which of the two intakes should you aim for, while applying to universities?

Does applying for the Fall season really have any advantages? Or is it just a myth?

What are the pros and cons of applying for either of these intakes?

These are some of the quintessential questions that every budding Master’s degree aspirant asks. The fall vs spring discussion has of late been a topic of contention for many a test taker.

It has been a subject of doubt and discussion among many students all over the world, and it is a question that a ton of students have already asked us. It probably is on your mind too.

Which is why we decided to get to the bottom of this. We wanted to give you an unbiased answer to this much sought after question. And much like every other post of ours, this answer goes in depth, and gives you an answer supported by extensive research and expert opinion.

But before we do all that, let us first understand what the spring and the fall semesters are, when they happen, and what they mean to you as a student.

Most US universities have two admission intakes every year, when they accept students into their respective classes and courses. Though some universities have admission intakes, a vast majority of universities go by the fall and spring semesters.

Fall semester starts in late August and ends in late December or early January whereas the spring semester begins in January and ends in early May. Though there may not be significant differences between the two semesters in terms of education and research facilities, universities have for a long time adopted the practice of accepting students in two different intakes for two reasons.

Firstly, it is not very easy to accommodate a lot of students in a single semester. Most US universities receive several thousands of applications every year, and the typical size of a university may be anywhere between 10,000 and 60,000 students per year. Obviously, it is quite a task to handle so many students at a time, and accommodating them all in a single semester.

Secondly, not all students have the luxury of applying to their target universities at a certain time. For various reasons which we will explore further below, many students do not have either the option or the need to apply for the fall season every year. Which is why, universities have another window during spring, when they accept those who couldn’t apply, for whatever reasons, during the fall season. So, in essence, more students apply for the fall intake than the spring intake, and consequently the class sizes are smaller for the spring semester.

But having said all that, let us come to the actual question: fall or spring? Which semester should you apply for? And why?

Below are the various aspects which you should look into in order to judge which of the two seasons is best for you.

17 aspects to compare fall vs spring intakes:

Here are the seventeen different aspects that you should look into, before taking a decision on which season or intake you intend to apply for. Each of the aspect is quite thoroughly explained along with in-depth analysis and expert opinion, based on our experience, and our extensive research on several hundreds of students over the past few years.

1. Fall vs Spring: Universities

The foremost important question you should look into is, whether all universities accept applications for both the seasons. During our research, we have found that almost as many as 25 percent of universities, especially those in the US, do not have any spring intakes for a majority of the courses they offer. And to add to that, a significant number of universities in the top 100 do not have any admissions round for the spring season.

And it is not easy to tell which universities have a spring season and which don’t. So, if you are looking to apply for the spring season, you should first do a thorough research on your target universities, and find out whether they accept students in that season or not. You should do this exercise before you even begin to think of taking the GRE, since this vital exercise helps you decide which season you want to apply in, and that determines if you have enough time to study for the GRE and get the score you want.

No spring intake at carnegie mellon university

2. Fall vs Spring: Acceptance Rate

Acceptance rates are usually university specific, and generally do not depend on which semester you are applying in. But then, you should remember the fact that since the class sizes are much larger for the fall intake, you will have a much better chance of getting admitted than if you apply for the spring season. If your profile is better than the average Joe applying for the same class or the same course, then the odds will be in your favor.

3. Fall vs Spring: Courses

A significant advantage of applying during the fall intake, is that there are much more courses on offer. Because the number of applicants is high during the fall season, and since the intake is also high, universities offer a lot of courses for the incoming students. On the other hand, since there are comparatively fewer students applying for the spring semester, the courses offered by the university are also fewer in number. Which means, if you are looking for a rather unusual course or one that is not too often chosen by a lot of students, there is a greater chance of it being not available if you are applying for the spring semester.

So, you should check with your target universities if they offer the courses or sometimes even degrees and specializations that you are looking for, especially if you are applying for the spring intake. That said, this can happen even if you are applying for the fall semester. It all boils down to each university, and you should be rather vigilant in this aspect while choosing when to apply and where.

4. Fall vs Spring: Classes

Another important factor you should consider before you take a decision, is about course offerings in fall and spring seasons, and what kind of classes you may miss if you apply for spring. Most of the classes that are offered in fall are usually pre-requisites for main courses offered in spring. It’s basically similar to your first semester during undergrad: it’s all about the basic subjects and pre-requisites.

Usually, classes are scheduled in such a way that they begin during the fall semester, and continue during spring. So, what this means is, the class schedule is fixed for the entire year during the fall semester, and some courses will be taught in fall while others will be taught only in spring. So, if you apply for spring, then you may have a slight disadvantage, since you will then be not following the usual university class schedule.

Also, depending on availability, students admitted in spring may sometimes be grouped in a few of their classes with fall semester applicants, who then have the advantage of having studied one semester already. This may be a disadvantage especially while choosing project partners, but it often is manageable, and should not be a criterion to look at while deciding when to apply.

5. Fall vs Spring: Financial Aid

Generally, financial aid is dedicated to aid students for the entire year, which means, you will not be at a great disadvantage if you apply for either of the intakes. Admissions officers look at your overall profile and your need for a financial aid before deciding on whether you should get an aid, and if yes then how much.

6. Fall vs Spring: Assistantships

Since the academic year technically begins during the falls semester, it is highly likely that there will be a ton of opportunities for students to obtain in-campus internships. A lot of professors like to begin their research at the beginning of the new academic year, and usually do not like to recruit new assistants or interns during the middle of the year, since they will have already kicked off their research project. Which is why, you see a lot more opportunities for students to become Research Assistants or Teaching Assistants during the fall semester, and not so much during spring.

Another reason why this is true, is that since most of the senior year students who are currently holding the assistantship positions will graduate by the end of spring, there will be several empty spots up for grabs by the time the next fall semester begins. Which means, you have more options. But that doesn’t mean you will not have much luck during spring. There will be opportunities, since you must also note that there will be senior year interns who joined in the spring semester. But they will be very few and far between. And for that reason, you will have a slightly stiffer competition during spring, and your profile needs to be better than the rest if you wish to bag one such internship.

7. Fall vs Spring: Off-campus Internships

But there are internships available outside the university, right? Why can’t I just go and work at a restaurant or something?

Like it or not, but more often than not, universities require that their students be enrolled in one of their courses for a minimum of 9 months before they get an approval to apply for internships outside the campus. So, if you apply during the spring cycle, you will have to wait that extra 4-5 months before you can work outside the university campus.

Plus, another major disadvantage when it comes to the spring semester is that because you have this 9 month rule, you would not meet the eligibility criteria in order to apply for summer internships. With all that said, if obtaining a research position or an internship, be it on or off campus, is important to you, then you should definitely consider applying for the fall semester.

8. Fall vs Spring: Graduation

Sometimes, universities are flexible enough to allow you to complete your entire degree in 3 semesters. Sounds fun, right? If you can do that, you can get a job faster and start earning faster. Plus, you also get to save some money since you won’t be paying any tuition fee for the additional semester. But then, it is easier to graduate in three semesters if you apply for the fall intake, since in that case, you will finish off your course by the next spring semester, and you will still have a few months of time before campus recruiting begins. In that time, you could opt for an internship or a part-time gig at a local company/organization.

But be wary of the fact that it isn’t quite easy to finish off your degree in three semesters. With all the thesis work, projects, and internships, it is going to be pretty tough, and pretty competitive at the same time. So, you should be at your best, if you want to finish it off early.

Graduate Students

9. Fall vs Spring: Job Opportunities

Job fairs and campus recruitments usually happen during your second year, which means you will have completed two semesters by then if you join the class for spring, and three semesters if you join the class for the fall. And consequently, those who have had the luxury of spending three semesters inside the campus will have a much greater advantage over those who have been there for just a year or so.

This is because, that extra one semester will help you boost your profile, and enhance your CV much better, since you not only have extra time to do something else other than studying, but you will also have extra opportunities outside the classroom. More projects, more internships, more leadership roles, more club memberships, more activities, more knowledge, etc. These little extras will help you gain that unfair advantage over your counterparts who came down for the spring semester. And so, you will have that extra edge when it comes to getting a glossy campus job.

10. Fall vs Spring: Weather

This may not be a deal breaker, but it is worth considering. Depending on where you would like to study, temperatures may sometimes prove to be brutal. If you are planning to study in a state like California or Florida where there’s sunshine every single day of the year, you are probably going to be alright. But if your target university is in the northern part of the country, and if you are going there in January, then you will land in a pile of snow the moment you enter the country (not exactly, but you get the point).

And it is not particularly fun to have a cold or a flu for the first few days of your stay there. You would rather want your beginning to be memorable. We are not saying you shouldn’t go in the spring at all, but it all depends. If you’re going to New Mexico then it’s alright. But if you’re going to New England, then it may be a bit of a problem. And that’s something you would want to think about, before finalizing on which semester you want to go for.

11. Fall vs Spring: Extracurricular Activities

If you are someone who gives a lot of importance to extracurricular activities, organizations, and student clubs, then applying for a fall semester may be your best option. This is true especially if you are looking to bag a prestigious position, leadership, or award within a club or within one of the student organizations. If so, you should remember that student elections happen usually at the end of the spring semester. If you apply for the spring semester, you will be considered a newbie in comparison with those who have already been there for a few months, since the beginning of fall. Hence, it will be quite difficult to assume leadership roles in several student clubs if you join the party later on.

But, if your aim is to not lead, but to just be a part of an organization, then it doesn’t matter much, and you will make friends with a lot of people anyway. It is just that if you want to lead, then there will already be dozens of potential leaders ahead of you, just because they joined the fall class and you didn’t.

12. Fall vs Spring: Student Transfers

What if you couldn’t get into the university you wanted, and had to end up choosing a lesser institution in the end? Yes, you have the option to transfer to another university once you get admitted into a university. While how you can do that is out of this article’s scope, you should keep in mind that the whole process may take a few months of time. In that case, you would probably be better off going for the fall, since you can get transferred to another university by the next semester, if all goes well.

Otherwise, if you go in the spring season and you want to transfer, you will have to wait the summer, which you could otherwise spend wisely: probably at an internship or a research project.

13. Fall vs Spring: Post-undergrad Job

If you want to take up campus job right after your undergrad degree, then you may have to work for at least a year before you leave your company for further studies. This is especially important for those who are trying to apply for the top universities and programs, and who wish you bolster their profile further by adding relevant work experience to their CV.

So, if you should work for at least a year, assuming that you begin working in August/September after graduation, then you will have no other choice but to apply for the next fall semester, since if you apply for the next spring semester, it begins by January itself, and you wouldn’t be able to leave your job in the middle of the year. Even if you did, it wouldn’t add much weight to your profile anyway. So, think about all the possible scenarios if you wish you work right after your undergrad.

14. Fall vs Spring: Visa

Since a long time, there has been a rumor floating around that says it is easier to gain a student visa if you apply during the fall intake, and that there is a greater chances of your visa baing rejected if you apply for spring. There is absolutely no truth in this, and we have verified this information with the embassies as well. Whether you will be issued a visa or not entirely depends on you, your overall profile, and your university profile, and certainly not on when you choose to apply for your Master’s degree. This is an entirely false remark, and you should remember that you will not be at a disadvantage even if you are applying for a spot in the spring intake.

15. Fall vs Spring: Readiness

A significant number of students tend to apply for the fall intake since by that time, they will have finished their undergrad degree, and will be ready for their next academic challenge. Since students from most countries will be done with their Undergraduate program by May/June every year, they will have a few months of time to relax and get ready for the fall semester, which usually begins in September. This gap of a few months is neither too short nor too long, and it makes it convenient for students to get on with their student life.

But then, it may not always happen that you are ready to begin a new course by September. Sometimes, students need more time to settle down, especially if they have an internship to be gone through right after graduation. Sometimes, students have job offers that they like to explore, some students have other personal commitments to attend to, and some students just want some additional free time so they could break away from the cycle, take some rest, and pursue hobbies or travel around, before they can start it all over again.

Whatever your reasons may be, if you think you are somehow not ready to study again by September, then there is no need to hurry your applications, and your GRE prep. If you really think a couple of months of break will really help you, then by all means, go for it. Take your own time, and apply for the spring intake.

16. Fall vs Spring: Second Choices

This is something that not too many students think about. Suppose you applied to your dream universities in the fall season. What if you don’t get into a university of your choice? Do you have to settle for a safe university even though your profile is much better than that? Or can you afford to wait for a few more months and apply to another set of good universities during spring? Think about it. If you are planning to apply for the fall semester, you at least have the option of falling back on the spring semester if nothing works out for you.

Now’s that’s a worst case scenario, but you don’t even have that luxury if you apply in the spring semester. If that is the case, you will have to wait for more than 6 months if you want to apply again during the next fall semester. In order to avoid that, you can try and apply in the fall season itself, so you can later bank on the spring intake.

17. Fall vs Spring: Orientation

A lot of universities have orientation sessions happening at the beginning of every academic year, which happens to be the falls semester. During these orientation sessions, universities provide their incoming students with all the important and necessary information about courses, schedules, grading, internships, flexibility, assistantships, rules and regulations, parties, clubs and organizations, job opportunities, etc. All these are really important aspects if you are new to the US academic system, and this unfortunately happens only once a year, in the fall semester. So, if you are coming for the spring season, you are missing out on this.

Verdict on Fall vs Spring

So, those are the various things you should think about, before thinking of which semester to apply for. And even after reading all these reasons, you might still be confused as to what you need to do. And that’s okay. It takes a little while. You just have to think about it seriously.

But if you ask us what you should do, our answer would be simple: it depends entirely on you. Though from the points we discussed above it might seem like applying for the spring is sort of a disadvantage, it really isn’t so. It all depends on what you need now, and what your future plans are. And just because you have a slight advantage applying for the fall semester, it doesn’t mean you have to wait until fall and waste your precious time sitting at home or going to an office that you don’t like. If you really think you cannot wait until fall, or if you think you have the best chance if you apply for spring, then by all means, go ahead! After all, you are the best judge of your career. But if you have any questions in mind, don’t hesitate to ask us. You can send us an email asking what you need, and we will be glad to help you out.

So what do you think? When are you planning to apply? Do you have any other points you want us to include here? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

2 Comments to “Fall vs Spring Semester: When to Apply?”

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  2. rachana says: Reply to rachana

    Thank you so much for the insight.

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