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Why Is Winter Quarter So Hard?

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Winter quarter is infamously the “hardest,” according to many students and professors at UCI. As the quarter comes to an end, the New University spoke with various community members to find out why.

Tamara Beauchamp, Writing Director of the Humanities Core program, has been teaching at UCI since 2006. The year-long course is typically taken by first and second-year students, covering a variety of humanities topics. Beauchamp described the winter quarter as “psychologically more difficult” and suggested there may be a multitude of reasons why. 

“I think it has more to do with the fact that students’ energy tends to kind of flag,” Beauchamp said. “I know that academic advisors often encourage students in their first quarter to take fewer units so that might be part of it.” 

Beauchamp also attributed part of the difficulty in Humanities Core’s winter quarter to the shift in coursework. 

“In a program like Humanities Core, we’re obviously trying to kind of build up with each assignment a new set of skills,” Beauchamp said. “The assignments are more difficult and we’re sort of expecting that you learned some stuff in the fall and are mobilizing those tools in the winter.”

First-year English student Izzi Wilcox is currently taking Humanities Core and agreed with Beauchamp that each assignment is made to increase in difficulty. 

“The essays are increasing in word count and page length because they’re preparing us for our end-of-the-year project that we’re going to be doing in spring quarter,” Wilcox said. “I know a lot of students, especially students who aren’t really interested very much in the humanities, who are struggling a lot to meet word counts, so [Humanities Core] is definitely building up.”

Along with an increase in workload during winter quarter, several members of the UCI community expressed struggling with their mental health. 

Third-year psychology major Dylan Thibault described winter quarter as collectively feeling “like a Wednesday” and attributed that to a shift in both students’ mentality and expectations from professors. 

“It’s just like a slump. You’re coming off winter break and you have to reset and try to go eight to 10 more weeks,” Thibault said. “I think professors have different expectations. Maybe they’re not as lenient, or they expect you to kind of just know what’s going on as opposed to the beginning of the [fall] quarter.” 

First-year chemistry student Elle Francisco said that winter quarter has been difficult mentally and that she feels like she is “still in week one” of the quarter. 

“I came back from break and I was tired already,” Francisco said. “Personally, I can’t even wake up for my 10 a.m. class. Last quarter I would have gotten up at 8 a.m. [without a] problem.” 

Second-year mechanical engineering student Andrew Goodman cited the classes offered in winter quarter as major factors for why the quarter is hard for many engineering students. 

“I think learning new material during [fall quarter] would be more helpful than during [winter quarter]. An example of that would be Physics 7D, which was not offered in fall quarter, so I had to take that winter quarter and that was kind of a terrible experience,” Goodman said. “It’s harder because I’m not coming into [the class] with previous knowledge that I can [use to] apply and understand this new material.” 

He also said that seasonal affective disorder has an effect on students. 

“Seasonal affective disorder is a big part of the mental aspect of why the quarter is harder,” Goodman said. “[Students] are not feeling it — we don’t have the motivation that we do [in fall quarter].” 

Dr. Ylena Shayne is a Senior Staff Psychologist at the Counseling Center and said she has seen an increase in the need for mental health services during the winter quarter.

“The stress goes up in the winter because, psychologically speaking, you’ve got a longer stretch of time before you get back to those feel-good feelings of summer and that break,” Shayne said. 

She advises students to seek help when they first notice themselves struggling.

“I always say if you feel something coming on, emotionally, just get the help. If it was a false alarm, then you can always [stop receiving] services,” Shayne said.

Although it is a common belief among UCI students that winter quarter is the most difficult, not everyone agrees with the notion. 

Chancellor’s Professor of English and Humanities Core Director Jonathan Alexander said he does not recall hearing that winter quarter is the hardest for students.

“I have to admit that I have not noticed that folks have a harder time in the winter,” Alexander said. “I’d say that they usually have a tougher time in the spring because the spring term lasts until early June and it feels like a third start to the year.” 

Third-year graduate student and TA Grace Chan is part of UCI’s department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Chan completed her undergraduate degree at UC San Diego, an institution that also runs on the quarter system and said that, while she currently believes winter quarter is the hardest, she did not always think that. 

“I did worse in winter quarters than I did in fall or spring. I think I just thought it would be easier because not a lot was going on and we also didn’t really have too many activities,” Chan said. “I think the weather definitely has some sort of effect — seasonal depression is a thing.”

There is no singular answer to why some members of the UCI community find winter quarter to be the most challenging. However, there are many resources on campus available for those struggling academically or mentally.

Laiyla Santillan is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at