An Online College Student's Guide to the University Calendar

Calendar on blue background with hand recording a comment on a date

If you're new to college or returning to higher education after awhile, it could be tough to understand a college or university's calendar. You think you're just glancing at the calendar to see class schedules, but all of the sudden you're bombarded with words and deadlines you've never heard of!

We can help you break down the academic calendar definitions you need, the ones important to you now, and the ones you might not need until grad school and beyond.


Application Deadlines

Some online colleges and universities have application deadlines, but some accept applications throughout the calendar year. When your application is received can determine which semester you are eligible to start, so contact your institution's admissions office for more information. Remember that often, freshman applicants must apply by an earlier deadline than transfer students. This can also vary by the school's semester deadlines. 

Keep in mind that if you're applying for financial aid, you may need to apply earlier so that you get your decisions and financial aid support in time for the semester's start. Application deadlines can also change according to program, for example, graduate, PhD, and non-degree programs such as certificates can have a different application deadline. 

Tuition Deadlines

This is a date by when you must have remitted tuition payments, but that doesn't mean the same thing for every institution or even every student.

If you have financial aid, scholarships, or a payment plan established, your payments may follow a different timeline. Check with the Office of Finance for your college or university to verify these dates if you have questions.


Just because there is a holiday marked on the academic calendar doesn't mean you don't have classes. Be sure to double check!

No Classes:

A few times throughout the year, community colleges, colleges and universities have days off to observe a holiday, such as Easter or Independence Day. If those holidays fall on a weekend, you may have a Friday or Monday off to compensate. Don't make any assumptions about holidays, though. If you are taking a class with regular meetings and one happens to fall on a holiday, check your syllabus or ask your professor about the break. If you're taking a Maymester, summer session, or classes during an accelerated period, make sure you ask about holidays in the first few classes.

With Classes:

Occasionally a college or university will mark a holiday with celebration or special events, but not cancel classes. Homecoming or Founder's Days are a great example of that type of holiday. Double check to make sure your class is meeting as scheduled on these days.


Registration is a really busy time for most students and colleges. There are often several dates on the calendar to add to your schedule. Let's break them down.


Registration is a busy time at any college, community college, or university. Some institutions space out the rush by offering preregistration to select students. The criteria for preregistration could include prior registration, academic level, class status, degree level, and so on. Check with your advisor to see when you're eligible to register for classes.

Open Registration:

Open registration is when everyone at the college or university is free to enroll in the classes they're eligible for.


Most institutions have a period at the beginning of every semester where students can drop or enroll in classes without additional financial penalty. For example, if you enrolled in four classes but had a recurring meeting at work pop up that makes it impossible to attend one, you can drop that class before the add/drop deadline and not have to pay for it, or have it on your transcript. This isn't necessarily the only time when you can withdraw from a class, but if you're "on the fence" about whether to take a class, the add/drop deadline is a good one to keep in mind.

Withdrawal with refund or partial refund:

Depending on timing within the semester, if you miss the add/drop deadline you may still be able to withdraw from a class. Tuition refund policies vary by institution, however, and sometimes by semester or class. You may also still be responsible for certain fees, even if you withdraw during a refund period. Get in touch with your college's office of finance if you have any questions.

Withdrawal with W:

In this case, the "W" refers to the "grade" that will appear on your transcript. Generally, classes with a W do not count toward your GPA but you are still responsible for most, if not all, of the tuition and fees associated with this class. Check with your educational institution's department of the registrar or your advisor for more information.

Academic Dates

Classes start:

This is the first day of class! If you are taking a class with regular meeting times, they'll start this week. If you are taking an asynchronous class without specific requirements for logging in, your work will begin this week. Check your class syllabus if you're not sure what class start and end dates mean for you. 

Deadline for electronic submission of doctoral dissertations or masters' theses:

These dates are for grad students and PhD candidates for their final papers or projects. If you're in a graduate or PhD program, you won't have to worry about this until your final year, but if you have any questions, consult your advisor. 

Apply for graduation deadline:

When you're a senior, most institutions require you apply for graduation. When you apply for graduation, you're verifying you completed all the classes and projects necessary to fulfill the requirements, and a diploma is coming with your name on it, pending final exam results, of course. If you're planning on attending your college's graduation ceremony, look into getting a cap and gown, travel arrangements, and tickets! 

Classes end:

This date signifies the last day of classes or classwork, but for undergraduate students, this rarely means you're done. Final exams are coming! Exams have their own schedule, so they are often noted separately on academic calendars. Online students need to pay special attention to exam requirements, such as proctoring.

Reading Day:

Reading Days are usually a day off after classes end but before exams start so that students can study and prepare for finals. Some professors also work in reading days if they require a big midterm exam, so check your syllabus and consult your professor if you have any questions. 

Exams begin/end:

These dates mark the beginning and end of the university exam period, which is usually a week long. Your exam format can vary by class, and you may not even have a final exam. Read your syllabus and check with your professor if you have questions. 

Commencement and Degree conferral date:

This is graduation day!

Grade deadline:

Because graduation day is often so close to exams, the grade deadline is usually set after graduation happens. Your grades may be up earlier, but this date is the deadline for your professors to have them posted under normal circumstances.


Remember that every college and university has different calendars. Individual programs can have different dates as well, adding things like labs, rolling deadlines, or even overlapping dates. Keep an eye out for shorter or longer semesters, and find a program that's right for you!

If you're interested in taking classes online, check out Old Dominion University's online programs through ODUOnline! Visit online.odu.edu and fill out the form. Someone will be in touch shortly to answer your questions and get you started on the path to your degree. 

Have questions? Contact us.