Ready or not, Utah's public colleges and universities next week will embark on the first-ever systemwide semester schedule.

As students and faculty return to campus, they're treading into unfamiliar territory.Students are feeling the pinch as they scrape together a semester's tuition and buy more books.

"It's going to be a little bit harder because of the money," said Salt Lake Community College student Mark Cannon. "With the quarters, I'd work and save up and go to school. This time I might have to take out a loan from my dad or something."

Higher education officials say a year's worth of education doesn't cost more under the semester system, but students will get the bill twice a year instead of spreading it over three quarters.

Even so, icons of prominent credit card companies are a fixture on the University of Utah's Web site, suggesting charge cards as one payment option.

Weber State University, in cooperation with Key Bank, has established a payment plan option.

Time also is in short supply. On some campuses, roughly three weeks separated the end of summer quarter and the launch of the first-ever fall semester on all nine of Utah's state-run college campuses. Utah Valley State College converted to a semester system eight years ago.

While campuses urged students to undergo academic advising well in advance of the conversion, mandated by the Utah State Board of Regents, many students waited until the last minute to focus on their fall schedules.

"We're finding that a significant proportion of students put it off and didn't think about it until a week before they registered for fall semester," said computer science professor Scott Cannon, semester transition committee chairman at Utah State University.

"That's human nature."

By and large, registration and class scheduling is proceeding. Some institutions are bracing for fall enrollment figures. Enrollment drives state funding of higher education.

"It's a struggle. We're searching for space and scheduling classrooms. We're working on all of these problems we knew would happen six months ago," Cannon said.

"It's a little stiff because we haven't done this before, but it's going forward."

Students told the Deseret News they are looking forward to the change because they'll have more time to absorb the subject matter. Semesters are roughly five weeks longer than quarters.

"I think it will give us a better chance to study. With the 10 weeks, it's test, test, test. With semesters, we'll get to know it more in-depth," said Deeshean Wallace, a sophomore at Southern Utah University.

Speaking of tests, final examinations will be administered twice during the academic year, not three times with quarters.

"I would think only two final exams a year instead of three would be a real bonus," said Dolly Samson, associate professor and chairman of the division of information systems technology. "We don't like finals any more than the students do."

The semester system may ultimately be an endurance question.

"I really like the quarter system. With some classes, I have a hard enough time staying in there for 10 weeks, let alone 15. I figure it's on its way and there's no way you can stop it, so I'll make the best of it," said U. senior Jessica Matsumori.

Matsumori has already discovered one advantage. Under the Fairness Principle adopted by the Academic Senate, students have been ensured they will not be disadvantaged by the conversion.

For her, it means she will be excused from four classes she would have had to take under the quarter system. She'll graduate in December rather than in the spring.

"It's coming whether we like it or not, fast and furious."