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Decision for 2020-21 Academic Year

16 May 2020

After careful deliberation and informed by extensive input from our community, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced plans to bring up to 40% of our undergraduates to campus, including all first-year students, for the fall semester. Assuming that we maintain 40% density in the spring semester, we would again bring back one class, and our priority at this time is to bring seniors to campus. Under this plan, first years would return home and learn remotely in the spring. We also will invite back to campus those students who may not be able to learn successfully in their current home learning environment.

Some of the attributes that we most value about our campus are exactly the things that make adaptation to pandemic conditions particularly challenging. Our bustling urban environment, the ease of grabbing the T into Boston, our intergenerational residential communities that house 98% of our undergraduates, our global research community of students, faculty, staff, postdocs and visitors from around the world – Harvard was built for connection, not isolation. Without a vaccine or effective clinical treatments for the virus, we know that no choice that reopens the campus is without risk. That said, we have worked closely with leading epidemiologists and medical experts to define an approach that we believe will protect the health and safety of our community, while also protecting our academic enterprise and providing students with the conditions they need to be successful academically. 

Of note, this decision applies to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences only. Harvard’s professional Schools have made determinations and announcements about their plans for fall 2020 based on their own unique considerations. Information on each School's plans can be found here. 

Guiding Principles

  • Our highest priority is to support community health and well-being.

  • We will sustain the excellence of Harvard in both learning and research and will continue to hold ourselves to high standards.  

  • We will adopt an evidence-based risk management approach to the COVID-19 challenge, and our decisions will be guided by public officials and health experts. 

  • We will transparently communicate our policies and decision-making processes, and any evolution in these, acknowledging that we are facing considerable uncertainty. 

Remote Teaching & Learning
The interim planning report established that all course instruction (undergraduate and graduate) for the 2020-21 academic year will be delivered online. Students will learn remotely, whether or not they live on campus. With that in mind, we have taken the following steps:

Academic Calendar and Course Scheduling

The fall term will begin as planned on September 2, 2020. The instructional day will be expanded to accommodate synchronous instruction across a range of time zones. The Registrar will soon issue guidance about fall semester course scheduling to the academic departments.

Excellence in Remote Teaching

As we work to prepare for the fall, we are guided by the recognition that the success of remote teaching depends on our ability to create and sustain strong connections among students and between students and faculty. Harvard’s learning technologists and specialists in innovative pedagogy are supporting faculty and teaching fellows in the development of fall courses and the design of activities and assignments that take advantage of the remote format and enable students to achieve key goals, including for hands-on learning in lab and art-making courses. We are increasing instructional support by recruiting graduate students as Bok Media and Design Fellows and Remote Support Teaching Fellows. The Bok Center has also designed its fall teaching conference to help teaching fellows prepare for their remote teaching responsibilities. More information about required instructor trainings and other remote ready resources is available online.  

Excellence in Remote Learning

We are working to ensure that all students are prepared for remote learning. The Academic Resource Center has assembled dedicated remote learning resources and will be offering orientations to all incoming first-year undergraduate students.  


The emergency grading systems that were put in place in the spring semester will not continue into the fall semester. Fall courses for all students will return to regular grading.

International Students

Guidance for international students continues to evolve at a rapid pace. A town hall for international undergraduate students will be held on July 8 and the graduate student town hall meetings on July 7 and 8 will also include detailed information for international students. The latest guidance and resources are available from the Harvard International Office. One of the reasons that we determined early in our process that we would rely upon remote instruction was that we expect many international students will encounter challenges entering the country given that consular offices are not processing F1 visas.  
Learning from Campus
We know that students are eager to be on campus and we too are eager to return to full residential operations. Informed by a careful review of our residential capacity, the academic needs of our students, and guidance from public health experts, we have defined the group of undergraduate students who will be invited to learn from campus this fall – first-year students and those who must be on campus to progress academically.

All first-year undergraduate students will be invited to campus for the fall semester.

This will enable first-year students to benefit from a supported transition to college-level academic work and to begin to build their Harvard relationships with faculty and peers. Both online and dorm-based programs will be in place to meet these needs. Over the last few weeks, there has been frequent communication with our first-year students about their transition to Harvard and this will continue as we approach the start of the academic year. 

We are committed to ensuring a secure and supportive learning environment for all students.

While all courses will be taught remotely, we understand that some students may not be able to learn successfully in their current home learning environment. If a student believes they will have remote learning challenges this fall, we ask that they please complete this form by Monday, July 13. Student submissions will be reviewed by a committee of faculty and staff in order to identify what specific supports may be needed, including whether it may be necessary for a student to reside on campus. 

Accommodations in the Yard Dorms and the Houses will be adapted to meet new public health standards.

Enrolled undergraduate students who will be learning from campus will live in single bedrooms with a shared bathroom. Students will be distributed across the first-year dorms and a number of upper-class Houses in order to achieve a maximum residential density of 40%. The dorms and Houses are undergoing physical modifications to support our public health goals. These include enhanced cleaning schedules, personal safety training and protective equipment for custodians, security guards, and House staff, improved air handling and filtration in shared spaces, hand sanitizer and wipe stations, and signage outlining our public health community guidelines. 

Campus access will be restricted to safeguard our community’s health

There will be restrictions on inter-house access to dining areas and to non-residential Harvard buildings, with the exception of Harvard University Health Services. We hope to provide some access to athletic and recreational facilities, as part of our commitment to overall wellness, though guidance for that is not yet final. No off-campus visitors will be allowed into Harvard buildings, and this will include enrolled Harvard students who are not in residence on campus. With these measures in place, we are confident that we can support campus-based remote learning while also safeguarding our residential community’s health and safety.

Move-in and move-out procedures and timelines will be different.

 While the academic calendar for the fall semester will not change, there will be additional considerations for students who will be learning from campus. Students will receive instructions regarding the protocol for a phased arrival to campus prior to the start of the semester. All students will move out for the semester by November 22 and will complete reading period and exam period from home. The standard process for granting exceptions will be followed.

This decision has implications for our Athletics program.

We anticipate that the Ivy League will issue a decision on July 8 about fall sports competitions and training. Even in the absence of this guidance, we acknowledge that our medium density plan will necessarily place limits on what athletic activities are possible at Harvard this fall. An enhanced focus on wellness will be important for all members of our community. Wellness programming and resources will be developed by the Department of Athletics, Harvard Health Services’ Center for Health and Wellness, the Dean of Students Office and other partnering organizations.

Undergraduate Cost of Attendance 

Tuition & Fees

Tuition will remain as announced for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Room and board for students learning away from campus

For enrolled students who are living away from campus and attending classes remotely, obviously there will be no room and board costs included on their term bill.

Remote room and board allowance for students receiving financial aid

For enrolled students receiving financial aid who are not living on campus, the Griffin Financial Aid Office will use a “COVID-19 Remote Room and Board” allowance of $5,000 per semester in calculating their aid award. In general, this will allow students to be supported by financial aid while studying away from campus. Standard room and board charges will be applied for students who are invited to live on campus and Financial Aid awards will be adjusted to reflect that as approved.

Term-time work

Students receiving financial aid have been relieved of the term-time work expectation in the fall, replacing it with scholarship in the calculation of their financial aid award. This recognizes the current challenges of finding work and the public health considerations of work that is not remote. This does not mean that students can’t or won’t choose to work, but rather that there is no expectation of a work contribution to meet their cost of attendance. While aid awards will reflect this change for the year, the College will review the policy for the spring term in the context of the latest public health guidelines. 

Summer School credit

In recognition of the fact that many of our students will not have a residential campus experience this year, all enrolled undergraduate students who will be learning away from campus for the full academic year 2020-21 will be eligible to come to campus to take two courses at the Harvard Summer School in the summer of 2021 under a special arrangement that waives tuition; room and board will be subsidized for students receiving financial aid.

Deferrals and Leaves of Absence
The deadline for first-year students to defer enrollment has been extended to July 24, 2020. For upperclassmen deciding whether to take a Leave of Absence, the College has trained a special team of advisers to help students and families. They can offer support in terms of thinking through the decision, explaining the logistics of the process, and directing students to resources before, during, and after the leave. Advisers can be reached at [email protected]

Health and Safety
Harvard University aims to provide a campus environment that enables the pursuit of our teaching and research mission while protecting the health and safety of our community. With the restart of campus-based research over the summer, Harvard University Health Services led the implementation of required training, daily symptom attestation using the Crimson Clear web portal, viral testing, and standard public health practices such as physical distancing requirements, limits on gathering sizes, use of face coverings in public spaces, and careful hygiene. Our return to campus-based academic operations is predicated on our community’s adoption of these public health practices designed to limit the spread of the virus and to keep each other and our families safe. These measures meet or exceed those in place across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Health and Safety in the Houses and Dorms

Because COVID-19 is highly contagious, an individual's actions can have serious implications for the health of the broader community. Though an undergraduate student may be at relatively low risk of complications associated with COVID-19, for example, their actions can impact the families of dining workers, security guards, House staff and others who make residential life possible. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences promotes shared responsibility for the health and well-being of our campus community. We are truly in this together. It is important that all students who will reside on campus in Fall 2020 read, understand, and be prepared to abide by the rules and guidelines that will be in place in the fall in order to make an informed decision about residency. Those guidelines, as developed by Harvard University Health Services, will include, among other features, the requirement that students and residential staff participate in a viral testing program that will begin with an initial screening upon arrival, followed by testing for the virus every three days while in residence. The frequency of testing may increase or decrease depending on the prevalence of infection within the Harvard community and the region, along with other factors influencing the likelihood of exposure to the virus.  Additional testing may be warranted if a student or residential staff member develops symptoms of COVID-19.The campus public health protocols will also include daily attestations of symptoms, requirements to self-isolate  in the event of a positive test, to speak with a health care professional if experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or to quarantine for known exposure to a positive case. We have established dedicated housing for quarantine and isolation, with sufficient space to appropriately house 250 individuals. 


We have established an index of key public health factors, both on campus and in the surrounding Boston community, that we will monitor continuously. Among these are:

  • The number of individuals in our community that has tested positive for the virus
  • The number of symptomatic individuals in our community
  • Harvard community’s compliance with testing and other required public health practices
  • Boston-area healthcare readiness indicators

As we have seen over the last several weeks, with spikes to record levels of infection emerging in other parts of the country, the course of the virus can change quickly. We must be ready to respond to changing conditions and have built flexibility into every level of our operations. For example, we are prepared to seamlessly transition between touchless food pick-up and more traditional dining operations as conditions dictate. As a community we must assume that change and adjustment are part of daily life and a key attribute of informed and responsible management in a pandemic.

 Resuming Research and Other Campus Operations 

The decision regarding undergraduate residential operations does not change the guidance to faculty, postdocs, staff, and graduate students that has already been issued regarding campus-based research or other operations. Current information on restarting research in Science and SEAS can be found here. Current information on library operations can be found here. The University’s latest travel guidance can be found here. This decision also maintains existing University guidance that most faculty, postdocs, and staff will continue to work remotely, through at least the end of the summer, unless otherwise directed by the academic division or their manager. Answers to many questions about administrative operations across the FAS can be found here.  

Implications for Spring 2021
As the description of our monitoring program makes clear, attempting definitive decisions now about things that will happen in six months would provide only a false sense of certainty. Instead, we want our community to know that we are anticipating three scenarios for undergraduate residential life in spring 2021:

  • Lower residential density than fall, retaining only those students who must learn from campus. We would pursue this option only if conditions worsened so that we could not manage the campus safely with 40% of students in residence as provided for in this plan.
  • Continuing medium residential density, returning those students who must learn from campus and one class cohort. As mentioned at the outset, the current priority cohort is the senior class.
  • Higher residential density, returning those who must learn from campus and more than one class cohort.

As we have noted earlier, we would like to bring back students as quickly and safely as we can. Clearly, the third option above would be our preferred path. However, much will depend on the status of the virus, our success in containing any campus-based infections, and the willingness of the entire community—our students, faculty, and staff—to abide by our protocols for testing, social distancing, facial covering and other public health measures. We anticipate making a decision about the spring semester in early December, including setting a date for a delayed start of the semester. We will update the community regularly throughout the fall.

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