Colleges’ Fall Semester Plans Amid Coronavirus

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    As the fall semester quickly approaches, many high school students gear up for a vastly different 2020-21 school year than they signed up for. As coronavirus continues to surge across the country, colleges must consider social distancing, cleanliness, and preventative precautions to keep students safe. These safety measures are not only expected but widely accepted by students. In fact, 93% of students support colleges’ decision to cancel in-person classes, and 91% support closing campuses. Every institution will adopt a different process to keep students safe. Students should make sure they remain up to date on the most current information on the processes and policies their schools will take. 

    Here are some of the most monumental changes occurring this fall.


    In response to the surging threat of coronavirus, many colleges have transitioned their traditional, in-person classes to a largely online learning environment. According to Inside Higher Ed, Rutgers University, Harvard University, University of Southern California, and Georgetown University have joined a growing list of colleges offering more online courses for the upcoming fall semester. 

    Harvard announced that it would deliver online classes through the 2020-21 school year. Similarly, The University of Massachusetts at Boston plans to remain fully online for the fall semester. However, a fully online model is not very popular among higher education institutions. The Chronicle for Higher Education states about 8% of the 1,100 colleges they are tracking will be entirely online for fall. Instead of a fully-online course load, students should expect more online options in addition to in-person classes. 


    Most colleges are adopting some form of a hybrid model. Under the hybrid model, students will learn online with some in-person components for the 2020-21 school year. New York University and Northeastern University are amongst 262 other institutions offering a hybrid learning experience (according to Voices of America). Students should still expect to wear a mask and socially distance from their peers. 

    Each college will likely have a different approach to its hybrid model. Some colleges may offer live streaming sessions while others may provide pre-record lectures. Students should check with their college specifically to understand how they plan to implement a hybrid model.


    If students have any in-person classes, they can expect smaller class sizes. Colleges are trying to limit exposure between students. For example, the University of California San Diego will limit classroom capacity to 30%

    Many colleges are looking at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s cohort model. The model will allow students to take the same classes with the same group of ten students. This model limits the spread as students see the same students every day rather than interacting with numerous students across different classes. The school will also offer electives online. 


    Social distancing will be the most important ideals for the 2020-21 school year. Many colleges are scrambling to find ways to keep students safe while providing adequate housing. As a result, roommates are likely a thing of the past. First-year students at Johns Hopkins University will still be required to live on campus but will not have a roommate. They will also limit sharing public spaces, such as bathrooms. The school will not provide on-campus housing for second through fourth-year students. But the school will provide second-year students with accommodations at nearby hotel rooms or apartments. Johns Hopkins’s plan is not unique; other schools such as Northwestern University are considering housing overflow students in hotel rooms. 


    Coronavirus has been especially difficult for international students. From mandatory quarantines to travel bans, international students are struggling to stay afloat. What’s worse, on July 6th, ICE issued a directive that forces international students back to their home country if a student takes all of his/her classes online. ICE will also no longer issue of F1 visas, a visa for foreign students studying in the United States. 

    At this time, Harvard and MIT are attempting to prevent “immigration authorities from enforcing the new guidelines that bar international students from taking online-only courses and residing in the United States.” Other schools like Columbia have found a workaround. Forbes reports that Columbia plans to offer hybrid classes with remote learning opportunities. 


    Breaks and vacations can cause an undue spread of COVID-19. Some schools will end around thanksgiving to slow the spread as students come back from holidays. The University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida are both adopting a similar schedule. In their model, students can take hybrid in-person classes until Thanksgiving break. After Thanksgiving, students will continue their classes and complete their finals online. 

    Stanford University recently restructured its calendar to include four 10-week quarters. “The calendar was adjusted to allow sufficient time to safely move undergraduates into and out of campus housing and incorporate COVID-19 testing protocols that are now being developed,” Stanford says on their website. 


    Mirroring the rest of the United States, colleges are likely to require face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. For example, Virginia Tech must wear masks when indoors. George Mason University will also require students to wear masks in public areas such as classrooms (according to Forbes). Students should expect many colleges to make similar changes as universities across the nation adapt to the new normal. 


    Social distancing will take place both in and outside of the classroom. Colleges are discouraging parties and large gatherings, although these may be difficult to enforce. If they must congregate, Virginia Tech will urge students to do so outside. In a similar vein, Stanford University recently considered hosting classes outside to keep students apart.


    Another hot button topic amongst colleges at the moment is tuition. Most, if not all, universities are trying to maintain tuition prices to offset losses due to coronavirus. However, a few colleges plan to reduce the price of tuition to offset the loss of the in-person component for students. Princeton University, for example, announced it would drop tuition prices by 10%. The College of William and Mary halted a 3% increase in tuition to help make tuition to those affected by COVID-19. 


    Even though many schools are making plans for the future, students shouldn’t settle into those plans. If coronavirus takes a turn for the worst, colleges will likely close their doors once more. It may not be easy, but college students should expect to be flexible as colleges continue to respond to an ever-changing situation. 

    As we continue to move forward, we move forward together. If you need help navigating the changes to the college admissions process, contact us! 

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