Princeton announces plan for fall 2020, guidelines for undergraduates returning to campus

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Princeton University
July 6, 2020

Plan focuses on public health guidance and the health and safety of the University community

In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Princeton University has announced that undergraduates will be able to return to campus for one semester during the 2020-21 academic year, with first-year students and juniors welcomed to campus for the fall semester, and sophomores and seniors for the spring semester. Most academic instruction will remain online. In a July 6 message to the University community, President Christopher L. Eisgruber reinforced Princeton’s goal to provide high-quality education remotely and offer residential options for undergraduates while protecting the health and safety of the community.

“Over the last two months, my colleagues and I have been studying the pandemic and identifying measures we can take to accommodate students on campus,” Eisgruber said in his message. “COVID-19 is still a very new disease, and much remains unknown about it. Several points have, however, become clear. Based on the information now available to us, we believe Princeton will be able to offer all of our undergraduate students at least one semester of on-campus education this academic year, but we will need to do much of our teaching online and remotely.”

More than 40 faculty and staff working groups studied the health, safety, academic and operational concerns that informed the University’s decision-making for the 2020-21 year. 

Princeton’s plans follow public health guidelines for colleges and universities and abide by state rules that limit how many students can live in dormitories, require social distancing in classrooms and public spaces, and prohibit large in-person gatherings.

“New Jersey is reopening carefully and responsibly,” Eisgruber said in his message. “Both state law and public health guidance significantly restrict our options for the fall.”

Reducing density on campus is a critical component of Princeton’s plan, which will strive to accommodate students who are pursuing certain kinds of academic research or leading co-curricular programs that require them to be on campus in specific semesters.

All graduate students who wish to may stay in campus graduate housing for the upcoming academic year. 

The University’s plans include robust cleaning protocols and appropriate health monitoring, including regular COVID-19 testing of students on campus. “To our students, I look forward to having you back on our campus when you can come,” Eisgruber wrote. “To all of you, I look forward to collaborating with you and supporting you as we pursue our teaching and research mission energetically, imaginatively, and passionately in the face of one of the greatest challenges ever to confront our University.”

Below are highlights of the University’s fall plans as they now stand and information about how they may impact undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. More information and updates will be provided throughout the summer on the University’s Fall 2020 website.  

Health and safety guidelines

Princeton’s plans are based on relevant public health and safety guidelines for undergraduates, graduate students, staff and faculty in order to protect the health of the Princeton community and to comply with New Jersey law. 

Students and employees will be required to complete an online training related to the University’s health and safety policies before moving into campus housing or receiving approval to resume work on campus. In addition, all undergraduates must sign Princeton’s social contract affirming that they understand the University’s health and safety restrictions and will accept the responsibility to abide by them if they come to campus. 

COVID-19 testing

The University will test students for COVID-19 when they arrive and regularly thereafter. Isolation — the separation of those who test positive for COVID-19, whether they have symptoms or not — will be mandatory for students who test positive. Quarantine — separating people who are, or may have been, exposed to COVID-19, but are not showing signs of illness — will be mandatory for students who have been in close contact as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with someone who has COVID-19. University Health Services will continue to oversee testing, case management and contact tracing for students on campus. 

Face coverings and social distancing

Every person on campus, including visitors, will be required to wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth at all times while indoors, except when they are alone in a space or are students in their assigned rooms or apartments. This includes, but is not limited, to University vehicles, dining halls, TigerTransit buses, conference rooms, office buildings, elevators and parking structures. People are not required to wear a face covering outdoors if they are able to maintain physical distancing of at least six feet (two meters) from others (with the exception of members of their household/suitemates).

Remaining flexible in the era of COVID-19

Being responsive to public health guidance and focusing on protecting the health and safety of the University community is paramount. In President Eisgruber’s message to the University community, he emphasized that no plan is set in stone. He stated: “The University will continue to reevaluate its plans in the months ahead. If developments allow, we will invite back more students in the spring. Unfortunately, it is also possible that matters will get worse. If so, we may have to send students home in the fall or reduce the size of the anticipated campus population in the spring.” All University plans are subject to future New Jersey state regulations, and adjustments may have to be made based on unforeseen impacts from COVID-19.

Welcoming undergraduates on campus

As President Eisgruber stated in his July 6 message, in the 2020-21 academic year, the University will offer every undergraduate who is able to return to campus the opportunity to be on campus for at least one semester. In order to protect the health and safety of all community members and to comply with public health guidelines, the University will welcome roughly half of Princeton’s undergraduates in each semester. First-year students — that is, members of the incoming Class of 2024 — as well as rising juniors, may return to campus in August, if they wish, for the fall semester. Sophomores and seniors in the graduating Class of 2021 may return to campus for the spring semester.

In addition, the University will invite back to campus students who are pursuing specific academic research or leading or enrolled in co-curricular programs that require them to be on campus each semester. In the fall term, this will include seniors whose departments determine that they meet stringent criteria that requires them to do on-campus thesis research, students who face housing insecurity, new transfer students and ROTC students.

All undergraduates will have the option to complete the entire year remotely, at home or elsewhere, whether because of health issues or other concerns. As Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Vice President of Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun stated in their July 6 letter to undergraduates, Princeton is making an unprecedented exception to its residency requirement this academic year, and enrolled undergraduate students are not required to be on campus. Students may choose to complete all of their course work remotely. There will be some limitations on which courses are available to students who are not in residence on campus.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for undergraduates are available on the Fall 2020 website. These FAQs will be updated with more information throughout the summer. Undergraduates will have the opportunity to discuss individual circumstances and concerns with their appropriate adviser or residential college staff.

Student social contract

As President Eisgruber stated in his July 6 letter to the University community: “Our collective success will depend on all of our individual actions.”

While Princeton prides itself on offering students an educational experience that is highly responsive to individual student needs, inclinations and ambitions, the conditions of the COVID-19 global pandemic require a shift in perspective. The University’s policies and actions must prioritize the health, well-being and safety of the campus as a whole (students, faculty and staff) and the local community, rather than individual wishes, hopes, preferences and even needs.

Every undergraduate student who plans to return to campus must sign a social contract that articulates their commitment to following health and safety protocols and to observing behavioral expectations designed to promote the well-being of everyone in the University community. By signing the social contract, each student affirms that they understand these constraints and accepts the responsibility to abide by them.

The social contract includes sections addressing required preparation before arriving on campus and required behavior while on campus.

Penalties for failure to comply with the social contract may include any of those listed in “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities.” Additionally, all students, including undergraduates in their first and second years, may be removed from campus housing if their conduct runs counter to the health and safety rules established by the University in response to the pandemic.  All violations of the social contract will be adjudicated through Princeton’s established disciplinary processes. Students who are unwilling or unable to comply with the restrictions in the social contract should not come to campus.

Financial accommodations

Tuition. The University has approved a 10% discount to tuition for all undergraduate students during 2020-21, whether they are on campus or learning remotely. The discounted rate will be used to calculate financial aid packages for students eligible for aid.

Activities fee. Activities and athletics fees will not be charged for the 2020-21 academic year.

Room and board charges. Room and board charges will be pro-rated for students departing the campus at Thanksgiving break. We will offer only one meal plan in the fall for undergraduate students; a one-time reduction in the board rate reflects these changes. We will adjust financial aid packages up front to reflect the appropriate rates, rather than issuing refunds and credits. The needs of financial aid students who require emergency housing after Thanksgiving will be addressed separately. More information will be sent to students as soon as possible about how tuition and room and board charges will be handled and how financial aid will be packaged.

Communication to students. Additional information will be sent to students as soon as possible about how tuition and room and board charges will be handled, how financial aid will be packaged, and any further adjustments to financial aid policies.

The University remains committed to ensuring that a Princeton education is affordable for every student even at this time of economic uncertainty. As Provost Deborah Prentice said following the April trustees meeting focused on financial aid: “Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic challenges, we expect that more of our students will need financial aid and that many students will need additional aid. We are committed to increasing the University’s financial aid budget to meet these needs so a Princeton education remains affordable for all students.”

Welcoming graduate students on campus

Because the living and teaching arrangements for Princeton’s graduate programs accommodate social distancing more easily than the undergraduate program, the University will welcome all of its graduate students to campus. This includes all master’s students and all doctoral students.

Graduate-level courses and graduate advising may occur in person or virtually, depending on the decisions of individual graduate programs. Some graduate students have already engaged in the phased resumption of the University’s research enterprise.

The Graduate School has launched a new website — — to provide more detailed FAQs regarding academic affairs, housing, dining, funding, health and wellness, events, and travel guidance. The site also contains contact information for Graduate School staff members as well as links to University resources. Please check this site regularly for updates in the coming weeks.

As Deputy Dean and Acting Dean of the Graduate School Cole Crittenden stated in a July 6 letter to graduate students, the Graduate School is committed to protecting the health and safety of graduate students as they resume research and other academic activities. Graduate students who cannot be on campus may work with their individual departments and programs regarding needed accommodations related to coursework, research obligations and/or teaching assignments remotely.

Travel guidelines and advisories: Coming to and leaving campus

The University continues to track domestic and international travel conditions as they will impact travel plans for returning students, faculty and staff. Given the risks of any form of travel during the pandemic period, students, faculty and staff should expect that significant travel restrictions will remain in place throughout the academic year.

Students, faculty and staff coming to campus from abroad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain guidance on current travel restrictions and quarantine recommendations for those who wish to enter the United States from abroad. Anyone traveling to campus from abroad are expected to follow these guidelines, as well as applicable New Jersey and University protocols.

Students, faculty and staff coming to campus from within the U.S. New Jersey has issued a travel advisory that all individuals entering New Jersey from states with a significant spread of COVID-19 are expected to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New Jersey. For students, this means they will need to quarantine in their campus residence upon arrival on campus. This advisory may also affect faculty and staff who have been away from campus, including for vacation, and are returning to New Jersey within 14 days of the beginning of the academic year. Given that a portion of the student population will not be returning to campus until late August, it is possible that this advisory and/or the list of states will change. The University is monitoring the state travel advisory daily and will make arrangements to comply with any quarantine requirements as students return to campus. Specific guidance will be provided later in July. The state advisory FAQs are available online.

Travel from campus. The University’s April 16 guidelines on the conduct of University-sponsored domestic and international travel remain in place, including the broad suspension of all international travel and the restriction of domestic travel to essential purposes. Further guidance on University-sponsored and personal travel for the fall semester will be forthcoming later in July and will be available online once released.

International students and those living abroad

The University acknowledges additional challenges for international students wishing to travel to the U.S. and realizes that some students may be unable to come to campus in the fall due to visa issues or travel restrictions. The Davis International Center posts regular updates regarding these restrictions and the global travel landscape and is making every effort to share information as soon as it becomes available in order to assist international students. For specific questions, students should reach out to their Davis Center adviser.

For undergraduates living abroad who are unable to return to campus, there will be some limitations on which courses are available to students who are not in residence. Acknowledging time zone and other limitations unique to those living overseas, faculty members and administrators will make every effort to ensure that students studying from abroad will be able to participate in the virtual curricular and co-curricular aspects of the Princeton experience.

For further information related to course availability, students should direct questions to their residential college or faculty adviser. The University is also considering requests from undergraduate students to "study away" at a university in a student’s country of residence. Students interested in this option should contact the Study Abroad Office ([email protected]) as soon as possible.

Where possible, the Graduate School is making accommodations for international graduate students to support remote starts in the fall semester. The Graduate School will also allow departments and programs to consider deferral requests from graduate students through August 20.

Academic calendar

To reduce travel that increases both the risk of infection and the need to quarantine, the University is planning to alter its calendar for the 2020-21 academic year.

The fall semester will start two days earlier, on Monday, August 31, and fall break will be reduced from a full week to a long weekend. Students will leave campus before Thanksgiving and the fall semester reading period and exams will be fully remote thereafter. For the spring semester, the University will reduce the spring break week to a long weekend, also to reduce travel.

In addition, the University is in the early stages of planning for a summer program in 2021.  The main objective of a short summer term will be to allow students who missed certain on-campus courses (for example, a laboratory course) to make them up at Princeton. The summer term will be offered to students who’ve been enrolled for the 2020-21 academic year. It will be available to fulfill specific course requirements and will not constitute a full semester.

Academic instruction: Online and in the classroom

In response to the pandemic, Princeton moved to virtual instruction during the past spring semester. In the fall, the majority of teaching and learning will continue to occur online. During the summer, faculty and staff are devoting resources to enhance online teaching and learning.

Faculty members have been collaborating over the summer with one another, with the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, and with the Office of Information Technology to increase opportunities for student-faculty interaction, improve courses to fit the online environment, and reconsider course formats and meeting times. 

In some cases, faculty might be able to teach a smaller course, seminar, or a precept or a lab on-site/in-person for students who are on campus. Such courses will require social distancing, face-covering, and special care in entering and exiting buildings and classrooms. We hope to know which courses will be offered in person by late August.

The University is currently working on a process to ensure continuity of instruction for in-person courses if a student or faculty member need to self-quarantine or self-isolate.

Residential and campus life

As President Eisgruber said in his July 6 message, the campus experience will be very different from an ordinary year.

Undergraduate students will be assigned private sleeping spaces (single rooms or within suites). First-year students will be housed in their residential college. Similarly, in the spring, sophomores will return to their residential college. Movement around colleges and dormitories will be restricted. Whether or not lounges and kitchens within dorms will be open for student use in the fall will depend on New Jersey rules or guidance in effect at the time and public health considerations. It is possible that the University will be required (or need) to close common spaces. It is also possible that common areas will be open for limited use subject to occupancy and other restrictions if the layout allows for social distancing. More details will be available soon on the Housing website.

Students who are unable to live at home but who are not invited to return to campus in the fall — that is, students in the Classes of 2021 and 2023 — may wish to access housing off campus. Information about need-based financial aid for students who cannot remain at their current residence and wish to pursue off-campus housing will be forthcoming soon. The University will place some students with housing precarity in on-campus accommodations; additional information, including eligibility criteria and an application process, will be posted by mid-July.

Many social and recreational activities will be unavailable, impermissible or highly regulated. Parties will be prohibited.

That said, the Campus Life teams in the residential colleges as well as departments and programs across the University are working hard to continue to find meaningful ways for students — whether in residence or off campus — to connect with one another and with campus.

Campus Dining will offer an on-campus meal plan required for students living in dormitories, for public health reasons. More details and FAQs will be posted on the Campus Dining website, including information about meals for students with special dietary needs or restrictions, and for students in isolation or quarantine.

Research enterprise

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University halted all non-essential on-campus research activities on March 21. The University made this difficult decision in order to protect the health and safety of the campus community, and in full awareness of the sacrifice made by faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and members of the research staff in delaying experiments or terminating those in progress.

In a June 17 email to the University research community, Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti announced that the University was able to officially move from Level 3 (Essential Research) to Level 2 (Phased Resumption of Research).

Phased resumption pertains to experimental, laboratory work in science and engineering. All research work that can be done remotely must continue to be done remotely. Carefully orchestrated guidelines — which reflect CDC and state guidelines — delineate the phased resumption process.

The full Phased Resumption of Research plan, processes and resources are located on the Dean for Research website. The plan will be continuously updated as new information and guidance on COVID-19 and its treatment and prevention become available.

Some graduate students, particularly those in the laboratory sciences and engineering, are already back on campus conducting their academic work. However, the Graduate School recognizes that some students may not be able to be present in person, either temporarily or for an extended period, because of a variety of legitimate reasons, including, for example, individual health risks, travel restrictions and caregiving duties.

A very small number of undergraduate students — specifically seniors whose departments determine that they meet specific, stringent criteria necessitating them to be on campus to conduct thesis research and whose plans have been approved by the relevant principal investigator or faculty supervisor and the Dean for Research — will be invited back in the fall and will be able to return for the spring semester.


With return to campus protocols still being developed and introduced by Ivy League institutions, the Council of Ivy League Presidents intends to announce a final decision regarding the status of intercollegiate athletic activity for fall 2020 on July 8. This decision and other important details for student-athletes will be communicated by the Department of Athletics directly to Princeton coaches, staff and student-athletes on July 8.

Faculty and staff

In order to limit the spread of and/or exposure to COVID-19, those faculty and staff who have been deemed able to work remotely must continue to work remotely until further notice. In other words, they must work remotely unless and until they are approved to work on campus by their cabinet officer, academic chair or director, or the provost. Departments that anticipate resuming some on-campus activities this summer must plan carefully and follow the guidance, policies and protocols issued this summer — including completing mandatory training — that are available on the Office of Environmental Health and Safety’s (EHS) website.

More information about how faculty and staff work may be affected by undergraduates returning to campus in the fall will be provided by Human Resources and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.

Human Resources’ new webpage, “Fall 2020 Partial Resumption of Campus and Workplace Operations,” provides more information about ongoing planning, as well as information for staff about COVID-19 related policies and employee benefits and resources.

For faculty planning online instruction, the McGraw Center has created a robust set of virtual teaching resources for faculty members. Topics include designing for remote instruction, establishing rapport and building community, workshops on digital tools, and pedagogical and technical help, among others.

More information about virtual instruction will be announced by the Office of the Dean of the College later this summer.

Campus visitors

Everyone coming to the Princeton campus is required to wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth at all times indoors. Individuals are not required to wear a face covering outdoors if they are able to maintain physical distancing of at least six feet (two meters) from others (with the exception of members of their household).

There are currently no public events on campus. Summer programs are also canceled.

For the safety of visitors and the campus community, the Office of Undergraduate Admission is not permitting campus visits for the summer or fall semester, and tours are not available at this time. The University encourages everyone to explore Princeton's campus remotely via the virtual visit section of the Admission website. The University will continue to monitor the situation and prioritize the health of the Princeton community, including prospective students, when deciding when to reinstate campus visit programs. Updates will be publicized on the Admission website.

Reported and written by Jamie Saxon and Emily Aronson, Office of Communications

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