Harvard College Spring 2021 Plan

December 1, 2020

Dear undergraduate students and faculty and staff colleagues,

We write today to announce our plans for the Spring 2021 undergraduate residential program at Harvard College.

In our planning for this academic year, we established a maximum residential density of no more than one student per bedroom. This density limit is a critical piece of our campus public health program to limit exposure and control transmission of the COVID-19 virus within our residential community. At this density, Harvard College has available a maximum number of 3,100 individual student bedrooms. For Spring 2021, we will pursue an approach that aims to utilize the entire bedroom capacity.

This spring, Harvard College seniors will be invited to campus and will be given first priority for housing. The following students will also be given housing priority:

  • Juniors who completed the Fall 2020 semester;
  • Students who were approved this fall to study in residence due to learning environment needs; 
  • Students who were approved to remain in housing beyond November 22;
  • Students who live in time zones four or more hours distant from Eastern Standard Time; and
  • Students (including first-year students and sophomores) who have learning environment needs for the spring term. 

Finally, juniors who were not enrolled or did not complete the Fall 2020 semester may apply for housing and will be accommodated to the greatest degree possible.  

All Harvard College students are required to submit the Spring term confirmation form by December 14th, 2020. Your response is considered your official intention for the semester.  Along with confirming your enrollment plans, this process will allow you to request on-campus housing. 

Of the three possible spring options announced in July, we have chosen the path that invites the largest number of students to learn in residence—a significant step forward on the path toward a full residential return. This decision reflects the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for the residential program this fall. Our campus maintained a COVID-19 positivity rate well below that of the surrounding greater Boston community and there has been no evidence of transmission among members of our undergraduate residential population. Our total cumulative positive cases among our residential community this fall was 38, fewer than we had anticipated (and prepared for) in the week of move-in alone. A single positive case is too many. Nevertheless, we are greatly encouraged by this outcome and grateful to the students in our campus community this fall who deserve enormous credit for it. With vigilance and resolve, they embraced Harvard’s public health protocols and put the community’s safety first. At the same time, they helped create a meaningful, supportive, and entirely unique residential experience under anything-but-ordinary circumstances. As we look ahead to spring, we value the partnership of these students who contributed in myriad ways to our efforts to strengthen and refine our pandemic adaptations.

While determining how many students would be invited to be in residence was driven in large part by public health considerations, the decision of which students to invite was guided entirely by our commitment to student academic progress. With many engaged in senior theses or other capstone projects, the academic priority of seniors has been clear for some time. What was revealed through consultation with faculty over the fall was just how vital the junior year is in setting the stage for those activities and the necessity of access to campus-based academic resources to support the launch of independent research. We also learned from our students in distant time zones about the challenges they face in their access to synchronous learning and other real-time academic engagement, such as office hours, study groups, and peer advising.  

It is essential for all students considering the invitation to be in residence to understand that the campus experience will be markedly different from the one they remember. One significant change is in our approach to housing assignments. In order to accommodate all students who have emerged as academic priorities and to maintain the level of density that our public health protocols demand, we will use our entire residential housing stock, including all Yard dorms. This means that students will not necessarily be living in their House. We made this difficult but necessary decision to respond to our academic priorities and to keep our community safe and healthy. We have grown our online Harvard community through the fall, bringing students together from across campus and across the world. This will continue to be an important part of the student experience this spring and a way of continuing House-based community activities.

Additionally, Harvard has developed a set of evidence-based, required public health practices for our campus-based community that are outlined in the Community Compact and have been updated for the spring semester. It is important that all students who are invited to be in residence for Spring 2021 read, understand, and be prepared to abide by the rules and guidelines outlined in the Community Compact in order to make an informed decision about residency. Core to the academic rationale for inviting seniors and juniors to be in residence this spring is their need to access campus-based academic resources. As public health circumstances allow, we will move quickly to provide students in residence access, in a phased approach, to academic facilities like libraries and research laboratories and to increase opportunities for campus-based academic engagement activities. Compliance with all required public health practices, including testing and Crimson Clear symptom attestation, will be essential factors in granting access. As outlined in the Handbook for Students, students on leave do not have access to campus activities or resources, with a few exceptions.

We know that this news will be particularly difficult for sophomores and their families as they confront the reality of a full academic year away from campus. We share their disappointment and are eager to bring sophomores, and our full student community, back as soon as possible. As was announced in the fall, all enrolled undergraduate students who will spend the full academic year 2020-21 learning remotely away from campus will be eligible to take two courses (eight credits) 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. The Office of Undergraduate Education is working with departments to ensure that academic offerings for sophomores are robust. We are working to restart the Undergraduate Research Village and are hoping to identify other summer opportunities as well. Please contact the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and the Office of Career Services to learn about upcoming programs, funding, and application deadlines.

Academic Calendar: For all enrolled students, instruction will continue to be fully remote for the remainder of the academic year. The 2020-21 academic calendar for all students has been updated to reflect that there will be five scheduled wellness days distributed across the term instead of spring break. To ensure that these short breaks are as restorative as possible, we ask that faculty and students treat them as real breaks for our entire community. Not only will classes not meet, but we also ask faculty to be mindful of scheduling major assignments and assessments on wellness days. These adjustments to course syllabi will be essential to accommodating this calendar and contributing to campus-wide well-being.

Move-in and move-out: As was the case in the fall, students coming to campus should pack lightly with the expectation that no storage will be available, and all items brought to campus will be taken home at the end of the residential program. More information about move-in and housing assignments will be available later in December. Move-in will be phased over several days to accommodate state-mandated testing and quarantine protocols. Similarly, move-out will be phased as well.  In addition, each student will need to complete a rapid move-out plan. The University is carefully monitoring the course of the pandemic as it looks ahead to Commencement. Plans will be confirmed based on public health conditions in the spring.

Financial Aid: Harvard will continue for the spring semester the financial aid adaptations that were introduced this fall.

Room and board for students learning from home: For enrolled students who are living away from campus and attending classes remotely, 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 at home. Standard room and board charges will be applied for students who are invited to live on campus, and financial aid budgets and awards will be adjusted to reflect students’ individual residential decisions.

Term-time work: As a part of our COVID-19 response, students receiving financial aid have been relieved of the term-time work expectation in the spring, replacing it with scholarship in the calculation of their financial aid award. This extraordinary measure recognizes the current challenges of finding work and the public health considerations of work that is not remote. This does not mean that students cannot or will not choose to work, but rather that there is no expectation of a work contribution to meet their cost of attendance. Aid awards already reflect this change for the year.

Athletics: This plan has implications for our Athletics program. While the Ivy League has not yet issued a decision regarding spring sports competitions beyond February, we recognize that any plan that does not aspire to return us to full density will necessarily place limits on what athletic activities are possible at Harvard this spring. An enhanced focus on wellness has been and will continue to be important for all members of our community. We are grateful for the leadership of the Department of Athletics, Harvard University Health Services’ Center for Health and Wellness, the Dean of Students Office, and other partnering organizations in developing new and innovative programs this year.

Spring Planning and Beyond: The extensive planning work that informed the approach to the fall semester was foundational. However, it was based on just a few months of experience adapting our teaching and learning mission to the pandemic and had the benefit of only limited data about the virus and how best to limit its transmission. We have used the last six months to learn, both about the virus and about how our campus adaptations have performed, and to consult with our students, faculty, medical advisors, and experts across a range of fields. Student coursework has also made important contributions to the evaluation of our pandemic response. We are bringing new insights gleaned from that work to the spring plan.

Beyond our campus, promising news regarding the development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines has encouraged us to begin to imagine a post-pandemic world. That said, not all signs are encouraging. We are making this announcement at a time when there are record-breaking numbers of positive cases across the country, with nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. recorded just in November. Careful campus planning is essential, but we realize that our institutional interventions are only part of the picture. Just as importantly, our spring plan must be ready to respond to this pandemic’s unpredictable course.

For that reason, our spring plan is just that, a plan. If circumstances continue to deteriorate across the nation, we are prepared to respond quickly with appropriate contingency plans that would reduce expected campus density before the start of the spring term. There is every indication that the pandemic will be with us for some time and with the pandemic comes uncertainty. As we look ahead to spring (and beyond), we must be prepared to change course and to do so quickly in order to keep our community safe and minimize disruption to our teaching and research mission.

We are sure you have many questions that we have not answered here. Detailed information about the spring semester can be found on the College’s Our Path Forward webpage. In addition, undergraduates will soon receive an invitation to a webinar where more information will be provided and questions can be addressed.

Stay safe and healthy,

Lawrence Bacow

Claudine Gay
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences 

Rakesh Khurana
Danoff Dean of Harvard College