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Planning for 2020-21

Jun 29 2020

Dear undergraduates, 

This is the first in a series of weekly newsletters for undergraduates, titled “Re-Approaching Stanford,” through which we will convey further updates, important timelines and action items as we prepare for the academic year 2020-2021. Students’ families will also receive these updates via the newsletter for parents and guardians today, and will receive further updates directly from us.

We know that you have been eagerly awaiting news of which class years will be on campus for which quarters. Thank you for your patience as we sorted through and balanced the many considerations, including your responses to the ASSU survey. As the president and provost communicated earlier this month, we will be inviting about half of our undergraduates to campus for each quarter in academic year 2020-2021, and frosh will be invited back in the fall and seniors in the spring, assuming that this is allowed by health officials at the time. 

Consultation and feedback

We deeply appreciate the many students, faculty, staff and family members who contributed to our thinking and the ASSU for their highly informative survey of undergraduate students on this topic. Your ideas and expressions of concern were central to our decision process. The following factors were particularly important in determining the plan below:  

  • Ensuring that students who need to be on campus for their personal safety, academic success or other special circumstances are able to have the support the campus provides.
  • Most students asked to be on campus with students in their cohort year, rather than organized by some other rubric.
  • Many students also asked to be on campus with students in close proximity to their cohort year.
  • Because of their proximity to graduation, seniors and many juniors have the least flexibility in course choices.  
  • Summer following junior year is a critical time for internships, research, public service projects, or honors thesis work.   
  • Spring graduation makes it impractical for seniors to be on campus in summer.  

Class cohorts in residence for Academic Year (AY) 2020-2021

Based on these considerations, we are inviting back two class cohorts each quarter, with the following four-quarter plan:

Autumn 2020
New Transfer Students*

Winter 2021

Spring 2021

Summer 2021


*New transfer students entering as sophomores will be on campus autumn and summer. New transfer students entering as juniors will be on campus autumn and can select winter or spring as their second in-person quarter. Those transfer students and non-traditional undergraduates who are approved to live in graduate housing will be able to live on campus for all four quarters.

Here, cohort year is defined by year of entry into Stanford.  This means:

  • Sophomore = started at Stanford autumn 2019
  • Junior = started at Stanford autumn 2018
  • Senior = started at Stanford autumn 2017 or earlier
  • Continuing transfer students are assigned according to the cohort year of their entry to Stanford.

If you are unsure of your cohort year, please consult with your academic advising director.   

Co-Terms (updated June 30):

  • Co-terms who still have eligibility for undergraduate housing are eligible to live on campus when their undergraduate class cohort does. 

  • Co-term students who are in their fifth year or beyond, and have exhausted their four-year eligibility for undergraduate housing, are considered graduate students for housing purposes and cohort restrictions do not apply to them.

We realize that this schedule will be challenging to everyone, and especially to frosh and sophomores who have a two-quarter gap between their on campus quarters. We will be paying special attention to helping them consider how best to arrange their schedules, and what options are available for their quarter off-campus.

  • We are creating special experiences for the frosh and sophomore cohorts when they are on campus this autumn and summer, as well as community building and support during quarters away from campus.  
  • We are developing a number of public service, internship and job shadowing opportunities that all students may apply for and participate in during their quarters away from campus.
  • We are working on policies for undergraduate research throughout the academic year, including summer.

As with all planning for next academic year, this plan is dependent on our ability to safely reopen in alignment with county orders and with the guidance of public health officials. We may change this plan if there is a surge in COVID cases, or if there is, for example, a vaccine that allows us to bring more students to campus safely. For those of you purchasing airline tickets, we encourage you to wait to purchase a ticket and/or purchase a refundable ticket to ensure flexibility.

Students with special circumstances

In addition to the quarterly cohort assignments, we will have limited housing available for undergraduates of all class years who may need to reside on campus outside of their cohort’s designated quarters. Special circumstances may include international students who may face travel or visa complications; students experiencing homelessness; students with home environments that prevent them from being able to participate in a remote learning environment or are unsafe; student-athletes approved to prepare for and compete in their intercollegiate seasons; and other special needs. 

We will announce a process through which you may request consideration for these specially reserved spaces. We expect this process to be available for application in early July, with notifications of eligibility to return to housing outside of the assigned class cohort quarters going out in late July. Please note that student requests for these spaces may exceed available housing, and we would then need to prioritize according to student need. 

Housing locations 

Undergraduates will be housed in the following residences next year: all residences with resident fellows; Suites; Mirrielees; and the new Escondido Village Graduate Residences Building A. The Studio 2 building in Escondido Village will house students (graduate and undergraduate) required to quarantine, and Row houses (except Muwekma-Tah-Ruk, which will continue to house the Native American ethnic theme dorm) will serve as isolation housing for undergraduate and graduate students who have tested positive for COVID-19. Ujamaa, Casa Zapata and Okada will also continue next year as ethnic theme dorms. As communicated in the president and provost’s June 3 email, all undergraduate housing will operate at reduced capacity to ensure physical distancing and other public health measures. All undergraduate residents will be assigned to singles or two-room doubles.  

Again, this is our current plan for autumn quarter housing, but evolving circumstances will determine if plans need to change for subsequent quarters.  

Information about the housing assignment process will be conveyed in the coming weeks.  

Student choices

We know that you will have many questions about the enrollment decisions you will need to make. We are working hard to make sure we have all the answers in place, and some things, such as leave of absence policies, are still being finalized. However, we can share these things now:

  • Students can choose any three quarters in which to enroll, with the exception of frosh and new transfer students who must enroll in autumn quarter.
  • Students may only come to campus during their two assigned in-person quarters and they must be enrolled during these quarters. No student is required to return to Stanford for an in-person quarter.  
  • Students with special circumstances who are approved to reside on campus outside of their cohort’s designated quarters must be enrolled during these quarters, with the possible exception of summer 2021, when there may be a limited number of beds on campus for students who are not frosh or sophomores.  
  • Undergraduate students must live on campus in student housing in order to attend on-campus classes or participate in any on-campus activities.
  • For students who are eligible, financial aid will be available for three quarters of enrollment.

While we very much look forward to welcoming undergraduates back to campus, we need to be clear about what you should expect: The safeguards we will need to implement will fundamentally change the student experience. We are working with a group of students this summer to start creating ways to help students get acquainted and spend time with friends; however, there will be significant restrictions on in-person classroom use, dorm life, social life, guests and travel. For example: 

  • It is highly unlikely that campus events and parties will be allowable, and even smaller gatherings could be limited. 
  • Face coverings will be required whenever students leave their rooms, including in dorm common areas, dining halls and everywhere on campus. 
  • COVID testing, contact tracing, and quarantine/isolation will become a regular part of student life.  
  • As we discuss below, we expect the vast majority of courses to be on-line, even for students living on campus. 
  • Given the need to house a new cohort after autumn and spring quarters, and the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage students to only bring essential items, things they can carry on their own if the need arises.  

We know this is difficult news. However, these are essential steps that we need to take to protect the health and safety of all students, instructors and staff who live and work in your residences, dining centers and throughout campus.  

Academic planning

As previously announced, autumn quarter will begin on September 14, 2020. Other dates in the academic calendar, including the end of autumn, and the start and end dates for winter, spring and summer, will be announced shortly, pending Faculty Senate approval.

To ensure that all students have access to the necessary classes for their academic progress, we expect most, if not all, courses to be online for the 2020-2021 academic year. Registration for autumn quarter classes will begin on September 1. The academic calendar for AY2021 will be updated periodically on the registrar’s website; please continue to check back. In preparation for autumn, we’re taking the following steps:

  • Academic programs and departments are examining how to adjust course schedules in alignment with the on-campus cohort plan above. You should expect that there will be some changes to the quarter in which a course is typically offered. Regardless of which cohort you are in, we will be revising our offerings over the four quarters to ensure that you will be able to make appropriate progress towards your degree.
  • Your Academic Advisor in VPUE (Academic Advising Director or AARC Advisor) is available to help you plan for and enroll in your three academic quarters. You are invited to reach out to your Academic Advising Director or AARC Advisor if you would like to discuss academic planning.
  • We recognize that international students face particular challenges, and we will provide specific information on international student enrollment shortly.

Things we’re still working on

We are continuing to plan for a range of other housing and academic details in preparation for the academic year, and we will send updates through the weekly “Re-Approaching Stanford” newsletter as decisions are finalized in each of these areas. These include:

  • Determining move-in dates for early September and a move-in process that is consistent with physical distancing and other requirements.
  • Designing housing assignment processes to accommodate the cohort plan above. We expect the housing assignment process to begin in late July, with housing assignments communicated by the end of August. 
  • Planning student residential staffing assignments in alignment with the new cohort system and reduced campus capacity. Student staff will receive additional communication from ResEd in the coming days.
  • Ensuring continuity and vibrant engagement for student organizations, including fraternity and sorority life, to ensure organizations can continue despite the restrictions of physical distancing.
  • Determining the grading policy for the academic year. 
  • Developing processes for required testing, contact tracing and quarantine/isolation.
  • Determining and addressing what supports are needed by our international student community.
  • As mentioned above, working to put in place a leave of absence policy that aligns with the changes for the 2020-2021 academic year.

We value your feedback

We’d like to close by acknowledging the uncertainty of the weeks and months ahead. The changing conditions of COVID may require that we modify our plans between now and September and throughout the year. We will continue to communicate as conditions evolve. There is no doubt that our next year together is going to be unusual, and not what any of us have planned. 

Together, we are a creative and resourceful community, and our collective energy can lead to innovations that may be helpful even under normal circumstances. We encourage you to join us in this planning process to contribute to our next steps.  To get involved and/or share your ideas, please go here. If you have any questions, please submit a ServiceNow ticket here.


Susie Brubaker-Cole
Vice Provost for Student Affairs

Sarah Church
Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Professor of Physics
Pritzker University Fellow in Undergraduate Education