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Looking Ahead: FAQs for 2020-2021


Are any students permitted to live on campus right now?

Students who had been approved for full-year housing due to special circumstances will be contacted by Columbia Housing later today, with updates regarding the status of their housing assignment.

Decisions about spring will be made as soon as we are able, pending public health recommendations.

Will students who are living off campus in the fall be allowed to return in the spring?

Columbia will continue to monitor public health guidelines and the pandemic’s global trajectory to determine whether we can bring students into Columbia Housing in the spring. More news will be shared about that in the coming months.

Can returning students elect to take a voluntary leave of absence?

Continuing students must consult with their adviser in the Berick Center for Student Advising for any questions regarding taking either a voluntary medical leave of absence or a voluntary personal leave of absence. Prior to matriculation, all incoming students must consult with Admissions about delaying their attendance.

We know a concern of students considering taking a voluntary personal leave of absence is whether or not they can secure housing upon their return. While Columbia cannot guarantee housing for students who take a voluntary leave of absence, we have historically been able to accommodate most students who need housing upon their return. We will continue to make every effort to secure housing for students returning from a voluntary leave, but this process would occur, as it does now, after first assigning all students with guaranteed housing status. It’s important to note that if we see a significant increase in students interested in taking a leave due to COVID-19, we would likely experience greater housing and enrollment constraints in subsequent semesters and years.

Students who take a voluntary leave of absence before the start of a semester would continue to be eligible for financial support upon their return, subject to the standard review of their financial aid application materials. Students who initiate their leave after a semester begins may require some adjustment to their aid and should reach out to Financial Aid when they plan their return to campus. We encourage any student with questions about this process to be in touch with Financial Aid to discuss their individual circumstances.


Will there be a change to the academic calendar?

No, the 2020-2021 academic calendar will remain the same.

Will classes be recorded for students in other time zones?

Faculty are sensitive to the concerns of students who may be studying in time zones that are quite distant from New York City, and they are considering the use of asynchronous materials so that students can access course content at different times of day. Faculty will make individual decisions about the ways that they will deliver their classes (for example, some faculty will record class meetings or lectures, while others may not — the decision is that of the individual faculty member). You can learn more about the synchronous and asynchronous elements of a course by looking at the course’s syllabus when it is posted on CourseWorks and by attending the first class session. (Information will be shared next week on the online process for the “shopping period” at the beginning of the semester.) You should also talk with your advisers about any concerns you have about your schedule of classes and your access to course meetings and materials.

How can I participate effectively in online courses?

The University has created a resource site for students that offers strategies and tips for a successful experience in online courses. You should also talk with the instructor of each course about the different ways in which you can participate effectively in online class meetings and assignments.

Students should consider whether they have the necessary technology to participate effectively in online courses. Students should have access to a computer with a camera, and with a laptop sized screen (on which they can see participants in a Zoom session as well as view presentations and access the chat function) and on which they can download required PDF files and other required course materials. Please note that a smartphone alone will not provide the adequate capability needed to engage fully in your online courses. It is recommended you view the syllabi of the courses that you plan to take to see what requirements your instructors may have.

Please note that his technology does not have to be at the highest and most expensive end of the spectrum; there are many low-cost laptops as well that can provide these capabilities. If you are worried about the cost of the technology required to engage successfully in your online classes, please let your adviser know right away.

Will I be able to participate in research on campus?

Effective September 1, 2020, Columbia undergraduates may participate in in-person laboratory activities on campus, in accordance with the following general principles:

  1. Undergraduates may spend time in a research laboratory pursuant to plans that are developed by principal investigators (PIs) and approved by their school, department or institute as part of its overall research ramp-up effort.

  2. Undergraduates must complete the Safe Research at Columbia training, and must comply with the University’s COVID-19 Public Health Protocols and any requirements that have been put in place in the relevant laboratory and school, department or institute, including following scheduling assignments, physical distancing, wearing a face covering, and other critical requirements.

  3. As is always the case, undergraduates must also complete any trainings required by the specific type of research being conducted, including, e.g., any required Environmental Health and Safety trainings.

What will I have access to in the Summer 2021 academic term?

Summer 2021 will be considered an official part of the 2020-2021 academic year, but the policies that usually apply to Summer terms in any year -- which are different from those policies that apply to Fall and Spring semesters -- will apply this year as well. While students can take as few summer credits as they like, students can earn a maximum of 8 points of credit in Summer A and a maximum of 8 points of credit in Summer B, for a maximum of 16 points of summer credit in Summer.

If a student is enrolled in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, and then enrolls in Summer coursework at Columbia, that student will be eligible for tuition-free credits in Summer 2021 for the amount of credits that bring the student to 40 points of credit for the academic year. For example, if a student completes 13 credits in Fall and 16 credits in Spring, that student would be eligible to take up to 11 credits of Summer coursework tuition-free to reach the 40 credits covered in the year’s tuition. Students may exceed 40 credits for the year through Summer coursework, but will be charged tuition for each point of credit beyond the year’s maximum total of 40 points.

These policies for Summer 2021 apply to seniors who are graduating in 2021, as well as to continuing students. There will be three degree conferral dates for seniors graduating in 2021, depending on their intent to take coursework in Summer 2021: May 2021, June 2021, or October 2021.

  • Students who apply for the May 2021 conferral date and complete all requirements by the end of Spring 2021 are not eligible for Summer courses.

  • Students who apply for the June 2021 conferral date are eligible for courses in Summer A only, whether or not they have completed all degree requirements by the end of Spring 2021. They must complete all degree requirements by the end of Summer A.

  • Students who apply for the October 2021 conferral date are eligible for Summer A and Summer B and Summer (full) courses, whether or not they have completed all degree requirements by the end of Spring 2021 or by the end of Summer A. They must complete all degree requirements by the end of Summer B.

  • Seniors are subject to all others policies regarding Summer coursework noted above.


Are there any adjustments to tuition for 2020-2021?

We recognize how challenging this time is for many in our community. In response, with the approval of President Bollinger and the Board of Trustees, Columbia will absorb the previously communicated 2% tuition increase, bringing the 2020-2021 undergraduate tuition rate flat to last year's value.

In addition, for students on financial aid, the College will waive all student employment expectations for the fall semester, in recognition that students will not have the typical on- or off-campus work opportunities available.

Will financial aid change?

Students who were planning to live in residence but must now remain off-campus will have their financial aid award recalculated to reflect their revised costs. This will include removing Room and Meal Plan costs as well as travel allocations for those who will no longer be on-campus. These changes will include an off-campus living allowance of $4,000 per semester to help with living and technology expenses related to remote learning.

How do I know if I have a work study allocation?

Review your most recent Financial Aid eligibility letter. If it doesn’t list Federal Workstudy, you can reach out to the Financial Aid and Educational Financing office to see if you can be awarded Federal Workstudy

Can I appeal to get a federal work study allocation?

Eligibility requirements for Federal Workstudy are set by the US Department of Education However, you can reach out to the Financial Aid and Educational Financing office to see if there may be a possibility of becoming eligible.

If I accept a Columbia casual student job will that impact my financial aid grant?

No, any earnings from casual employment do not affect your financial aid package.

If I have paid for fall term, will there be any adjustment?

Adjustments will be made on student accounts and if a student’s aid and payments exceed their revised charges plus any prior balance, if applicable, then the excess credit will be refunded to the student. Students are encouraged to set up direct deposit for refunds on SSOL to reduce any delays with this process. Instructions for setting up Direct Deposit can be found on the SFS website.

My family’s financial situation has changed. Can I still apply for financial aid?

If your family’s financial situation has changed significantly from what was originally reported in your application materials, please follow the steps below:

  • If you have already received your eligibility letter for 2020-2021, please submit a financial aid appeal. Instructions for financial aid appeal are available.

  • If you have not received your eligibility letter for 2020-2021, you can submit your financial aid appeal after you receive your initial eligibility letter.


Will juniors and seniors still be able to return to campus in the spring?

It is our hope that we will be able to welcome back juniors and seniors in the spring but we must continue to monitor public health guidance to confirm this plan. We anticipate knowing more about this by November and will share updates as soon as we are able.


What type of dining services will remain in place for students approved to remain on campus?

Columbia Dining will continue to be open, with appropriate health and safety considerations. Meal plans remain available.

Campus Access and Services

Will students have any access to campus facilities?

Six of the Columbia libraries will open on Monday, August 31, to provide study space for students. Seats in the study space must be reserved in advance, and students must follow all Covid-related health protocols. Books and other library materials that are available to check out will be available through the Libraries’ “pick-up service.” More details are available on this page of the Libraries website.

Dodge Fitness Center will remain closed until further notice.

Can students who are living off-campus nearby still enter campus?

All students, whether living in campus residence halls or off campus, must complete all training and testing and must abide by public health protocols relative to the Covid-19 response of the University, which are outlined on this page of the University’s Covid-19 Resource Guide for the Columbia Community. Only students who have met these requirements will have swipe access to campus facilities.

Buildings will be secured (i.e., locked) and available only by swipe access. Access to residential halls by students will be limited only to the residence hall to which a student is assigned to live. Students should have swipe access to the other buildings on campus that they can typically enter during the year, although some buildings may have limited hours in the Fall semester.

Many PawPrint stations will be open to students and will employ contactless stations; when students swipe their ID/badge at the station, all print jobs associated with their unis will then automatically be sent to a printer.

Health and Safety Protocols

Does Columbia have a community compact?

Columbia upholds and enforces the Community Health Compact for any Columbia affiliate who interacts with campus, including the limited number of students who will live in Columbia Housing as well as any students who may access campus while living elsewhere.

How do I stay informed about the health of my community?

The University now offers a COVID-19 Testing Surveillance dashboard with updated statistics on testing across the Morningside campus.

Are flu shots mandatory?

The flu vaccine is mandatory for students coming onto campus this academic year (and must be obtained before October 30, 2020 or prior to arriving on campus), and strongly recommended for all other members of the Columbia community. 

You can book an appointment on the Patient Portal. Appointments will take place in Lerner Hall.

Students on the Columbia Student Health Insurance Plan can get a flu vaccine at their local pharmacy or primary care provider. There is no co-payment, unless you request a high-dose flu vaccine. 

Remember to upload your documentation to Patient Portal by October 30, 2020. 

For more details on this process, please visit Columbia Health’s flu website.