Fall 2020: What to Expect on Campus

Health Measures

To resume University activities in a way that limits the potential spread of SARS-CoV-2 and creates a COVID-19–ready campus, Columbia has instituted critical public health measures including face covering and mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, daily symptom checking and reporting, and enhancements to facilities such as maximizing fresh air, air filter replacement, and supplementary cleaning. To further mitigate the risk of transmission, these steps will be combined with comprehensive surveillance testing and rapid contact tracing.

Students, faculty, and staff coming to Columbia from states with high prevalence of COVID-19 or from outside the US will be required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, even with a negative test result. This is New York State’s current policy, and the only exceptions are essential workers. Also subject to the 14-day quarantine requirement are individuals identified as being a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

All Columbia students returning to campus will be required to sign the Columbia Community Health Compact, agreeing to follow prescribed public health protocols, as well as agreeing to participate in Columbia’s mandatory testing program. The testing program is free to students, and does not require insurance billing. All test results will be confidential and provided in a timely manner, ideally within 24-48 hours of specimen collection. Testing will be convenient and minimally intrusive for individuals being tested.

All students will have an initial “gateway” SARS-CoV-2 test within one day of arriving on campus. All graduate students, after their initial testing, will be randomly sampled for COVID-19, with an initial cohort of 5% each week during the semester; this frequency and sample size will be adapted based on key COVID-19 indicators. The frequency of the testing will be re-evaluated over time in view of the status of the epidemic in New York City and the campus.

Contact tracing is the essential counterpart to testing. Individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will be asked about people with whom they have had close contact (as defined by the Centers for Disease Control) while they may have been infectious. Without revealing the identity of the person diagnosed with COVID-19, we will notify these contacts of their potential exposure and ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days.

For more information, refer to the University’s new health protocols for testing, tracing, quarantine, and isolation.

Building & Classroom Protocols

  • All seats in classrooms will be spaced at least 6 feet apart, with 50 square feet of space around each person.
  • Hybrid classrooms will allow students in class and online to have comparable experiences.
  • All students must bring a laptop to class.
  • Class times will be staggered to reduce crowding in restrooms, stairways, and hallways.

Academic Calendar

As you already know, the coming academic year will follow a modified schedule. Please see here for the University's 2020-21 Academic Calendar. The GSAS Academic Calendar for 2020-2021, detailing important dates and deadlines specifically for Arts and Sciences graduate students, will be published on our website by the start of the fall term.


Some GSAS master’s programs will have earlier registration dates than those published. These students have received a message from the GSAS Office of Student Affairs with additional information and instructions.

Student Life

International Students

Any students who have questions or need support regarding their visas should contact the International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) for guidance.