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Message to Students: Your Northwestern Academic Experience in the Fall

Dear Northwestern students,

We look forward to welcoming you in the fall, whether you are enrolled in remote or in-person classes. Faculty, advisers and staff are busy preparing for the new term, and as we do so, we are prioritizing your health and that of the rest of our community while also keeping in mind the importance of your ability to make progress toward your Northwestern degree.

When the pandemic began we promised to be transparent about our plans and to share them with you as soon as we could. In that spirit, we write with updated information to help you imagine what your Northwestern academic experience will be during Fall Quarter. Please read to the end, review the links and ask questions if you have them. Contact information is included in each section.

Teaching Modes, Class Schedules and Registration

You recently received an email from the University Registrar outlining class schedule publication and registration timelines. Our basic class offerings, including the teaching mode of each class, are now published on the class descriptions website. As a reminder, the full class schedule will be available in CAESAR the week of August 10. Please note that class information may change between now and when registration begins, but we hope this early look helps you solidify your plans.

As the University Registrar previously communicated, we have identified the mode of instruction for each section. Most Fall classes will be remote. These will be clearly marked as synchronous or asynchronous. The small number of classes that will meet exclusively in-person will be tagged as “face to face.” Courses that will offer a combination of remote and in-person learning are identified as “hybrid,” many of which will be paired with a remote section. Students who expect to come to campus should register for the hybrid section to clearly indicate to faculty your availability for in-person meetings. If you are not able to attend in person, you should register for the remote section. If your plans change within the add period, you will be able to swap from one section, or mode of instruction, to the other, space permitting.

Contact the Office of the Registrar, your adviser or program leadership with questions about teaching modes, class schedules and registration.

Grading and Enrollment Deadlines 

After careful consideration and upon receiving significant faculty and student input, we are returning to quality (letter) grades for the Fall term. In the spring, we made emergency changes to our grading systems and requirements as a result of the need for a rapid transition to remote coursework. However, we have heard from many in our community that they are eager to return to traditional grading, an approach we have already implemented for Summer classes.  

At the same time, we recognize that our public health challenges are far from over and will offer continued flexibility in response. Please review the adjusted drop, withdrawal and grading option (Pass/Not Pass) deadlines on the academic calendar, which have been extended.

Contact the Office of the Registrar with questions about grading and enrollment deadlines.

Health and the Classroom 

As we have communicated previously, most recently on July 9, Northwestern classrooms, labs and other learning spaces will look different in the Fall, and will require new practices and behaviors. Everyone must observe six-foot physical distancing when entering, occupying and exiting campus spaces, including classrooms. Northwestern also will require those on campus to complete daily symptom surveys. Face coverings will be required inside university buildings, with disposable options available at designated building entries. Hand sanitizing stations will also be placed in high traffic areas.

The passing period between classes has been expanded from 10 to 20 minutes to allow students and faculty to fully exit a room before members of the next class enter. Building systems will optimize airflow and we will enhance cleaning protocols. Instructors and students will be expected to disinfect their own work areas upon entry into their rooms using cleaning materials available in the classroom. Excess classroom furniture will be removed to reflect revised occupancy limits, which in most cases will be 20-30% of normal capacity. You can also expect assigned seating to aid in contact tracing.  

Visit the COVID-19 and Campus Updates website to find additional information about how we are planning to return to and manage instructional spaces.

Return Requirements

Earlier communications have stressed the important role we all must play in helping to safeguard the health of our Northwestern community. Each student, faculty and staff member must complete Return to Campus training and all students will also be required to review and agree to a revised set of community expectations in CAESAR in order to register for Fall classes. Watch your Northwestern email for further details about these requirements.

We will also need new information from you to plan effectively for the Fall. In early August we will ask if you plan to come to campus in-person. If you do not plan to come to campus, we will ask the time zone from which you plan to study. You can update this information as often as you need. We will use this data to inform the plans of campus service providers and others, such as advisors and faculty, who will support you as you continue your studies. 

The University’s COVID-19 and Campus Updates website is regularly updated and continues to be your primary reference for information about the phased return to campus. 

As we said at the beginning of this note, many people are working tirelessly to prepare for your Fall studies. We need your attention to these important details and your commitment to promoting a healthy community to make this transition a success. In the coming weeks you’ll hear from your school or program with specific details about their academic plans, and from other campus leaders about how student life will take shape remotely and on campus. We’ll also share additional information about study space on campus, and how and when you may access student support and services in Fall.  

In addition, we invite you to join in our weekly Return to Campus Discussion Series to hear directly from campus leaders. Tomorrow’s session will focus on our academic plans. Future sessions will address testing and contact tracing, research, and the student experience. While we will have more to share with you in the weeks ahead, we hope that this information helps to fill in the picture of your Northwestern experience.  

As always, we invite you to review the University’s robust COVID-19 and Campus Updates site for additional information and answers to your questions. If you do not find what you need, the Resources page is an excellent place to start, and our Return to Campus team is monitoring email and phones to help connect you to the right information.

Be well, 


Kelly Mayo
Interim Associate Provost for Graduate Education, 
Dean of The Graduate School and Professor

Miriam Sherin
Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Professor