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Student Fall 2020 Academic Update

Dear Students,

Commencement week is here, and we write to you with recognition that these are difficult, painful and uncertain times for our community and the nation, given the impact of both COVID-19 and ongoing racial injustice. We hope that you are healthy, finding time to rest and taking care of yourselves as much as possible. We are committed to providing you with information as decisions are made in order to help you prepare for the coming academic year, and we hope this message will help alleviate some uncertainty as it provides additional detail about our framework for the fall.

The University plans to welcome you back in the fall and is excited to do so. However, those of you who have left and will return to campus will find yourselves in a new and different environment, which may continue to change and evolve as the academic year progresses. The University is regularly updating its COVID-19 guidelines, which are designed to protect the health of our community and comply with changing federal, state and local guidance. We encourage you to review these guidelines and the information below, as this will give you a sense of expectations that will likely be in place in the fall and beyond. 

Additional information about Fall Term dates, class schedules and registration, community expectations, student housing, large events and activities, and student resources follow.

Early start to Fall Academic Terms

Northwestern will start our fall academic terms on a modified schedule, with most programs beginning earlier than planned: 

  • The Pritzker School of Law will begin its term earlier than usual, on Monday, August 24. Scheduled classes will end before the Thanksgiving break, which will be followed by a remote reading period. Final exams will be held remotely from December 5-17.
  • Most Fall Quarter classes will begin on Wednesday, September 16 (six days earlier than the typical start of term), and face-to-face, on-campus classes will end by Tuesday, November 24. Final exams will be held remotely between December 2 and December 8.
  • The Kellogg School of Management, which also operates on the quarter system, will begin classes on Saturday, September 19, and the school will follow a modified calendar during the academic year.
  • Northwestern University in Qatar and some programs at the Feinberg School of Medicine (MD, PT, PA, NUPOC) operate on their own calendars. Members of those communities will receive updates about fall plans directly from those schools as they become available. 

Class schedules and registration

We anticipate that a significant portion of fall instruction will be conducted remotely. Your schools and programs are committed to offering in-person curricular and co-curricular experiences, and we are working on how best to offer those while observing mandatory social distancing and other personal hygiene guidelines from the federal, state and local governments. We are also working on ways to provide enriching and rigorous academic experiences to students who cannot or who choose not to return to campus this fall. These decisions will be tailored to each discipline, school and department.

As the University Registrar told returning students last month, fall registration will begin in late July or August, with details coming from your school. By the time registration begins, class schedules will clearly identify which courses will have in-person components and which will be entirely remote. Your schools, programs and advisers will be available to support you as you craft your fall schedule. You will receive additional messages from your schools and programs about registration in the month ahead.

Community expectations

Prior to registration for the fall, you will receive a set of expectations for students returning to campus, and you will be asked to review and agree to them. For example, students, faculty and staff will be required to social distance, wear face coverings, frequently wash or sanitize their hands, regularly disinfect shared surfaces, self-isolate as appropriate, monitor their own health and participate in the University’s contact tracing efforts by reporting exposure to COVID-19. There will also be special considerations related to international travel, including that those returning to our campuses from other countries will likely be required to self-isolate upon their arrival. Moreover, the University is working to expand COVID-19 testing on campus.

Student housing

During the week of June 22, Residential Services will provide additional details to all students who currently have a signed housing contract in Evanston and to those who are required to live on the Evanston campus for the 2020-2021 academic year. Further information will include the University’s housing occupancy model for the upcoming year, updates on Residential Services’ cancellation policy and student move-in processes. Of note, students will be expected to confirm their intent to live on campus beginning the week of June 22. A form will be provided along with more information on what students can expect and will experience while living on campus. Importantly, all students who live on campus are expected to abide by Residential Services’ COVID-19 community standards. 

Large events and activities

Large community events will be reimagined using a number of different approaches and creative solutions so that our communities can engage with and support each other in innovative ways. We are discussing how to best provide rich and engaging experiences, and how to help guide our student organizations and Northwestern departments, programs and schools as they continue to provide important connections for our community.

Student resources

We want to remind you that support and services are still available to you during this time and that Northwestern has established multiple options for virtual connection and community. CAPS, CARE, the Office of Equity and Health Service are meeting with students, and the Dean of Students Office continues to provide support for students and families. In addition, university-wide resources such as Northwestern Career Advancement, the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, Religious and Spiritual Life and Campus Inclusion and Community remain engaged and continue to offer their services, as do the student support resources available to you in your schools and programs. We urge you to reach out as needed. We know many students have continued to seek resources and support during this time of remote instruction, and these services—and we, the staff and faculty who support you—will be here for you this summer should you need us.

We assume and hope that all students will enroll in the fall – either in person or remotely.  However, if you know for sure that you are not planning to do so, please contact your school’s registrar.

We hope this information is helpful to you. If you have questions, please contact our Return to Campus team, and we will work to get you the answers you need. Thank you for your patience, resilience and cooperation as we continue our plans to create a positive experience this fall. We look forward to seeing you again as soon as possible.



Kathleen Hagerty
Interim Provost and Professor 

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier
Vice President for Student Affairs