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Student Fall Quarter Preparations

Dear Northwestern student,

We hope this message finds you healthy and well. As we prepare for the start of Fall, we want to share the most updated information about what you can expect so you are better able to make key decisions.

Northwestern has long been an institution focused on balancing a robust academic education with a vibrant and engaging student experience. This is still true, even during this global pandemic. You will be a full member of the Northwestern community, whether you study remotely or on campus, for what will undeniably be a Fall different from any other in our history.

For students who choose to study remotely, we expect:

  • Almost all classes will be remote, and most hybrid classes will offer a fully remote option. With very few exceptions, students will be able to make academic progress in their chosen area of study.
  • Advisors, peer study groups and other academic support services, such as The Writing Place, will be available remotely.
  • AccessibleNU, Northwestern Career Advancement, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of Equity, Undergraduate and Graduate Financial Aid, Campus Inclusion and Community and other student services also will be available remotely.
  • Student organizations will offer remote programming.
  • Several major campus events, including Homecoming, will be entirely remote.
  • Orientation programs and events will take place remotely, including Wildcat Welcome, peer advising groups, the student organizations fair and other activities.

For students who choose to come to campus to study, we currently expect the following:

  • You will begin the academic year with a two-week period when the Evanston campus will follow a modified quarantine similar to the Illinois “stay-at-home” order. This includes students living off-campus in the Evanston area.
  • Almost all classes will be remote. Some classes will meet in person, whether hybrid or entirely face-to-face.
  • The majority of academic support, student services, student organizations and major on-campus events will be the same for remote and in-person students, with some limited face-to-face additions.
  • Throughout campus, we will be observing health and safety guidelines, including six-foot physical distancing in study spaces, dining halls, residence hall common spaces and social spaces such as Norris.
  • Fitness and recreation will be remote during the modified quarantine period. Some opportunities for in-person fitness may be available later, in alignment with public health guidelines.
  • Orientation programs and events will take place remotely, including Wildcat Welcome, peer advising groups, the student organization fair and other activities.
  • Housing and dining will be available with restrictions that align with public health guidelines.
  • Students will be expected to follow all University health and safety protocols, which will include testing and daily symptom monitoring.
  • These plans could change as the pandemic evolves, and we continue to follow state and local regulations and public health advice.

As we all know, the environment for the pandemic shifts daily. Know that we are closely monitoring this evolving situation and working to address issues important to you. Below, please find additional information on each of these topics and even more information at the new COVID-19 Student page.

Modified Quarantine

Northwestern is requiring all students living on campus or in the Evanston area to participate in “Wildcat Wellness,” a two-week period Sept. 6-20 that is similar to the previously issued Illinois “stay at home” order. The goals of Wildcat Wellness are to:

  • Reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19;
  • Help students coming to the Evanston community for the Fall be better positioned to start the quarter healthy and well;
  • Create a clear and equitable way for our campus community to adhere to CDC and travel quarantine guidance for the local community; and
  • Be responsible members of our neighboring communities. 

If you arrive in Evanston after Sept. 6, your two-week Wildcat Wellness will begin upon arrival and will extend beyond the in-person component of classes beginning on Sept. 21. A period of coordinated testing will occur following students’ return to campus. Northwestern continues to refine the testing protocols, and testing-specific communications will follow as the details are finalized. Students, faculty and staff participating in Chicago programs must adhere to the city’s Emergency Travel Order.  

Community Expectations

It is critical that we each take responsibility for maintaining the health of our community. As a condition of returning to campus, students, faculty and staff are required to follow policies, protocols and guidance designed to protect everyone’s health. All students must:        

  • Complete Return to Campus training, which also is required for faculty and staff.
  • Review and agree to a revised set of community expectations in CAESAR in order to register for Fall classes.

Community members who violate these expectations may face disciplinary actions. For students, this could mean a range of responses from a reminder in cases of unintentionally not following guidance to separation from the University in severe cases of repeat offenses of intentionally disregarding expectations.

Specific information about training and community expectations will be emailed to you beginning next week.

For Incoming New Students

We are excited to welcome our newest Wildcats to Northwestern. The following resources are dedicated to incoming undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Undergraduate Students:
    • Our webinar series for parents and families of new first-year students is ongoing.
    • Northwestern’s Purple Prep program is available for undergraduate first-year and transfer students. The program provides a checklist of important to-dos and additional details about transitioning to the University community.
    • Wildcat Welcome, our undergraduate orientation program from Sept. 6 to 15, will be virtual and provide opportunities for new students to learn about Northwestern.

Housing, On and Off Campus

We understand that the residential experience is important for our students, as is the community experience for our off-campus students, for both our Evanston and Chicago campuses.

On-campus: Residential life will be different from in the past as we prioritize the health of the campus community. Students must wear a mask when they are not in their own room; no guests will be allowed in students’ rooms; common spaces will have limited furniture and reduced capacity; and students must observe social distancing when outside of their rooms. In cases of positive COVID-19 tests, or when a student is identified through contact tracing, on-campus students will be moved to quarantine or isolation housing, with monitoring and meals provided during that time.

  • Move-in for undergraduate students will be Sept. 6-9. Students will be asked to bring a limited number of personal items, in the event there is a need to de-densify quickly during the quarter. More information on this process will be sent to undergraduate students by Aug. 7.
  • Move-in for graduate students will occur between mid-August and mid-September. More information on this process will be sent to graduate students by Aug. 7.
  • Students will receive additional information about their initial COVID-19 test.
  • Residential Services sent an email earlier this week extending the on-campus housing cancellation deadline to Aug. 5 at noon CDT to allow additional time for your decision-making.

Off-campus: Northwestern is asking students who are living off campus in or near Evanston to be in the area by Sep. 9 to be in place for the community Wildcat Wellness time period. Off-campus students will receive additional information about COVID-19 testing. Students who test positive for COVID-19, or who are identified through contact tracing, will be required to quarantine or self-isolate in their off-campus housing or another location. The University will provide health monitoring to off-campus students in quarantine or isolation but will not provide housing or dining for those purposes. For those who live off campus in Chicago, students are expected to adhere to the city’s guidelines.

Dining Experiences

Your nutritional health is important, and our Northwestern Dining team is here for you. Dining options for the Fall will primarily be grab-and-go with limited in-person and socially distant seating available.

  • During the Wildcat Wellness period beginning Sept. 6, on-campus students will be assigned a “Home Dining Hall” where they can pick up meals during assigned meal times.
  • On-campus Home Dining Halls are currently planned to be Foster Walker, Sargent, Allison, Elder and Hinman. Norris University Center Food Court also will be open. Know that facilities have been adjusted and offerings changed to meet safety protocols.
  • After the end of Wildcat Welcome on Sept. 20, students may experience wait times from 20-30 minutes to get meals at Chicago and Evanston dining locations. To help alleviate the wait, mobile ordering, which can cut wait times considerably, will be available and encouraged.
  • For our Chicago locations – including Starbucks, Slice and Harry's – outlets will be open for limited hours Monday-Friday and will support mobile ordering.

Student Support Services

Northwestern continues to be here to support our students and help you thrive. As noted above, most student support services will be remote with limited face-to-face opportunities.

  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) continues to be available for students and is offering comprehensive tele-mental health services, including 24/7 access to crisis support, initial consultations, virtual gatherings and individual counseling. CAPS will offer very limited in-office appointments for specific critical needs. CAPS also provides access to Welltrack, an online mental health platform accessible to all students to use at any time, and a robust referral network of providers in the community.
  • University Health Services, in Evanston and Chicago, will continue to be fully operational with both in-person and tele-health services.
  • The Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid will be available virtually to answer questions and provide guidance. Available work-study positions will be posted for qualifying students this Fall, including remote opportunities. For work-study jobs, applications and interviews will take place in early September. Emergency aid programs will be available to help undergraduate students with emergency or unanticipated expenses that occur throughout the academic year.
  • Please check the COVID-19 Student webpage for more information about how other services will be delivered.

Student Organizations, Events, and Activities

Campus Life is actively preparing student organizations with guidelines for meetings and programs. Following are some examples of how we are working to keep all students connected to organizations and activities:

  • Northwestern’s Student Organizations and Activities office will host a virtual student organizations fair, and many registered student organizations will host interest meetings virtually.
  • We anticipate that student organizations will primarily hold virtual events with some in-person events, subject to University guidelines. For approval for any in-person events, student organizers of meetings and events must: submit a health and safety risk mitigation plan; take attendance and submit rosters for contact tracing purposes; and create pathways for remote, virtual participation.
  • Some University traditions and campus activities will continue in a modified or hybrid format with a mix of virtual and in-person experiences after the first week of classes. Expect weekly virtual and modified in-person programs in common spaces such as in residential buildings.
  • Campus Inclusion and Community (CIC), and the offices within CIC (Multicultural Student Affairs, Student Enrichment Services and Social Justice Education) will continue to support students with programming, resource support and educational training and workshops that will be primarily remote, with some limited in-person offerings.
  • Norris University Center will reimagine its physical spaces to serve academic and co-curricular events. The game room, recreational art programs and mini-courses will be modified.

Recreation and Competitive Sports

The Department of Recreation and Fitness has developed plans to provide in-person experiences for our students once the Wildcat Wellness period has passed:

  • Recreation and Fitness will provide cardio, weight training, personal training and Group Exercise classes as well as lap swimming and indoor tennis courts, in alignment with public health guidelines. All facility access and activities will require a reservation.
  • Starting Aug. 3 and through the Wildcat Wellness period, Recreation and Fitness will offer online live fitness classes students can do from their home environments. Access the schedule here.
  • Outdoor recreational spaces will be available according to guidelines. We are reviewing and developing what Intramural and Club sports will look like given evolving public health guidelines. 

Our Plans Could Change

As a core principle of our return-to-campus planning, we will put the health of our community first. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, we will continue to follow state and local regulations and the advice of our experts in medicine and public health, which means our plans may change. Any updates to these plans will be communicated through the Northwestern COVID-19 website.

In upcoming Return to Campus Discussion Series webinars, we'll share more about testing, travel, recreation and student services. Specifically, the Tuesday, Aug. 4, webinar will focus on health and safety. Registration for that webinar is now open. If you want to email or call about questions you have, please email or call 847-467-4111.

Again, we are excited to welcome our community home to Northwestern this Fall. We can’t wait to connect with you again, whether in-person, virtually or a mix of the two. 

With care,


Julie Payne-Kirchmeier
Vice President for Student Affairs

Kathleen Hagerty
Interim Provost and Professor