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Undergraduate Students: More Information to Make Decisions About Fall Quarter

Dear undergraduate students,

On Friday, Northwestern outlined changes to its Return to Campus plan, designed to reduce the number of people on campus this fall. We know this was difficult and stressful news for many of you to receive. As those changes underscore, our first priority remains your health and safety — and the health and safety of our entire community.

To help you make critical decisions about Fall Quarter — such as whether or not to return to campus — we want to update you with additional details about several topics we highlighted in Friday’s message. Among the updates are information about the on-campus housing exceptions process, the change in the deferral deadline, emergency aid for students who incur additional travel expenses because of the new fall plans, expectations for student conduct in and around campus, changes to the Wildcat Wellness period and changes to our testing program. 

Please read this carefully. In some cases, noted below, decisions must be made quickly — within days.

Fall On-Campus Housing Exception

First- and second-year undergraduate students who need the option of on-campus housing this fall can apply online now. You will be prompted to select from a list of reasons why you require on-campus housing and will have the opportunity to briefly provide context for the selection. 

Applications must be submitted no later than 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, Sept. 1. Requests will be reviewed by a team of academic and Student Affairs professionals and advisors. Residential Services will reply to approve or deny requests by Friday, Sept. 4. Specific housing assignments will be sent the following week.

Third- and fourth-year undergraduate students who planned to live in fraternity or sorority housing and would like to live in a residence hall this fall also must apply online no later than 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, Sept. 1 and will receive a response by Friday, Sept. 4.

Third- and fourth-year undergraduate students and graduate students with housing contracts who still plan to live on campus need not take any action. Those who have decided to live off-campus may cancel their housing contract for Fall Quarter without penalty here until 11:59 p.m. CDT Sept. 1.

Deferral Deadline

Incoming undergraduate students can request a one-quarter deferral, to begin their studies in Winter Quarter 2021. Such requests must be made to by Sept. 5, which is an extension of the Sept. 3 date announced previously. Admissions can no longer consider year-long deferrals at this time. We encourage you to review the FAQs here for options and next steps.

Please note that first-year undergraduate students who defer until Winter Quarter may find it difficult to make progress in fundamental required sequence courses if they do not complete the Fall Quarter. If you are considering this option, it is essential to speak with an academic advisor. First-year undergraduates can find information about contacting the advising office in their school on the New Student & Family Services website. Second-year undergraduate students should reach out to their existing advisors. Students who defer until Winter 2021 will still be required to attend virtual Wildcat Welcome orientation activities Sept. 7–15. 

Emergency Aid

As was the case in the spring when COVID-19 forced us to change our plans and reduce the number of people on campus, we will help students who incur extra travel expenses caused by the changes announced Friday. To qualify for the emergency funding, you must be a recipient of need-based financial aid and you will need to provide basic documentation to show the extra expenses you encountered. For more information, contact Undergraduate Financial Aid. Emergency funds will be available beginning Sept. 9.

Community Expectations

As COVID-19 cases increase in suburban Cook County — as well as at universities across the country — we believe it is more important than ever to be explicit about our expectations heading into the new academic year. While there will be fewer people on campus this fall, and most students will take courses remotely, the need for everyone — faculty, students and staff — to practice behaviors that will thwart the spread of the virus is paramount. 

To slow the spread of the virus, protect our community and give us the best chance to return to campus activities more quickly, we must all uphold and abide by our shared community expectations. These include wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, limiting gatherings and events, and adhering to testing, tracing and health-monitoring protocols. Educational resources, such as training, discussions and a new peer education program are designed to further inform our community of expected behaviors. 

When expectations are not met, the University will take swift action. The COVID-19 and Campus Updates website outlines how Northwestern will address the range of non-compliant behaviors. Reported isolated, low-level incidents, such as failure to wear a face covering, will result in a University response. The most severe cases, such as hosting a gathering that does not comply with expectations, could lead to suspension or expulsion. We encourage all members of our community to remind each other of these expectations. In instances where we are unable to hold each other accountable with a friendly reminder or a conversation about these expectations, there are resources available for members of the Northwestern community to report concerns.

  • NU Help: To report a concern about specific and credible student behaviors or concerns that might be in violation of University policy.
  • EthicsPoint: To report concerns that might involve misconduct or violations of University Policies by non-student members of the University community.

Expectations, education and reporting mechanisms for faculty and staff are delivered through schools, departments and Human Resources, respectively.

Wildcat Wellness Changes

For those students returning to campus this Fall Quarter, we are refining some of our previously stated safety plans, including the details of Wildcat Wellness, the two-week modified quarantine period that will start Sept. 6 for off-campus and early move-in on-campus students, and Sept. 12 for other on-campus students. 

Based on guidance from medical experts and the current public health landscape, we enhanced the modified quarantine period for the small number of undergraduates living on campus and all undergraduates living off campus. Specifically, we will move through Wildcat Wellness in three stages:

  • Stage A – Arrival Testing Period: During the undergraduate arrival testing period, students must remain in their on-campus room or off-campus residence until they receive the results of their on-campus arrival test, most likely two or three days after testing. Students must limit social interactions, avoiding any non-roommate in-person social interactions during this period. For students living on campus, meals will be delivered to residence halls, and students must dine in their rooms.
  • Stage B – Post-Arrival Testing Period: After students receive negative results on their arrival tests, they will transition into the second period of Wildcat Wellness. In this stage, students may leave their on-campus room or off-campus residence only to perform the narrow set of previously communicated allowed activities. Students must return to their residences and rooms no later than 7 p.m. daily and remain there until 7 a.m. the following morning. For students living on campus, meals will be delivered to residence halls, and students must dine in their rooms.
  • Stage C – In-Person Activity: As previously communicated, at the conclusion of the Wildcat Wellness period, in-person activities will begin on Sept. 21 for those students who are not in quarantine or isolation. Any in-person activity must adhere to community expectations regarding wearing face coverings and maintaining six-foot physical distancing.

All undergraduate students, whether living in residence halls or off campus, must comply with these requirements. Detailed information about each stage can be found on the Wildcat Wellness website.

Testing Program

In light of the changes impacting the number of students in the residence halls, Northwestern also is adjusting its testing protocols for the Fall Quarter. Students approved to live in the residence halls will be tested weekly, as previously planned. For third- and fourth-year undergraduate students living off-campus — but planning to access campus for classes or other purposes — testing frequency will be increased. 

Any first- or second-year undergraduate student who does not receive an exception to live in campus housing but elects to come to Evanston anyway will not be tested as part of the recurring protocol. They will not have access to campus facilities or buildings, other than Northwestern University Health Service (NUHS) where they may be tested if they have COVID-19-like symptoms or are identified as a close contact to a known positive case.  

As we stated in Friday’s message, first- and second-year undergraduate students will not be allowed on campus, and we discourage these students from coming to the Evanston area until Winter Quarter.

The final testing protocols will be established once a final Fall Quarter census is completed.

Thank you

We know this is a lot of information for you to process, and we know that many of you are disappointed in our decision to reduce density by not allowing first- and second-year undergraduates to come to campus this fall. We also know this news came late; however, this pandemic has created a dynamic situation. The recent local positive case trend and other factors prompted this necessary change. We truly appreciate your patience, your partnership and your understanding.

Please visit our COVID-19 and Campus Updates website regularly, as it is updated with new information and is home to important FAQs, resources and guidance. You can also connect with our COVID-19 resource center at and 847-467-4111, if you have questions. 

Our goal remains to provide you with the best possible learning and living experience in a way that prioritizes the health of our community. For those of you who will spend the fall in the Evanston area, we appreciate your commitment to fighting the spread of the pandemic.

No matter where we are in the world, we are in this together.


Kathleen Hagerty
Provost and Professor 

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier
Vice President for Student Affairs

Luke Figora
Senior Associate Vice President
Chief Risk and Compliance Officer