COVID-19 FAQs for Students

Visit coronavirus.upenn.edu for more information.

This page provides information about academic issues and resources for students related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the Spring 2021 semester

Additional information is available at coronavirus.upenn.edu.  

For all academic matters, students should continue to work with their academic advisors and advising offices.

Last updated: January 11, 2021

Frequently Asked Questions - Students (Spring 2021)

Returning to Campus

Academics

Courses

Research

Visiting and Exchange Students

Academic Resources and Support

Graduate and Professional Students

International Students

Other

Returning to Campus

Will my course be held online or in-person?

For the Spring 2021 semester, most undergraduate classes will be taught online, with very few limited exceptions, including courses with clinical experiences and in-person research required for graduation. Graduate and professional students should check with their program or school for the most up to date information about course formats.

Format and location information for individual courses is listed in Penn InTouch Course Search (Pennkey login required).

What is the schedule for the Spring semester?

View the Academic Calendar for the most up to date details. 

Classes will begin on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Spring break has been shortened to Wednesday March 10-Thursday March 11. There are also no classes on: Friday, February 12; Tuesday, March 30; and Monday, April 12. Final exams will conclude on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

Graduate and professional programs may follow a different schedule. Students should check with their program for the most up to date information.

I need financial assistance with technology or other emergency funding.

The Division of the Vice Provost for University Life's Access and Retention Fund provides one-time Emergency Funds or Opportunity Grants to help low-income and/or first-generation students. Visit here for more details.  

Academics

Will Spring 2021 courses be pass/fail?

The pass/fail policy for undergraduates from the Fall 2020 semester will be extended to the Spring 2021 semester. Undergraduate students will have the option (until the Grade Type Change Deadline on March 19) to take any or all of their courses pass/fail. This option includes courses taken to satisfy major or general education requirements, and the courses will not count against the total number of pass/fail courses allowed in the School. The deadline for changing a grade type will not be extended. Students should  discuss which grading options are best for them with their academic advisor.

For Spring 2021, Penn will return to regular grading options for PhD and Research Master’s students. However, acknowledging that substantial challenges may still present themselves for graduate students, there will be a mechanism for individual graduate students to petition to have unlimited pass/fail options should their personal circumstances present the need. The petition process will be available until March 19, the grade type change deadline, and will be handled by the Graduate Dean in each school. The types of petitions that will be considered for approval based on circumstances presented by the pandemic include:

  • Students with additional family responsibilities due to the pandemic
  • Students who are ill or caring for ill family members
  • Students with limited access to internet or necessary technology for remote participation
  • Students unable to participate in required synchronous sessions (due to time zone differences, etc.)
  • Students experiencing housing insecurity

Professional students should check with their program regarding grading policies.

What happens if I get sick and have to miss class?

The usual policies and procedures around absences apply for both in-person and online classes. If you are sick and cannot participate in classes or finish assignments, notify your instructor via email or Canvas as soon as possible. Undergraduate students should use the Course Absence Report system to report absences for both online and in-person classes. 

Can I travel for academic or professional purposes?

Due to COVID-19, all domestic and international Penn-affiliated travel is currently suspended. Petitions for essential travel will be considered depending on destination risk and your role at the university. This includes travel that is supported by GAPSA and other student governments, graduate groups, academic departments, and schools. To be authorized, any University-related travel will need to be essential and to facilitate work that can be done in no other way. All travel will require pre-approval.

Visit Travel Guidelines and Procedures for more information.

I have other concerns about my courses.

Students should contact their academic advisors and/or school-based advising offices, which remain open.

Courses

When will my online course be scheduled?

Online course content can be provided synchronously (live sessions for the entire class at the same time), asynchronously (recordings or material that can be watched or completed at any time), or by a combination of both methods.

If your instructor chooses to provide synchronous online content, it must be offered on the same day(s) and time(s) as your course is regularly scheduled during the semester (in Eastern Time). If you will be participating from a different time zone, please alert your instructor.

Format and location information for individual courses is listed in Penn InTouch Course Search (Pennkey login required).

The Policy on Secular and Religious Holidays is still in effect. If you have concerns about accommodations for religious observances, please contact your academic advisor or the Chaplain’s Office.

Will classes be recorded?

Instructors must make sure that all students can engage with course materials, even if they cannot participate synchronously.

I need technical support.

Penn offers 24/7 Student IT Support for all enrolled students. Student IT Support also has information about PennKey and Two-Step Verification and guides to remote learning tools (Canvas, Panopto, BlueJeans, and Zoom) as well as Student IT Support for each of the University's 12 schools. 

Research

Will I be able to do undergraduate research in the Spring?

For Spring 2021, increased in-person research opportunities are available to undergraduates. For independent studies, work study, and volunteer research experiences, undergraduates will be able to participate in in-person research that cannot be completed remotely, in accordance with University and School Research Resumption Plans available at the Research Resumption: Resource Hub. Under the guidelines for the Quiet Period, no in-person undergraduate research of any kind is permitted until February 1, even if the students are approved by a school’s research resumption plan.  

Will I be able to do graduate research in the Spring?

Information about current research resumption status and individual school and center plans are available from the Vice Provost for Research at the Research Resumption: Resource Hub.

Visiting and Exchange Students

Will visiting and exchange students be allowed to participate in Penn programs?

There will be no in-person programs for visiting students, exchange students, non-degree students, or students in non-credit programs. Some programs for these students may be offered online; check with your program for more details.

Academic Resources and Support

How do I access the library or course materials?

Penn libraries' digital resources and services as well as librarians are still available. Visit the Libraries’ Virtual Support and Phased Service Availability pages for a full summary of current services and additional information about forthcoming services.

I need help learning and studying remotely.

The Online Learning Initiative offers Remote Learning: Tips for Students with guidance on developing a study plan, creating space for learning, connecting with other people virtually, and other ideas for how to adapt to remote learning. Weingarten Learning Resources Center also has a list of Resources for Remote Learning and offers virtual individual consultations.

I currently have accommodations, or will need them to participate in classes. What should I do?

Please contact Student Disability Services as soon as possible. If you are making a first-time accommodations request, complete and follow the instructions on the Self-Identification form online. 

The Office of Student Disabilities Services has created an enhanced web portal with extensive resources and information for students and faculty.

Graduate and Professional Students

How do I submit my dissertation remotely?

Penn has instituted special dissertation defense and deposit instructions. Dissertation defenses must be scheduled and presented via remote conferencing. Electronic signatures will be allowed on all required forms for depositing, a printed copy of the dissertation will not be required, and the dissertation must be submitted electronically.

Will I receive my PhD stipend in the Spring?  

Most fully-funded PhD students will receive their stipend during the spring semester, with a few exceptions for students whose service-related stipends cannot be completed remotely.

As part of the President’s PhD Initiative, in the 2020-2021 academic year all currently enrolled PhD students will receive a supplementary stipend of $600 in the Fall semester and $600 in the Spring semester to recognize the additional expenses and research challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. More information is available here. 

Where can I get resources as a Teaching Assistant?

The Center for Teaching and Learning has a website on remote teaching with extensive resources and strategies for teaching online along with information about using online tools. For TAs who often use chalkboards in teaching, we have created a page with suggestions for teaching recitations or office hours online using virtual whiteboards, as well as information for those running asynchronous discussion boards. The Center for Teaching & Learning continues to run workshops; view the full list of workshops and register here.

In addition, Penn Libraries' Virtual Support page provides a range of guides, tutorials, and support services to help with virtual classes.

International Students

I am an international student and I cannot get a visa to return to the United States for the start of classes.  What are my options?  Can I request a leave of absence?

An international student who is enrolled full-time in a degree program is able to take courses online without an F-1 visa if permitted by the institution and subject to certain government exceptions. The University supports this option, so eligible international students who are not able to come to the United States will be able to take online courses provided they are enrolled full-time in a degree program. For more information, visit ISSS.

Students who are considering a leave of absence should discuss the best course of option with their academic advisor. 

I am an international student and cannot return to campus because of US government travel restrictions.  What are my options? Can I request a leave of absence?

An international student who is enrolled full-time in a degree program is able to take courses online without an F-1 visa if permitted by the institution and subject to certain government exceptions. The University supports this option, so eligible international students who are not able to come to the United States will be able to take online courses provided they are enrolled full-time in a degree program. For more information, visit ISSS.

Students who are considering a leave of absence should discuss the best course of option with their academic advisor. 

Other

A note about academic integrity

The University remains committed to the standards of academic excellence outlined in the Code of Academic Integrity. You should continue to follow the expectations outlined in the Code, and are responsible for asking your instructor for any clarifications. If you have questions about how aspects of the Code of Academic Integrity relate to your classes in this changing landscape, ask your instructor. Remember that the Code states "If a student is unsure whether his/her action(s) constitute a violation of the Code of Academic Integrity, then it is that student’s responsibility to consult with the instructor to clarify any ambiguities."

Additionally, it is important to educate yourself around the University's copyright policies and how they apply in the online space. Please take a minute to read the policies and ask questions as needed.