How Stanford’s peer institutions plan to reopen in 2021

Dec. 2, 2020, 7:45 p.m.

As the Stanford community waits for a final decision on winter quarter, many peer institutions across the country have already said that they will bring back to campus some to all of their students. 

Currently, Stanford’s frosh, sophomores and new transfer cohorts are scheduled to return to campus in the winter quarter. But after Santa Clara County tightened its restrictions amid a surge of cases, Stanford’s administration says they’re still reviewing the health guidelines and will make a decision by Dec. 14.

Across America, colleges and universities have drafted differing COVID-19 policies and reopening plans, with East Coast schools generally following looser restrictions and offering more on-campus housing than those in California. Some schools, like Princeton and Brown, are offering housing to all of their enrolled undergraduates; others, like UCLA, are offering housing to only those with no other housing option. 

Asked whether peer institutions’ plans affect Stanford’s reopening plans, University spokesperson E.J. Miranda responded: “Our planning for winter quarter remains grounded in careful monitoring of the public health situation on campus; the prevalence of cases in Santa Clara County and our surrounding region; the state and local health rules that apply to Stanford; and our ability to provide on-campus opportunities while protecting public health.”

Here are the reopening plans of 14 peer institutions and how they plan to adapt in the spring 2021 semester.

Ivy League reopening plans:


Brown plans to offer in-person residence for all undergraduates, though space constraints may limit the number of students that can return. All first-years and students with special circumstances will be guaranteed housing, and housing will be assigned by lottery if more students apply to live on campus than space permits. All students must be tested for COVID-19 upon their return to campus in January and are required to participate in random testing to monitor community spread and asymptomatic positive cases.


Columbia will provide housing to seniors at Columbia College and The School of Engineering and Applied Science, with limited housing for juniors depending on campus density considerations. Most classes will continue to be offered virtually, and some will have in-person components.


Cornell was the only Ivy League school to bring all of its students back to campus in fall semester. In spring, it plans to do the same, with all undergraduate students on campus tested twice per week and required to complete the Daily Check. Cornell will offer in-person, online and hybrid classes for spring semester, and approximately one-third of courses will be taught in person.


Dartmouth is bringing around half of its students back to campus each quarter through summer 2021, with each student having the opportunity to spend two quarters on campus. The school is following a five-phase reopening plan, ranging from essential access only to full access; it is currently in phase three, or limited access, meaning that most classes are remote and only activities that cannot be effectively produced virtually will be allowed on-site after granted specific authorization. All students arriving from beyond New England are required to complete a 14-day quarantine, and a Daily Temperature & Self-Assessment (TSA) is mandatory for those on campus.


Harvard will expand spring housing to 3,100 undergraduates, prioritizing upperclassmen. The majority of classes are held remotely, and students and personnel living on campus must complete the Harvard COVID-19 Safety Awareness Training and a daily attestation (Crimson Clear).


The university is opening on-campus housing, with priority given to first-, second- and fourth-year undergraduates. Most classes will be delivered remotely, however, with exceptions including clinical courses and in-person research required for graduation.

UPenn’s primary tools to mitigate transmission include the PennOpen Pass symptom checker and exposure reporting, required for those on campus. All students are required to receive a flu shot before returning and must be tested for COVID-19 twice per week. Students are required to wear face coverings on campus and in facilities other than their residences, avoid large gatherings and practice social distancing.


Princeton is offering spring semester housing to all of its 5,200 undergraduates, though only an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 undergraduates can be housed on-campus. Undergraduates living on campus are required to take a bi-weekly COVID-19 test and abide by the university’s social contract, which outlines necessary medical and social precautions. Most classes will still be held online.


Yale is bringing sophomores, juniors and seniors back to campus in the spring; freshman, juniors and seniors were allowed to live on campus in fall. Undergraduates will be able to move into on-campus residences in late January. Students must take a pre-arrival test, follow testing and quarantine protocols and maintain a regular testing schedule throughout the semester.

California schools’ reopening plans:


University of Southern California (USC) will likely begin the spring semester remotely, according to university administration. Because of the cases surging across Los Angeles County, it is unlikely that bringing additional students to campus will be advisable for the near future for student housing. However, students residing locally on or near campuses and on-site employees may be eligible for access to university facilities and services.


The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), will continue to offer primarily remote-only instruction, with on-campus housing only available to those with no other housing option. However, UCLA still plans to continue to allow a limited number of exceptions for in-person or hybrid instruction in courses necessary for training students for essential workforce positions.

UC Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley, plans to begin the semester with at least two weeks of fully remote instruction. After that, the majority of classes will continue to be delivered remotely, including all larger courses. Only limited housing is available, with priority given to the same students given priority in fall.

Other colleges’ reopening plans:


Duke plans to offer spring housing to all of its students, and around 20% of classes will be held in person. All students who return for the spring semester in January will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and throughout the semester, as they were in fall. Anyone who is cleared to work in Duke facilities must continue to complete daily symptom monitoring, wear a mask and practice physical distancing of at least six feet, where possible. 


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) plans to offer on-campus housing to all freshmen, sophomores and juniors, with seniors with special circumstances eligible to apply for on-campus housing as well. Most subjects will be taught exclusively online during the spring semester, with some opportunities for undergraduates living on campus and some graduate students to have access to in-person instruction. 


The University of Chicago plans to continue offering the opportunity for instructors, students and staff to engage in in-person academic and research pursuits throughout the course of the academic year, according to a university announcement. Although the university intends to offer some student housing and a mix of in-person and remote classes for the winter and spring quarters, Provost Ka Yee C. Lee emphasizes to students that society remains in a dynamic COVID-19 environment and plans may change as the situation evolves. 

Contact Christina Pan at christinapan1 ‘at’ and Lea Nepomuceno at lea.a.nepomuceno ‘at’

Lea Nepomuceno is a high school reporter in the The Stanford Daily Winter Journalism Workshop.

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