Updates Regarding the Fall 2020 Semester

On Tuesday, July 7, Dean Rosen-Metsch sent the following message to GS students regarding the fall 2020 semester.

July 09, 2020

Dear Students,

I am writing to follow up on the message below from President Bollinger and to provide more specific information for Columbia GS students. I recognize the uncertainty of this moment as you wait to hear updates about the fall semester, and I appreciate the patience and cooperation you have displayed. Beyond the details contained in President Bollinger’s message and in this email, please expect additional follow up in the next 1 - 2 weeks from our Dean of Students office as we receive more course information from the faculty. We will also plan virtual meetings with GS students and School leadership in the coming weeks.

In line with President Bollinger’s guidance, the Columbia University School of General Studies (GS) is planning to invite GS students to return to campus, and the classroom, in limited density and based on available programming, as part of the 2020 - 2021 academic year. Planning for the academic program has taken place collectively among GS, Arts & Sciences, Columbia College, Barnard, and SEAS, as relevant. GS students will be offered the opportunity to take classes in-person when available, and all courses will be offered online to accommodate students who are unable to return to the Morningside Heights area.

As President Bollinger noted, in-person instruction and campus life will be contingent on New York State moving into Phase 4 of its reopening plan and final clearance from the state for the University to proceed with our opening plan. Students returning to campus from outside New York are also advised to review quarantine policies related to the state from which they will be arriving to ensure they have enough time to quarantine, as needed, before resuming in-person activities on campus.

Academic Updates

As has been noted by Provost Katznelson and President Bollinger, courses for the coming academic year will be spread across three semesters of equal length, allowing greater flexibility for faculty and students. To accomplish this, some classes originally planned for fall or spring will be moved to the summer term, and students will be able to make progress toward their degree during every term, including completing major, Core, and premedical certificate requirements. The curriculum is also expanding to include new course offerings on topical issues in public health, social justice, electoral politics, and more. 

Whether instruction is in-person, online, or some combination of the two, we are confident that the Columbia faculty will offer GS students a curriculum in the coming year that is engaging and responsive to your needs and interests. The faculty have come together with tremendous commitment and enterprise to ensure that Columbia will remain at the forefront of higher education. 

More details on the specific courses being offered in each semester will be provided on the GS website and by your academic advisor in the coming weeks as plans and details are finalized by academic departments and faculty members.

At this time, I can share some highlights of what to expect in the upcoming updates.

  • New and topical courses in many parts of the curriculum
  • Immersive (half-term) classes to help students stay focused and connected
  • Expanded opportunities for GS students to participate in the Columbia Core Curriculum
  • Co-Curricular activities including the Columbia Global Collaboratory (led by Columbia College), a new Justice and Pandemics Preparedness Academy (led by Columbia GS in collaboration with the Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia School of Social Work), and continuing opportunities to participate in “Design Challenges” offered by the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Please note that the shift in the academic calendar will not impact the requirements for students to be considered full time. GS students must take 12 credits per semester to be considered full time, with a maximum load of 18 credits per semester. 

Registration will re-open for the fall term July 27 - 30, with an additional registration window the week of August 25. If you are currently enrolled in a fall course that has been shifted to spring or  summer, you will be contacted by the offering department. All students need to review their registration, think about how best to plan their studies for the coming year, and consult available course offerings. Your advising deans are available to help you with this process, and you will be able to view course offerings for the full academic year to help you plan.

Dual BA and Joint Programs

Students enrolled in one of our dual or joint degree programs will soon receive additional information on the plans for your studies with our partner institutions as well as here at Columbia.

International Students

I would like to echo the sentiments expressed earlier by President Bollinger and Associate Provost Austell in support of our international students. Discussions and assessment of recent policy announcements are occurring at many levels of the University. We at GS take this matter very seriously and recognize the impact on our international students and our full community. We are working hard to determine the full scope of the policy and to generate solutions moving forward. We will keep you updated as soon as we have more information. International students are an essential part of the GS student body, and the Columbia University community at large. Your presence enhances all aspects of campus life, and you are integral to our diverse academic discourse.

Housing and Residential Updates 

The partial reopening of campus, from a residential housing point of view, means returning GS to its normal capacity of GS students living in Columbia Residential housing. GS students are being offered housing for the 2020 - 2021 academic year. All continuing students who left Columbia Residential housing in the March - June timeframe who wish to return to Columbia Residential will be offered the opportunity to return. Beyond those returning students, housing will be allocated in accordance with standard School policy.

Students who wish to apply for Columbia Residential housing should submit applications as soon as possible, but housing is not guaranteed and is limited. Additionally, GS students who live close to campus will be eligible and encouraged to participate in on-campus activities if they feel comfortable doing so.

Enhanced GS Financial Aid for Full-time Students

GS Financial Aid award decisions and notifications for the 2020 - 2021 academic year will be sent out within the next week. In an effort to respond to the needs of GS students at this moment, and understanding that many GS students are working hard to manage complex financial situations and concerns, we have worked with Arts & Sciences and the University to triple the planned increase to the GS financial aid budget. This increase amounts to an additional 1.5 million dollars added to the GS Financial Aid budget as a one-time enhancement to our financial aid system. These additional funds will be used to offer enhanced aid to full-time students (12 or more credits), with a particular focus on students with greatest demonstrated need taking 13 to 15 credits—the first time incremental aid will be offered at these higher credit thresholds.


For our newest GS students, all programs for orientation will be available online to accommodate students unable or unwilling to come to New York. For the new students who are in Columbia Residential housing and for students who live within commuting distance to campus there will be limited in-person activities and on-campus programming.

The GS Academic Resource Center (ARC) is working closely with GS Student Life to revise our approach to Orientation in light of the expected move online and taking into account changes in Jumpstart and University Studies.

Academic Resource Center

In anticipation of continued social distancing, Jumpstart, our program for incoming students, is being reimagined and reformatted into a virtual experience, although we are prepared to offer Jumpstart in multiple modalities including in-person sessions. In the case that we need to fully offer Jumpstart online, we are confident we will be able to offer a robust and comprehensive experience. 

In the case that we are fully online, we are planning programming on three different models:

  • Self-Paced: programming that will be pre-recorded and/or developed in a written format
  • Live: programming that will be delivered live via Zoom
  • Flipped: programming that will include a mix of pre-recorded, written, and live components, where the live instruction builds directly off of the pre-recorded material

To provide additional support for students who plan to learn online, we will also make available an online learning toolkit to help students succeed in this new environment.

University Studies

For our incoming students, University Studies (a required course) is being designed to run as an immersive block in the first half of the fall semester, running one hour per week for the first six weeks of the term. Based on anticipated class size, distancing requirements, and other public health considerations, we are planning to offer the course as either a fully-online course or a hybrid of online and in-person meetings. A final determination will be made closer to the start of the fall semester and as public health guidance becomes clearer.

Beyond the Classroom

GS will continue with its full program of initiatives, support services, and events for the 2020-2021 academic year, across multiple modalities. We will be sharing our full and detailed events calendar for the academic year later this month, and are able to host 100% of these programs online should that be needed for Fall 2020 and/or Spring 2021.

Highlights include:

  • Leadership Discussions & Skills Building Workshops – including the GS Mentor Program
  • Multicultural & Social Justice Education Programs – including FLI programs - with Expanded Programs and Workshops on Racial Justice
  • Identity Based Community Support – including Students of Color, LGBTQ students, international students, student veterans, and Postbac Premed students
  • Undergraduate Research Workshops – including senior thesis programs, symposia, support from the Columbia Libraries, and a new series to help students integrate their academic experiences with personal reflection
  • Graduate School Coaching – including a workshop series with a new focus on exploring programs remotely and individual application review by deans and admissions officers
  • Fellowship Advising – including an information series targeted to GS student interests, speaker series with representatives from top fellowship organizations, and the Jane Jacobs Society
  • Opportunities to Connect with Staff, Faculty, and Alumni
  • Veteran Initiatives and Support – including the Veteran Mentors Program and women veteran programs
  • Residence Life & Housing Support – including the Resident Advisor Program
  • Special Events and Programs – including the New Student Orientation Program, Dining with the Dean, Coffee & Conversation with the Dean of Students, Student Leadership Awards, Class Days and Graduations. We will also be looking to reschedule an in-person Class Day for the Class of 2020
  • Advising and Events hosted by Student Organizations
  • Alumni events for students including programming with the General Studies Alumni Association (GSAA)

Administrative Return

GS will be working towards starting to have staff members return to campus in mid- to late-August, in coordination with fall orientation activities. The planning process has been underway and will continue through the summer to allow for a smooth transition for GS staff to support returning students. In coordination with University policies and with guidance from the Public Health working group, we will implement a phased return of staff to allow for de-densification of spaces within Lewisohn Hall and the new Academic Resource Center on 111th Street and Broadway.

We will follow University guidance on best practices for de-densification in offices at Lewisohn and the Academic Resources Center, factoring in space requirements for student-facing meetings in private offices and setting limits on the number of staff who can attend an in-person meeting. We will use our online meeting reservation system to limit the number of students and guests in the offices, including allowing for a no-contact check-in process for student appointments if that appointment is in-person.

Columbia GS Student Spaces

We will limit the occupancy rate of GS student spaces—the GS Lounge in Lewisohn Hall, the Academic Resource Center on 111th Street and Broadway, and the Fairholm Lounge, on 121st Street—consistent with guidance from University Facilities.   

Public Health Requirements

As President Bollinger indicated, the university has implemented a set of public health protocols that all faculty, students, and staff will be required to follow to return to campus and protect the health of our entire community. The protocols include:

  • SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostic Testing
  • On-Line Return to Campus Training Module
  • Daily Symptom Checking
  • Subsequent Surveillance Testing
  • Face Coverings
  • Physical Distancing
  • Hand Washing and Sanitizers
  • Expanded Cleaning Services and Practices in all spaces

These protocols are mandatory and will be updated regularly following any new updates in conditions and best practices. The full list of protocols is available on the University’s COVID-19 Resource site.

The Columbia Compact

Additionally, all students, faculty and staff on the Columbia campus will be asked to sign a compact that confirms mutual commitments from the University and its community members reflecting the interdependence of all of us to stay healthy and to maintain the university experience..

I know that you will likely have more questions, particularly ones specific to your individual situations, but I hope I have been able to provide you with some insight and useful information as we prepare for the upcoming academic year. As I said earlier, please expect additional communications in the coming weeks, and for more detailed information to be posted to our website as we receive details from the relevant departments and offices across campus. I look forward to scheduling an opportunity for students to connect directly with me and School leadership to further discuss your thoughts and concerns. I am confident in our ability as a community to work together to make the most of this extremely challenging situation.

I hope the remainder of your summer is restful and productive.  I look forward to welcoming our new students and our current students back to campus (either virtually and/or in-person) for the new academic year. 


Lisa Rosen-Metsch
Dean, Columbia School of General Studies
Professor of Sociomedical Sciences

Letter from Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

It is now the moment to focus our attention on how the University will operate in the coming academic year. As you might imagine, no decisions in our history have been taken with more seriousness, care, or rigor than the ones we set forth here and in following correspondence.

These have been trying times for everyone, albeit in varying degrees. For many, especially our students, lives have been on hold. Dreams have been upended and opportunities seemingly thwarted. It is and will remain our central goal to correct this. Unfortunately, no perfect path lies ahead; there are too many variables outside our control. But we will do everything we can, at every moment, to recapture the rich, intense intellectual life that constitutes our very reason for existence. The COVID-19 pandemic remains a major public health threat, and the challenges we face collectively, as well as individually, are daunting. Today it is time to move forward with what we believe to be the best possible plan for Columbia.

Academic Life

As I announced previously, Columbia will operate on a three-term cycle for the 2020-2021 academic year. Classes for the fall term will begin on schedule, September 8, but the spring and summer terms will be moved up on the calendar. Classes for spring 2021 will start on January 11 and for the summer term on May 3. Each term will offer the option of immersive courses by being divided into two, equal-length sequential blocks. The first summer term block will end on June 18 in order to allow students time for internships and other work. Commencement exercises will take place at the end of the spring term, during the last week of April.

Across the University as we enter the fall term, courses will be offered in multiple formats, almost always with an online option, as we restore face-to-face instruction as soon as possible. We are now equipping our classrooms with new technology that will ensure a rich learning experience for students, whether they participate in person or virtually.

Faculty response to new models of teaching necessitated by the pandemic has been tremendous. We want to support faculty in every way we can. Training has already begun for all instructional modalities. As we move back into a partial in-person educational environment, questions will inevitably arise about who will provide this teaching. It is important, therefore, to say at the outset that the University will not prescribe an approach for individual faculty members. Faculty will have leeway to teach in person, online, or some combination of the two, in consultation with their schools.

Graduate and professional schools will have flexibility to design their own reopening plans, as they take account of the specific nature of their coursework and student and faculty preferences. It is nothing short of amazing to witness the creativity and thoughtfulness of our deans as they work with their faculties and staff to develop their distinctive approaches to reopening their programs. Each will shortly announce their decisions.

Thus, all students should expect in the coming days to receive additional information from their schools about the upcoming year. These school-specific messages, along with all related news, will be posted on the COVID-19 Resource Guide website.

Undergraduate Residential Life

One of the most intricate aspects of the reopening process has been configuring our residence halls to ensure that they are healthy living spaces. We have determined that we can safely offer on-campus housing to 60 percent of our Columbia College and The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences undergraduate students, who traditionally live in our campus residence halls. Additionally, we will be able to accommodate the same proportion of Columbia School of General Studies undergraduate students in off-campus Columbia residential housing as we have in the past.

We are committed to offering CC/SEAS undergraduates the option of living on campus for some portion of the academic year. For the fall term, we will invite first-year and second-year students, together with entering transfer students and entering 3-2 Combined Plan Program students who apply for on-campus housing. Students with special or extenuating needs for on-campus resources may apply for an exception to live on campus.

If, in light of public health conditions, we must continue on the current path of our 60 percent guidelines for CC/SEAS students in residence halls, first- and second-year students would depart campus at the Thanksgiving break, finishing their courses and exams remotely, and third- and fourth-year students would be invited to move into campus residence halls in early January for the spring term. We believe it is especially important for fourth-year students to experience their capstone term in person, if they are able to do so.

We understand that many undergraduates will be unable to return to campus in person, due to the federal government’s deeply disturbing visa restrictions, health concerns, or other personal reasons. If first- and second-year student residence hall acceptances do not reach the 60 percent ceiling, additional students will be invited until we have reached our campus housing capacity. As I mentioned previously, we will give additional priority to students in any year who do not have access to the conditions necessary for academic success in their home environments. School deans will be in touch with further information about this commitment.

Campus Life

While we will provide flexibility in teaching and scholarship and will seek to provide an on-campus experience to as many undergraduate students as possible, we do have to impose strict guidelines that will apply to all who live, work, study, and teach at Columbia.

Our recently adopted campus health policy will require that persons on campus wear a face covering at all times, unless they are in a private room with the door closed. Physical distancing will be enforced throughout campus, especially in classrooms and residence halls. Many University staff members will remain remote through the fall term—additional guidance is forthcoming. All faculty and staff who have returned to campus after some research activities resumed on June 22 have been tested for COVID-19, and each day they are required to complete a symptom self-check. The same requirements will apply to students, and subsequent periodic testing will also be added. A detailed overview of public health protocols on campus is available here.

Finally, all students, faculty, and staff on the Columbia campus will be asked to sign a compact that encompasses two-way commitments from the University and its community members. This is an unusual step for us, but it reflects the extraordinary degree to which we are dependent on each other to remain healthy and to maintain any semblance of the university experience we all cherish and are together seeking to restore.

Please keep in mind that every decision we make related to resuming in-person instruction and residential life will be contingent on New York moving into Phase 4 of its reopening plan. We are required to submit to the State our own detailed reopening plan, demonstrating how we will operate and ensure the health and safety of our campus community and neighborhood. We expect to have final clearance from the State to proceed by the week of August 10. If New York City has not entered Phase 4 by August 15, we will determine if it will be necessary to make changes to our fall term plans.

As I indicated at the outset, we are all painfully aware of how disruptive and dangerous the virus has been. The costs of the pandemic in human lives lost and unprecedented economic damage have not yet been fully grasped. The effects on our political culture have been profound, and it can fairly be said that we are reeling from the incalculable damage. None of us knows what trajectory the pandemic will take in the months and possibly years ahead, or when communities like ours will reunite in full form.

I know we all are committed to adjusting to the world as it comes, while holding dear to our purposes and values. Already we can see signs and examples of creativity that will sustain us not only through the crisis, but forever. This is a defining experience especially for the youngest among us, and all the intelligence and dedication we possess will be devoted to guiding them through it.

In this spirit, let me draw special attention to one group, in particular. We need to find ways to enable the international students who are in the United States to complete their studies here and to expand and deepen opportunities for Columbia’s large community of international students who cannot come to Columbia because of the pandemic. So, for instance, we are adapting our network of Columbia Global Centers and new Pop-Up Global Center locations to provide in-person academic and peer engagement for many of these students. This will provide a dynamic learning experience in their own or nearby countries and regions.

We are also trying to teach in the moment and to draw on the extraordinary array of intellectual talent in the University that can help us, and students specifically, interpret and understand the historic effects of the pandemic in the years and decades ahead.

Columbia College, in partnership with the Columbia Global Centers and Columbia World Projects, has launched the Global Columbia Collaboratory, which will focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. This academic experience is designed to give students—indeed, all of us—the skills, understanding, and ways of thinking that will be needed to lead a world so desperately in search of knowledgeable responses to endlessly complex issues.

Yet another example: The Columbia School of General Studies is working with the Columbia School of Social Work and the Mailman School of Public Health to develop a co-curricular undergraduate academy, which will begin this fall and will be focused on matters of justice and pandemic preparedness. It will look at communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including many of the neighborhoods surrounding our own campus.

And, the Columbia Design Challenges, which is offered by Columbia Engineering with partners across the institution, will provide students the chance to see how engineering and applied science together with other disciplines can engage with challenges such as climate change, social justice, and, of course, pandemics.

Let me close by saying that I know this is and will continue to be an immensely difficult time, most especially for those whom the pandemic has affected directly. I want to take this opportunity to remind you that counselors and specialists are available for students on the Columbia Morningside and Columbia University Irving Medical Center campuses, and for faculty and staff through the University’s Employee Assistance ProgramReligious Life also offers pastoral counseling. Your deans and other University leaders will provide additional information in the coming days and weeks. I also encourage you to visit the COVID-19 Resource Guide website to track related news and announcements. And, as always, I promise to be back in touch as developments warrant.


Lee C. Bollinger