Carnegie Mellon University

COVID-19 Updates

Information and resources for the CMU community

Scotty with mask and vaccination bandaid
July 09, 2020

Information to Guide Your Fall Semester Planning (Undergraduate Students)

Note: This communication was sent on July 9, 2020. Some of this information, including the advice for international students, may have changed. See the Student Resources page for the most up-to-date information.

Dear CMU Undergraduate Students and Families:

As we finalize our preparations for the fall semester, we are committed to planning for the safety and well-being of our community while creating a transformative educational opportunity for each one of you. We are gratified and humbled by the ways you have shown commitment to your education in the face of great uncertainty and we recognize that you are facing important decisions amidst the shifting landscape of the pandemic.

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we design a fall semester that is flexible to accommodate the range and diversity of your individual needs and situations. The development of our plans has been informed by engagement with academic leadership, faculty senate, student government leadership, local public health officials and other campus and national experts. Our approach prioritizes the safety of our students, faculty and staff and our commitment to delivering a quality academic experience.

The realities of this pandemic mean that life will necessarily be different as we resume classes this fall. Even as we plan for the return of those students who wish to study in person, we want to be transparent that this redesign of our educational approach must reflect ever-changing and new public health expectations that we all must embrace to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. We know that many of the hallmarks of Carnegie Mellon’s campus experience will need to be conducted remotely so we can abide by physical distancing guidelines. Building upon the success of our experience this spring and summer, we will continue to deliver a robust set of programs and services that strengthen the Tartan community and support your health and safety. Wherever you elect to study this fall, the CMU experience will be available to you.

We know you have been eager for more details about the fall semester, and that this information is critical for you to decide accordingly whether to pursue remote or in-person education. Today, we are writing to share important information on the following topics:

  • Health and safety guidelines
  • Course schedules and registration
  • Housing and dining
  • Athletics competition for fall semester
  • Financial aid and fall semester invoices

We are prepared to adjust our plans to suit changing conditions and will keep you informed as more decisions are made.

Health and Safety Guidelines

Your health and safety remain our priority as we plan for the fall semester. We have watched the numbers of coronavirus cases increase in the Pittsburgh area, as well as in national and global communities, and this sobering trend has informed our approach to on-campus policies. We are finalizing our protocols for the return to campus driven by science and research-based evidence, recognizing our knowledge of the virus continues to evolve. We will be responsive to emerging guidance as the start of fall semester approaches.

Highlights of our approach include:

  • A strategic plan to de-densify campus through limits on class sizes, housing occupancy, access to campus facilities, activities and events.
  • A requirement for all community members to wear facial coverings in all indoor and outdoor campus locations.
  • A daily symptom-tracking protocol that all who are coming to campus must use.
  • A testing strategy that will provide point-of-care testing for any symptomatic student and their close contacts, as well as broad testing upon arrival for any populations who may present a higher risk of virus-transmission. We will provide more information to these populations in the coming weeks.
  • Contact tracing and expectations for isolation of those who are symptomatic, test positive or have been in close contact with those who have tested positive. We continue to study the benefits of serial testing for asymptomatic individuals and will follow the science to inform any additional testing protocols.

Current guidance suggests that a 14-day quarantine will help reduce spread of the virus, so we are finalizing the details for an expectation of self-quarantine upon arrival to the region by anyone coming from outside Southwestern Pennsylvania. We wanted to highlight this requirement so you can plan accordingly as you prepare to come to campus.

  • If you arrive from outside of Southwestern Pennsylvania (whether living on-campus or off-campus), you will be expected to monitor your health daily for 14 days before joining in-person coursework. If you do plan to study on campus this fall, we encourage you to come to Pittsburgh early enough that you will complete your quarantine prior to the start of classes on August 31.
  • If you cannot arrive to the area two weeks before classes begin, the hybrid model of education is intended to allow you to participate remotely until you are able to begin in-person classes. International students who are currently residing within the United States should consult with the Office of International Education (OIE) for additional guidance.
  • We are developing more detailed guidance on this expectation and how we will implement a modified quarantine for students in the residence halls to support overall well-being and integration into the Carnegie Mellon community.

You can read this article about our initial mitigation and safety efforts, and view some images reflecting preliminary changes to our spaces. CMU will continue to share details on our health and safety guidelines as additional decisions are made, including a shared code of conduct we will expect all Tartans to embrace in support of the common good of our community.

Course Schedules and Registration

Academic leadership, in consultation with deans, faculty and academic advisors, has been using the summer to refine a hybrid-learning approach for the fall semester. This strategy offers the ability to accommodate your needs in support of your continued academic progress while also maintaining our standards of academic excellence. We recognize that individual circumstances will require a fall semester schedule designed to allow flexibility in the way you choose to pursue your CMU education. We have also designed the curriculum so that you will be able to continue your education throughout the semester regardless of changing conditions due to the pandemic.

Courses this fall will be offered in one of three modalities: remote only, in-person plus remote and in-person only. The decision for which courses will be offered in-person was a careful process that considered optimal course design and content, safety protocols, guidance from department heads, classroom space and number of enrolled students. Regardless of modality, you will receive a quality educational experience from Carnegie Mellon.

  • We anticipate that 30-40% of courses will be offered in the in-person plus remote option, with limited offerings of in-person only courses. The percentage of courses with an in-person plus remote option will vary by class level and academic program.
  • By July 20, we will share a preliminary fall schedule that indicates which courses will be offered via which modalities.
  • We expect that international students in the U.S. will be required to take some amount of in-person instruction to maintain their U.S. immigration status. The Office of International Education (OIE) is reviewing the recent guidance from the federal government on this matter, and has released some preliminary guidance for our international students. The OIE will communicate greater detail to our international students in the days ahead.
  • For incoming undergraduate students, your school or college will be communicating the process to register for classes. Your academic advisor will be available to support the registration process and answer schedule-related questions.
  • For upper-class undergraduate students, course schedules and planned modality (in-person only, in-person plus remote and remote only) will be available in SIO (Student Information Online). While there have been some adjustments made to class start times in the new fall schedule, and we have incorporated longer breaks between classes, returning undergraduate students should expect minimal, if any, disruptions or conflicts to their existing fall 2020 schedules. Your academic advisor will be available to answer schedule-related questions.

Housing and Dining

We look forward to the day when we can again offer our residential housing experience to all students, as we know the profound impact built by living with a community of peers. We have seen the power of residential education in nurturing personal growth and academic success and are committed to delivering a quality residential experience.

However, the extraordinary times of living through a pandemic call for our heightened commitment to prioritizing your health and safety as we work to mitigate coronavirus spread in our facilities and on campus.

As a result, we know that residential living will look quite different in the year ahead and it will take a shared commitment from all students and staff to ensure we can maintain open facilities to support in-person education for as many of you as we are able to safely accommodate.

  • We are de-densifying all of our housing facilities so that we will have no more than one student per bedroom and no more than three students per bathroom fixture set. With the addition of some off-campus hotel rooms, this approach will allow us to maintain 50% of our usual occupancy for the coming year.
  • For all first-year students and upper-class students with existing housing assignments, we will provide you an opportunity to live on campus for one semester in the year ahead, and only a very small number of students with special circumstances will be provided housing for both semesters. This is the most equitable approach to assigning our limited housing capacity.
  • Students still wishing to live on campus can indicate a preference for which semester they would like a housing assignment. We appreciate the support and endorsement we have received from student government leaders in approaching our assignment strategy in this manner that maximizes individual preferences as best we can, rather than making sweeping decisions about which populations can access campus housing in a given semester.
  • By July 13, all residential students should visit the Housing Services website, read the information there in its entirety and fill out the questionnaire to indicate your interest in housing for the upcoming academic year, or to cancel your existing housing request. Once that information has been submitted, we will assess the demand for fall semester housing and, if necessary, use a random process to determine semester assignments.
  • You will be notified by July 20 regarding which semester you are offered a housing assignment. Students who are offered a fall semester assignment will also receive detailed information on the room assignment process with this notification.
  • The requirement that first-year students live in university housing is waived for the upcoming academic year.
  • Upper-class students with housing contracts who elect not to live in university housing will not be charged a cancelation fee.
  • We strongly encourage students and families who can reasonably and safely consider remote study from home for the 2020-2021 academic year to do so, which will allow more capacity for those who are in need of on-campus housing.

Dining Services is also refining offerings and meal plan options that align with evolving health and safety conditions.

  • First-year students living in university housing will be expected to maintain a meal plan to support a successful transition to college life.
  • All upper-class students living in university housing will be required to maintain a limited meal plan (unless they are assigned to an apartment with a kitchen), due to the closing of common-area kitchens throughout university and Greek housing to prevent spread of the virus.

Further details regarding our modified approach to housing and dining, including mitigation strategies to safeguard your health and well-being, can be found on the Housing Services website.

Athletics Competition for Fall Semester

Carnegie Mellon’s Return to Play Task Force, which includes university administrators and team physicians, has spent months exploring return-to-play scenarios for our CMU athletes. We carefully considered options that would preserve the opportunity for our athletes to participate in and represent Carnegie Mellon through competition. With the health and safety of our community guiding our decisions, we cannot contemplate a return to competitive play for the fall semester.

  • We have made the difficult decision to cancel all intercollegiate athletic competition this fall, and our varsity student athletes were informed of this news earlier this week.

Although we will not pursue competition for the fall semester, we are exploring meaningful ways for our varsity teams to stay engaged with their love of sport throughout the semester. We look forward to the day when Tartan Athletics can return stronger than ever, and we are evaluating whether we can consider a winter sport season.

Financial Aid and Fall Semester Invoices

We understand that you have finances on your minds during this time of year, perhaps more so given the uncertainties the pandemic has brought. Our Enrollment Services team is adapting policies and procedures in order to increase flexibility for you and accommodate your unique financial needs regardless of where you physically reside during this coming academic year.

  • Financial aid award letters for upper-class undergraduate students will be sent starting July 20.Students and families may expect that financial aid packages will be similar to financial aid packages from past years with similar components (grants and loans) and percentages of need met, as long as family and student finances have not changed significantly. If changes to family finances have occurred, there will be an opportunity to request adjustments to financial aid packages.

In addition, to allow more time for families and students to plan this year, we have adjusted our regular payment schedule as follows:

  • Fall 2020 semester invoices will be available July 31.
  • Fall 2020 semester balances will be due by September 15.

We know the pandemic has impacted all members of the CMU community, and some have faced incredible hardship during these challenging times. The semester and year ahead will necessarily be different as we face these realities. Carnegie Mellon leadership, faculty and staff remain committed to providing you with the opportunity to pursue your education, whether at home or in Pittsburgh, at a time when society needs your contributions to make a positive impact.

Our Tartan family is strongest when we face challenges as one united community and when we lead with compassion and care. With a combination of personal responsibility and consideration for the wellbeing of others, our CMU community will emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient. 

We will provide updates throughout the summer as we continue our preparation for fall semester, and our COVID-19 website is a resource for information about our plans.


Jim Garrett, Provost
Gina Casalegno, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students