Winter quarter and undergraduate return

A letter from Provost Persis Drell

Dear Stanford community,

I’m writing to follow up on my Nov. 9 message about our planning for the winter quarter, and to share the update I promised based on our assessment of the public health situation.

In sum: We are proceeding with our plans to allow Stanford frosh and sophomores to live on campus in the winter quarter, but based on public health conditions, we are adopting a phased undergraduate arrival process and an enhanced COVID-19 testing protocol for their arrival. The change means that we will welcome most frosh and sophomores back to campus two weeks later than we originally planned.

There has been a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across California and in Santa Clara County over the last few weeks. Our county is now in the “purple tier” of the state’s COVID-19 framework. The governor recently announced a new regional stay-at-home order that will take effect as regions of the state fall below 15% capacity in their hospital intensive-care units, and Santa Clara County has now implemented this order on an accelerated basis.

While these are very concerning developments, we have been heartened by what we have seen in our Stanford community this fall. We have had thousands of students (mostly graduate students) in residence. The prevalence of COVID-19 on our campus has remained very low, and our community has embraced the public health protocols necessary to keep people safe. We have gained valuable experience with our COVID-19 testing programs, and we are activating plans to expand those programs for winter quarter.

As a result, we are prepared to move forward with our plans to invite a portion of our undergraduate student body, the frosh and sophomore classes, to return to live on campus this winter quarter in a residence with a private sleeping space. However, we are making adjustments based on recommendations by our medical experts, and also mindful of the latest state and county public health directives.

Our updated plan is as follows:

Our academic calendar has not changed, and the timing of winter quarter instruction will remain the same (beginning Jan. 11 for most, Jan. 4 for some professional programs). Instruction will still be largely remote, and the first two weeks of instruction will be fully remote, for all students at all levels.

To support everyone’s health and safety amid the COVID-19 surge occurring around the country, we will have a phased return for undergraduates, in which many undergraduates will arrive two weeks after the quarter begins. This will allow more time for the current surge to pass, and it will reduce the total number of students who need to travel, move in and get tested at any one time. Undergraduates from all class years with approved special circumstances, resident assistants, and new transfer students will be invited to return to campus during the week of Jan. 4, in advance of the Jan. 11 start of classes (exact move-in dates are being finalized and will be communicated shortly). Frosh and sophomores who do not have approved special circumstances and have elected to live on campus in the winter quarter will be able to arrive after the first two weeks of the quarter – specifically, from the evening of Jan. 21 through Jan. 24 (again, details will be shared shortly).

Arriving undergraduates will be tested twice on arrival day. We are establishing a residence-based system for an initial rapid test, to be followed by a second COVID-19 test following arrival. As we shared previously, all on-campus students, undergraduate and graduate, will be required to test twice per week thereafter, though this frequency may be reduced as health conditions allow.

Importantly, for the first two weeks that returning or newly arriving undergraduate and graduate students are on campus, there will be no in-person gatherings (including gatherings of student households), and there could be additional county requirements for those who are completing travel. Currently, Santa Clara County has a 14-day quarantine directive for those who arrive in the county from travel. This directive expires Dec. 21 but could be extended. If it is in place in January, those arriving from travel will need to be prepared to follow quarantine requirements, which involve staying home and minimizing in-person contact with others.

Our experiences and outcomes this fall, coupled with the advice we have received from our medical experts, give us the confidence to move forward with these modified plans. We understand the challenges of making travel plans in the current environment, and thus we can say that we expect to proceed with the above unless further changes in state or county rules require otherwise, or the public health environment changes to such an extent that we are unable to ensure a safe environment on-campus for our community.

Wearing face coverings, physical distancing and limiting contact with people outside one’s household remain critical to inhibiting the spread of the virus. We hope and expect that, over the course of the winter quarter, improving conditions will allow us to offer more opportunities for people to gather and interact in-person. Vaccines, of course, will be even more welcome, and they too are on the horizon.

More information is below. A virtual town hall for undergraduate students and families is being planned for this Friday at 9 a.m. Pacific time, and there will be additional communication in the coming days with more details about this and other aspects of our winter planning. Thank you for your continuing perseverance as we steer through the challenges of this pandemic – and I wish you a restful and restorative winter break.

Persis Drell


Under the above plan, unless you have an approved special circumstance, you will need to begin the first two weeks of your Stanford winter quarter fully remotely. If you have successfully applied for on-campus housing and still wish to come to campus, you are invited to arrive during a period running from the evening of Jan. 21 through Jan. 24, before the third week of the quarter begins. Details about the move-in process will be provided to you shortly.

Your room and board charges for the winter quarter will be pro-rated to reflect the reduced time you are able to live in on-campus housing. If you decide not to live on campus in the winter quarter based on the modified plan we are sharing today, there will be no financial penalty for canceling your housing contract.

After you arrive, you will still be subject to the two-week period in which gatherings are not allowed, and as described above, there also could be county quarantine requirements during this period of time. Out of a 10-week quarter, this will leave 6 weeks for a campus experience that we hope (assuming health conditions allow) will permit safely designed gatherings, in-person interactions, and other features that begin to approach the “normal” campus experience. While basic public health measures like face coverings and an emphasis on outdoor activity will likely be with us for a while, we believe this can still be a meaningful period, for those who wish, to connect with the campus, to form friendships, and to begin to establish (or re-establish) your home here.

The choice to come to campus is yours, and Stanford will support you in whatever path you choose. As we’ve shared previously, most instruction will be remote, and you will be able to pursue your Stanford education wherever you choose to live.


Details about on-campus arrival, the COVID-19 testing process and other aspects of beginning the winter quarter will be provided to you in a further communication coming this week. We continue planning to invite juniors and seniors to live on-campus for the spring quarter if they wish, assuming public health conditions allow.

In addition, for undergraduate students and families, the Offices of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Undergraduate Education will host a virtual town hall this Friday, Dec. 11, at 9 a.m. Pacific time to provide more details and answer your questions. Information about the town hall will be coming shortly, and you will be able to submit questions in advance.

Information also will continue to be available on the Re-Approaching Stanford website.