An update on undergraduate spring quarter

Dear Stanford community,

As promised, we’re writing to update you on Stanford’s undergraduate plans for the spring quarter that begins March 29. In summary:

  • We have concluded that the conditions support moving forward with offering juniors and seniors the opportunity to return to campus for the spring quarter, with systems and safeguards in place to protect our community’s health.
  • We will need everyone in our community to continue doing their part to support one another’s health and safety.
  • Current modeling suggests chances are low of needing to make a change in this plan before classes begin; if one is necessary, we will let students and families know with as much notice as possible.
  • To give all students more time to make their plans for the spring quarter and choose classes, the opening of Axess for spring enrollment is being pushed back one week, from Feb. 28 to March 7.

Major factors in our decision

Throughout the pandemic, we have worked to support members of our community in resuming activities and pursuing their aspirations to the extent it can be done safely. That informed our thinking about the spring quarter experience for juniors and seniors, as well. To come to a final decision, we carefully evaluated the COVID-19 situation using the decision criteria that were shared previously. We also heard and thought in depth about the wide array of input that many of you have provided, including important input from student leaders.

More detail is provided below, but the major considerations influencing our decision to move forward were:

  • Modeling of infections and hospitalizations by experts in our Stanford School of Medicine suggests that the trajectory of COVID-19 this spring is likely to be manageable.
  • We believe our campus is prepared to respond effectively to positive cases that occur. We are prepared, for instance, to manage positive cases at the beginning of the quarter should any students who are unknowingly infected arrive on campus. We saw such cases in winter quarter, but our arrival testing allowed us to quickly identify and isolate those who were infected and avoid transmission within our community.

While many restrictions will remain in place, we have greater hope of offering a meaningful on-campus experience in the spring than we did this winter. Large gatherings will not be possible, and our Commencement ceremony in June will be virtual. But we expect students will be able to gather socially within our eight-person “households” structure, and we are hopeful they will have other opportunities for small in-person interactions as public health rules allow.

We have heard concerns from our community that juniors and seniors will disregard public health protocols. We have a higher expectation; we believe the vast majority of Stanford students, and hopefully all, will engage in responsible behaviors. We will continue to work with student leaders to help identify and organize activities that students can do safely. And, we have worked to put in place university systems and support to protect the health of our community and to respond effectively to COVID-19 infections when they occur.

Providing a supportive environment for graduate students, just as for undergraduates, continues to be critical to us. Vice Provosts Susie Brubaker-Cole and Stacey Bent will be in touch with graduate students shortly with additional information about the spring quarter.

For those interested in the scale of increase associated with inviting juniors and seniors back, we currently have about 5,100 graduate students and 1,500 undergraduates with approved special circumstances living on campus. About 1,300 juniors and seniors, beyond those already here, have applied for campus housing in the spring quarter, though this number could change as students solidify their spring quarter plans.

What students should know before deciding to come to campus

It will be critical for every person on our campus to actively support the health and safety of our entire community. For students coming to campus, face coverings, physical distancing and twice-weekly COVID-19 testing will be required; most classes will still be remote; only small gatherings will be allowed, with appropriate health measures; there will again be a period of restricted activity for undergraduates at the beginning of the quarter that could be lonely for some. All juniors and seniors should consider these factors before making a final decision to come to campus. The choice to come is also a choice to abide by university policies and public health measures.

Please view a video featuring Stanford student perspectives about life on campus, and a video from Stanford medical leaders about the public health situation.

Our intention is to move ahead with this plan and avoid changes between now and the start of the spring quarter. Students have asked: What could precipitate a change in plans during that period?

An unanticipated exponential rise in COVID-19 cases locally, such as one fueled by the SARS-CoV-2 variants, could require a change if it created untenable health conditions or restrictions on social interactions that would lead to serious, protracted isolation for our students. This would include caseloads similar to those in early January and state/county restrictions that equate to a renewed, lengthy stay-at-home order. At this time, modeling by our School of Medicine colleagues based on current circumstances suggests that chances are low that we will experience such an increase. Should circumstances unexpectedly change in coming weeks such that we cannot continue with the plan outlined here, we will contact students and families with as much notice as possible.

The section below provides additional spring quarter details for undergraduates, and it shares more about the criteria that informed our decision-making. Thank you for everything you are doing to keep our community healthy, and to help our educational and research activities move forward safely.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President
Persis Drell, Provost

Read more additional information for undergraduates