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A college-by-college look at what some schools in Mass. are planning for the fall

Students walked across MIT's campus in Cambridge in early March.
Students walked across MIT's campus in Cambridge in early March.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

High school seniors, returning college students, and their families are wondering what the fall semester holds for them amid the coronavirus pandemic, which led campuses to widely shut down in March.

Here’s a look at what some colleges in Boston and across Massachusetts and New England are planning for the fall semester, in order of most recent developments.

MIT (update issued July 7)

Students on MIT's campus in early March.
Students on MIT's campus in early March.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will invite seniors only to return to campus in the fall, the student newspaper The Tech reported ahead of the school’s official announcement on Tuesday, July 7.

No other undergraduates will be granted access to the school’s facilities, though students can apply for “special consideration for housing” which will be handled on a case-by-case basis, according to the Tech, which viewed a portion of the fall plan that was inadvertently posted to the school’s website. It has since been taken down.

At least some classes will be held in-person beginning on Sept. 8, according to the Tech, but it was unclear how many. A full announcement with more details on financial aid will be released on Tuesday, an MIT spokesperson said.

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Earlier this month on June 17, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had announced only some of the school’s undergraduates would be able to come back to campus in the fall — “conceivably as high as 60 percent, but likely much lower,” President L. Rafael Reif wrote in a letter to the MIT community.

Reif noted that social distancing would require converting double and triple dorm rooms into single-occupancy rooms, and that the academic schedule “may need to start a week early (around September 1), end any in-person instruction before Thanksgiving, and finish the term remotely.”

He also said that more answers — including who would be invited back go back to campus, where they would live, and when exactly the semester will begin and end — would be provided for undergrads “no later than the week of July 6th.”

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Brown University (updated issued July 7)

In the face of the ongoing pandemic, Brown University plans to institute a three-semester academic year, with terms in the fall, the spring, and next summer, and all undergraduates required to attend two out of three of them.

First-year students will not attend this fall, and if the coronavirus is still a danger in the spring, then all sophomores will skip that semester and attend in the summer instead.

Harvard University (update issued July 6)

Harvard's campus in Cambridge, as pictured on April 16.
Harvard's campus in Cambridge, as pictured on April 16.Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe/File 2020

Harvard University will only allow first-year students and undergraduates specifically invited for academic reasons to come to campus this fall in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Only 40 percent of Harvard’s undergraduates will be on campus starting in September, all teaching will be done remotely, in the spring freshmen will return home and seniors will come to Cambridge, students will be housed in single-room dormitories and most of the nonresidential buildings in Harvard Yard will be off limits.

Harvard has previously announced that many of its graduate programs will be taught remotely too. Six of Harvard University’s graduate schools announced on Wednesday, June 3, that they would be fully online for the upcoming fall semester or through the entire academic year.

Harvard’s Law School, Graduate School of Design, School of Divinity, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Kennedy School said they will be online for the fall semester. The university’s Graduate School of Education plans to be online for the entire academic year. Together they enroll nearly 6,000 students.

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Bringing students back to campus would have resulted in “a severely altered experience,” said Bridget Long, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in a message to the community.

The Kennedy School and Law School said they plan to be more flexible for students who want to defer for a year or take a leave of absence. However, those who remain enrolled are being promised a more robust online learning experience.

Berklee College of Music (update issued July 6)

Berklee College of Music announced on Monday that it would offer a hybrid of in-person and remote learning in the fall. For students who cannot or do not wish to return to campus, Berklee is allowing them to complete their coursework entirely online.

Many students will be offered on-campus housing, the school said in a press release. Most students who live on campus will be placed in a double occupancy dorm room with one roommate, according to Berklee’s website, and no more than two students will share a room. Some students may be placed in nearby hotels, according to the school.

“Berklee’s administration is currently studying options for testing and contact tracing on the Boston campus in conjunction with other institutions of higher education in the city, as well as federal, state, and local government policies, and expects to have solutions as students return to campus,” the school said in a press release. “Tufts Medical Center will continue to support the health and wellness of students, and Berklee is working closely with them to provide additional robust medical services directly related to COVID-19.”

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Boston College (update issued July 6)

Boston College announced on Monday that it intends to welcome students back to campus in the fall, with most classes featuring in-person teaching. Class sizes will be sharply reduced to allow for social distancing, according to the college, and many large lecture classes will be taught online.

In addition, Boston College said that about a quarter of its faculty had received permission to teach online.

The school had previously announced that it would house students on campus in the fall, with limits on the number of students assigned to a dorm room and other restrictions.

UMass Lowell (update issued July 1)

The University of Massachusetts Lowell will hold a combination of in-person and virtual classes this fall and allow students to live in the school’s dormitories, mostly in single-person rooms.

Dormitories will be opened at reduced capacity and some shared rooming situations will be allowed in suites and apartments, but most students will live in a room by themselves. In-person classes and labs will be taught with, in some cases, half as many students present as usual. Larger lectures will be held online.

The school will also offer meal plans with extensive to-go options, although students can make reservations to eat in the dining halls.

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Brandeis University (update issued June 30)

The Waltham school will allow undergraduate students back to campus this fall, but the majority of courses will take place online, president Ron Liebowitz announced on Tuesday.

Classes will begin a week early, on Aug. 26. Students will be asked to return home after Nov. 20, and all classes will finish online, according to a letter posted on the school’s website.

All new first-year students will live in single dorm rooms. Returning students who already have housing contracts will be guaranteed housing, the school said. There will be no increase in tuition this year and no lab or studio art fees.

Roxbury Community College (update issued June 30)

The school announced on Tuesday, June 30, plans to offer a combination of remote and in-person classes in the fall, although that is subject to change based on health data trends.

The offerings include courses that are entirely online with coursework completed at a student’s own pace; online classes with set meeting times; courses with some in-person classes and some online work; and a “limited number” of courses happening through traditional in-person instruction, according to the State House News Service.

The in-person classes will be held in spaces that allow instructors and students to remain six feet apart, college officials said.

UMass Amherst (update issued June 29)

The state’s flagship public college announced on Monday, June 29 that most of its classes will be held remotely in the fall, although students can opt to live in the dormitories if they’d prefer — although they will have to live by strict rules for social distancing.

“While all courses that do not require physical presence on campus will be offered remotely this fall, all undergraduate students who have reserved on-campus housing for the upcoming semester, and for whom there is space available, are invited to live on campus under strict public health behavioral restrictions,” college officials wrote in a letter to the campus community.

Students who do return will have to wear masks, agree to get tested when the university demands, and limit their travel away from the campus area.

The semester will begin Aug. 24 and will conclude November 20, at which time students will be expected to move out of campus residence halls. Final exams will be conducted remotely after Thanksgiving, according to the letter.

Faculty will teach most of the classes online, likely from their homes, to contain the spread of the coronavirus, officials said.

Students will not receive any tuition reduction for the online classes, although those who decide to stay home will not have to pay room and board costs, said Kumble Subbaswamy, UMass Amherst’s chancellor.

Williams College (update issued June 29)

Williams College relaxed on the steps of Chapin Hall in late February.
Williams College relaxed on the steps of Chapin Hall in late February. Gillian Jones/Associated Press

The elite liberal arts school in Western Massachusetts plans to host students in the fall, but is also offering the option for remote learning, according to a letter from the college’s president.

“If you feel uncomfortable with the changes to the campus and academic program. . . or prefer to wait for something more like a traditional semester. . . then you do have the option to take time off or remain off-campus and take your courses remotely,” the letter sent to the campus community states.

Even students who are on campus might have to take classes remotely to ensure social distancing, and it’s possible that on-campus students “could even have all of their courses be remote, depending on their choices.”

The academic schedule will remain largely unchanged, except all classes and exams will be remote after Thanksgiving.

COVID-19 testing will also be required for all students; tests will be administered upon students’ arrival and then weekly throughout the rest of the in-person term.

Although sports teams will be able to practice in small groups, traveling and competing in games will not be allowed.

The school is also cutting the total cost of attendance 15 percent; tuition, room, and board for the 2020-2021 academic year will now be $63,200, according to the letter.

Tufts University (update issued Tuesday, June 23)

Tufts University plans to welcome all undergraduate students back to campus this fall, the school’s president announced on Tuesday, June 23, saying his goal is to keep as much as possible about the semester intact.

Classes will begin as scheduled on Sept. 8 and conclude December 11. Unlike some other schools, Tufts plans to welcome back all students who want to return to campus. Students will be advised not to travel for Thanksgiving break, or on weekends or holidays.

To reduce risk in the classroom, students will be required to wear masks and classrooms will have fewer students so that everyone can stay 6 feet apart. Classes of more than 50 students will be conducted remotely or split up. Other courses will operate in a “hybrid” fashion that allows students to come back to campus or choose to continue to work remotely.

Students will live in “residential cohorts” of six to 12 students in an attempt to limit close contact. The school still plans to offer single, double, and triple rooms, but is constructing additional modular dormitories on campus tennis courts and in a parking lot, according to a detailed reopening guide.

Dining halls will be open but will take reservations and rely heavily on takeout options that can be ordered in advance. Students will be able to eat only with members of their residential cohort.

Middlebury College (update issued Monday, June 22)

Middlebury College in Vermont announced on Monday, June 22, that it expects about a third of its courses to be offered online this fall. Students will start on Sept. 8 and end in-person classes before Thanksgiving with no October break.

Students returning to campus in the fall will be expected to quarantine for two weeks before their arrival and will be tested when they get to campus. Only one person will be allowed to drop off each student on campus this fall and won’t be able to help with move-in duties, since only students will be allowed into the residence halls, Laurie Patton, Middlebury’s president, announced in a message to the community.

UMass Boston (update issued Monday, June 22)

The University of Massachusetts Boston sign, as pictured June 13.
The University of Massachusetts Boston sign, as pictured June 13.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

The school in Dorchester said on Monday, June 22, that it would conduct all classes remotely, except for certain lab and nursing courses that require facilities on campus.

“UMass Boston’s physical location and transportation patterns, as well as its relationship to the surrounding, large urban area, make it difficult to execute and enforce standards vis a vis social distancing and health/safety rules compared, for example, to a fully residential campus in a more removed setting,” wrote interim Chancellor Katherine Newman in a letter to the school’s community.

She also wrote that many community members are “at risk” for coronavirus — “especially in Black and Latinx communities nearby that have suffered disproportationately from COVID-19.”

“Our community members commute every day from some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the commonwealth, those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” she wrote. “We have a responsibility to ensure their safety and that of their older relatives.”

Bowdoin College (update issued Monday, June 22)

The elite liberal arts college in Maine announced on Monday, June 22, that the school will only allow freshmen to be on campus and will sit out varsity sports for the fall and winter. Bowdoin’s plan is one of the most strict among private colleges in limiting the number of students coming to campus.

Officials said students who can come back to campus include first-year and transfer students, those whose home-lives make it impossible to learn remotely, student residential life staff, and a small group of senior honors students. However, even then, many of the classes on campus will be taught online, and the school expects first-year and transfer students to learn remotely in the spring as it aims to bring upper-level students back to campus then.

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose also cited much uncertainty about the virus, a densely-packed campus, and populations with many different health concerns in the decision.


State universities (update issued Thursday, June 18)

State universities in Bridgewater, Fitchburg, Framingham, Salem, Westfield, and Worcester plan in September to bring students back to campuses, where they are scheduled to return to dorms and attend on-campus classes as the state copes with the uncertainties posed by COVID-19, according to an announcement made Thursday, June 18.

The state universities, in addition to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, and the Mass. Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, plan to offer a “blended model of instruction with face-to-face and remote coursework for the fall semester,” according to the State House News Service.

“Because the state universities have very few large lecture-style classes, and maintain low student-to-faculty ratios, we are confident our campuses will be able to provide students some level of in-classroom instruction,” said Vincent Pedone, executive director of the State Universities Council of Presidents.


Emerson College (update issued Wednesday, June 10)

Emerson College's campus, as pictured June 10.
Emerson College's campus, as pictured June 10. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The private school in downtown Boston announced Wednesday, June 10, that most classes in the fall will incorporate both in-person and online components, but students will not return to Boston after Thanksgiving break.

Emerson seems to plan on bringing most, if not all, students back to campus, according to a letter sent to the college community.

The return of students and faculty to Emerson’s downtown campus will be staggered, starting in mid- to late-August, when roughly 15 percent of the college’s staff will return. New students can begin moving into dorms on Aug. 21, and residence halls will open to continuing students beginning on Aug. 27. Classes will start online on Aug. 31 to accommodate off-campus students moving into apartments, and the first day of in-person classes will be Sept. 2.

Following Thanksgiving break, all classes, review sessions, and final exams will be conducted remotely. After final exams, the college will offer an optional online winter term, although it is unclear whether that will come at an additional cost for students.

Northeastern University (update issued Friday, June 5)

Northeastern University's West Village E Hall, as pictured in April.
Northeastern University's West Village E Hall, as pictured in April.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The populous campus in Boston will let students choose between coming to class or participating online as it reopens its campus in the fall, administrators said Friday, June 5.

“Northeastern University is planning a phased return of faculty and staff to its campuses in the coming weeks with the intention of reopening classrooms and residence halls to students in the fall,” officials wrote on the school’s website.

A program called NUflex will allow students on campus and those living elsewhere to participate in classes in person or through video, audio, or instant messaging, according to a message to the university community from Chancellor Kenneth W. Henderson and Provost David Madigan. The classes also will be recorded so that students can watch them later.

Northeastern is also working to reduce its campus population in dormitories and dining halls to allow for social distancing recommended by public health officials to halt the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, according to the administrators.

Boston University (update issued Monday, June 1)

Marsh Plaza on Boston University's campus, as pictured April 17.
Marsh Plaza on Boston University's campus, as pictured April 17.Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe

The densely populated campus that stretches between Kenmore Square and Allston will give its more than 18,000 undergraduate students the choice of in-person and online classes when it reopens the campus this fall, according to an announcement issued Monday, June 1.

“The LfA format lets students decide how to take classes, based on their needs and their comfort level,” BU President Robert Brown told BU Today, announcing the new system called “Learn from Anywhere.” He also said that students can “participate remotely from their dorm room or off-campus home,” and noted they can also choose to use the remote option “at any time during the semester.”

BU has said that it intends to bring students back on campus this fall and has slowly been rolling out details. The university has said it is also planning to reduce large classes into smaller student groups, called platoons. While one platoon attends class in-person, the remaining groups would do so remotely, on a rolling basis.

For example, according to BU Today, for a class that has 50 students but can only let 18 in the classroom at a time, the class would be divided into three platoons, with each student attending every third class and logging on remotely for the others.

Although BU used a credit/no credit grading system during the spring, the fall semester grading system will return to normal, interim associate provost for undergraduate affairs Sue Kennedy told BU Today.

Cape Cod Community College (update issued May 4)

Also known as “4Cs,” Cape Cod Community College announced in early May that it would be moving all its summer and fall classes to online, remote, or hybrid learning formats.

“We want students everywhere to know that 4Cs is open, and we’re doing so safely and creatively in digital spaces,” said the college’s president, John Cox, in a statement. “There’s no need for gap years or lost time towards degrees or certificates with our virtual doors now open for all students.”

Arlene Rodriguez, vice president of Academic and Student Affairs, noted that a community college education could prove a useful option for students who don’t look forward to spending tens of thousands of dollars at a four-year institution when they won’t have access to the usual amenities.

“One course at 4Cs costs just $670 compared to the same courses at local four-year colleges that cost more than $2,000 on average,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “It makes sense to take courses at 4Cs, stay on track with a higher education degree, and then transfer those credits with huge cost savings.”

Students who take classes at 4Cs can transfer their credits to four-year institutions, as long as they meet certain academic requirements, officials said.

Laura Krantz of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.


Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe. Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.