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 (two videos below expand on this).
  • 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 this letter, 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.

Go to the web site to view the video.

Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs

Informational video for Stanford’s communities about the realities of campus life from a student’s perspective.

Go to the web site to view the video.

Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs

Informational video for Stanford’s communities about the realities of campus life with helpful advice from the Medical Center’s renowned physician leaders.

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

Additional information for undergraduates

Below are key points for undergraduates about the spring quarter. Additional details are provided in these Frequently Asked Questions.

  • Stanford is welcoming juniors and seniors to be in residence on campus for the spring quarter if they wish to. Those who choose to come to campus will join graduate students, and undergraduates with approved special circumstances, who already have been here for the winter quarter.
  • Most undergraduate instruction will continue to be remote, regardless of whether a student chooses to live on campus for the quarter or elsewhere. Juniors and seniors who choose not to come to campus will still have access to their Stanford education through virtual coursework. We expect to be able to offer a limited number of in-person classes under public health rules in effect this spring, primarily those classes that need specialized spaces such as labs or performance spaces. Some in-person classes may be taught outside, depending on instructor preference.
  • Students will hear about spring quarter housing assignments on March 5.
  • Juniors and seniors arriving on campus will be able to schedule move-in appointments for the period of March 24-28; more details will be provided shortly. As in the winter quarter, for newly arriving undergraduates we will provide access to an optional test-at-home service prior to campus arrival, and we will have a two-test sequence for COVID-19 upon arrival. If you test positive, you will need to isolate. The university will provide on-campus isolation space, delivered meals, consultation regarding medical care, and other support.
  • For all undergraduates, both new and returning, there will be a period of restricted activity at the beginning of the spring quarter similar to the “travel quarantine” that Stanford had in place at the beginning of the winter quarter. We will need all undergraduates to participate because we will have a great deal of movement and mixing as new students arrive at the beginning of the quarter. We want everyone to be able to settle in safely, and this is challenging in residences where undergraduates live in close proximity and share many spaces. Please see the Frequently Asked Questions for more information about this period of restricted activity.
  • We continue planning with the intention of inviting frosh and sophomores to live on campus for the summer quarter, public health conditions permitting. Additional information about our summer planning, and offerings we expect to be available in the summer quarter, will be forthcoming.

Additional information on criteria for spring quarter planning

Three criteria drove our considerations about undergraduate planning for the spring quarter, as Provost Drell and Vice Provost Susie Brubaker-Cole wrote in January.

Public health and hospital capacity: In December and January, COVID-19 cases were surging across the country. In our local area, hospitals in January were reaching their maximum intensive care unit capacities. Now, caseloads are declining and hospital capacity is increasing, including in Santa Clara County. Detailed data are available on the dashboards of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Looking ahead, the modeling by our experts in the School of Medicine, which has been accurate for the winter quarter, suggests that California could see a leveling off in infections in the early spring, or, if there is rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 variants, a small increase that is expected to be followed by a decline later in the spring.

Only in an unlikely worst-case scenario – with uncontrolled variant spread and reduced adherence to public health protocols such as mask wearing – would infections be expected to return to the level that we saw in early January, according to the School of Medicine’s modeling.

Systems and staffing: Inviting more students to return to campus depends upon having the necessary people and specialized support infrastructure in place. We have reviewed closely our systems and staffing for the spring quarter, and they include the following:

  • Physical safeguards: All undergraduates in campus housing will have a private sleeping space. Lower housing density reduces the number of users of shared bathrooms, which also have barriers installed between basins and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting also takes place 7 days a week in common spaces and dining facilities. The CleanDining program supports students and employees in our dining halls.
  • COVID-19 testing: Students on campus will continue to have mandatory twice-weekly COVID-19 testing, paid for by the university, along with two-test arrival testing for newly arriving undergraduates. Stanford’s testing system has the capacity to support the increase in on-campus population. Our testing protocols were very effective in identifying and quickly isolating COVID-positive cases as students arrived at the beginning of the winter quarter. And, thanks to our robust contact tracing and quarantine systems for close contacts of infected individuals, we saw almost no community spread during winter quarter as a whole.
  • Isolation and quarantine space: We are again setting aside sufficient space for students in university housing who need isolation space due to a COVID-19 positive test or quarantine space due to a COVID-19 exposure.
  • Protections for workers: We are grateful for the workers who are providing front-line support and services for students. In addition to receiving protective equipment and necessary training in COVID-19 protocols, our on-site employees are being provided with required COVID-19 testing on a weekly basis. Weekly testing is also being provided for employees of contract firms working in custodial, security and child care services on campus.
  • Residential staffs: RFs, RDs and student residential staff will be in place to support undergraduates living on campus and help create the best possible residential environment under the limitations of the pandemic. We’re grateful for their dedication to supporting students in this challenging period, and we’ll be working to support them and to ensure they have the tools to protect their health and safety.
  • Mental health support: Providing for our community’s mental and emotional health is a particular priority in the era of COVID-19. We recognize that students have a range of emotional needs and thus will have both clinical services via CAPS and supportive coaching via Well-Being at Stanford available as supportive resources.
  • Health Check: Daily self-reporting of health status is required for all Stanford students and employees who are on campus. Health Check helps prevent those with symptoms from interacting with others, and it facilitates contact tracing when needed.
  • Notification protocols: When COVID-positive cases are identified on campus, our protocols provide for notifications of close contacts as well as notifications of neighbors in student residences.

On-campus student experience: Our key concern about the winter quarter was that lengthening stringent public health rules would significantly limit the on-campus undergraduate experience. Those rules have eased somewhat. The Bay Area has exited the regional stay at home order that was in effect in January. Santa Clara County has been in the purple or “widespread risk” tier of the state’s COVID-19 framework based on COVID-19 caseloads and test positivity rates, and is expected to improve to the red “substantial risk” tier soon.

Changes in public health restrictions mean that, after the period of restricted activity for undergraduates at the beginning of the quarter, we expect to be able to offer opportunities for students this spring to:

  • Form “households” of up to eight people that are able to gather socially, with the appropriate precautions;
  • Have more in-person academic interactions in small groups, likely outside, again with the appropriate precautions; and
  • Potentially have additional opportunities for small outdoor gatherings involving more than one household, with appropriate precautions, depending on how public health rules evolve. We will continue to work with student leaders on what is possible.

However, many important restrictions remain in place. Face coverings and physical distancing will be essential throughout the spring quarter. The period of restricted activity may be a period of loneliness for many students. Twice-weekly COVID-19 testing will be mandated, and those who repeatedly fail to comply will lose access to campus buildings other than their residence. And though we expect some gatherings to be possible, campus life still will be far less vibrant than students would experience in normal times. All juniors and seniors should consider these factors before making a final decision to come to campus.