Coronavirus updates for GSAS students

March 13, 2020

Dear GSAS MA and PhD Students,

In this message we address various questions that graduate students in different stages of their programs and in different roles may have as a result of the university's response to the coronavirus emergency. All central updates will continue to appear on the University’s COVID-19 Guidance for the Columbia Community page. You should consult that site often for the latest developments and policy announcements.


Graduate students who are able to go home for the remainder of the semester should consider whether to do so. Since all spring classes will continue remotely, there is no requirement to return to or be on campus after the upcoming spring break. Students may remain in their apartments, and are not required to leave campus at this time. Those who have decided to leave on their own and not return after spring break can cancel their housing between March 12 and April 30 without a cancellation fee, and their rent will be prorated on their move-out date. If you have any questions about University Apartment Housing, please contact Columbia Residential at 212-854-9300 or [email protected].

International Students

As you have heard from ISSO, “While graduate students are not being encouraged to leave campus, the move to online classes means that they do not need to remain on campus to complete their coursework. It is important that you consider whether you will be able to fulfill your academic responsibilities wherever you intend to go, and whether your living conditions in your destination will allow social distancing and present less risk of community transmission than if you stay on campus.” 

The Department of Homeland Security has allowed a temporary accommodation for full-time students making academic progress to continue this semester’s courses online without jeopardizing their immigration status. If you have further questions about your visa status, please contact ISSO at 212-854-3587 or [email protected]


All Columbia-sponsored or funded travel, both international and domestic, is suspended for all affiliates. This policy does not affect personal travel, including any travel required for you to return home.

If you are already engaged in research or are in an academic program in a foreign destination, you should consider returning to your permanent home, but are not required to do so at this time. In some cases, recently announced bans on travel may make it impossible for you to return home. Should you decide to remain in place, or be prevented from returning by existing travel bans, please make sure to register with International SOS (ISOS) if you have not done so already. Also: Follow closely the guidelines issues by all local health authorities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Global Outbreak Notice, meaning that all countries are at least at CDC Level 2: Practice Enhanced Precautions. Europe is now also among the areas at CDC Level 3: Avoid Nonessential Travel due to COVID-19 outbreak. 

The situation is changing on a daily basis. Accordingly, and based on guidance from International SOS (ISOS), students in countries designated as CDC Travel Health Notice Levels 2 or 3 due to COVID-19 who have not yet returned to their permanent residence or to a safer location should assess if traveling now presents greater risks than staying in your current location. If you can safely return to your permanent address or a safer location now, you should. Please use information from ISOS, the CDC, and the U.S. Department of State as you evaluate your options.

Academics: classes, research, exams, defenses

The University will remain open and functioning, but all classes for the remainder of the semester will be conducted online.

If you are taking or teaching classes this semester, you are already doing so online. You may take or teach your classes from another location,including your local apartment or permanent home.

If you are teaching, The Center for Teaching and Learning has excellent resources for Teaching Online.

If you are taking classes and have technical difficulties with Zoom or other technologies your instructor is using, call the CUIT Service Desk at 212-854-1919; if you are on the medical campus, please call 212-305-4357, option 5.

It is important that, to the extent possible, you endeavor during this time to meet research requirements and milestones associated with your advance toward the degree:

  • If you have an upcoming comprehensive exam, you should communicate with your DGS about arranging to take that exam remotely.
  • If you have an oral exam, prospectus defense, or dissertation defense, you and the members of the relevant committee may participate remotely. Any policies governing the requirements for in-person attendance for some members of those committees have been suspended for the spring term.
  • If you are doing research in a lab, please consult your PI to determine whether any of the research work may be conducted remotely. If lab work must be conducted in person, please observe established protocols related to proper social distance from other individuals.
  • If you are working on your MA thesis or your dissertation, you should continue to advance in the drafting of work. Please consult with your advisor regularly via e-mail or Zoom.  Remember also that you have at your disposal online all of the resources of Columbia Libraries.


All GSAS public events have been canceled through the end of April 2020.

To Conclude

If you have specific circumstances that are not covered by the guidance above, please do not hesitate to write to [email protected].  We all —faculty, students, and staff— are going to have to make the most of this challenging situation.  Please organize your time and activities so that you may continue to advance your research agenda in spite of the current difficulties.

And above all, take every precaution to stay healthy and well.


Carlos J. Alonso, Dean
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences