Harvard announced today that it would invite only 40% of its undergraduates to live on campus this fall. All 1,650 first-year students will have the option to reside on the Cambridge grounds when the term begins on September 2. But students will not attend live classes. Instead they will isolate in their single dormitory bedrooms and take all of their courses online.
“We’re not advocating that students come to campus,” says a Harvard spokesperson. “We just recognize that for first-year students, being on campus this year is incredibly important.”
The advantages for first-year students include the opportunity to meet their peers face to face and to interact live with the proctors, tutors and academic deans who are assigned to first-year dorms. But beyond those one-on-one meetings and small, informal gatherings, there will be no organized live activities. “We’re going to prioritize virtual socializing,” says the Harvard spokesperson. “That should be the first option for social contact.”
Plans for the spring semester are not yet set. Tentatively, Harvard will send first-year students home and bring seniors back to finish their final semester living in campus housing, should they choose.
For the fall, upper class students can apply to live on campus if they don’t have access to the technology they need to learn online or if their living situation otherwise interferes with virtual instruction. Students who need access to laboratories or other facilities like non-digital archives, can also apply.
The announcement was posted today on Harvard’s website. It says that Harvard wants to “recapture the residential liberal arts and sciences experience that is core to our identity,” but that “there is an intrinsic incompatibility between our highly interactive, residential Harvard College experience and the social distancing needed to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.”
First-year students who choose to live on campus will be housed in single bedrooms inside the 17 brick dorms in and around Harvard Yard, which dates to the 1600s. With names like Holis and Holworthy, the dorms have suites of bedrooms that share common living areas and a shared bathroom. Traditionally, as many as four students share one bedroom. For the fall term, all the bedrooms will be configured as singles. Depending on how many first-years choose to live on campus, some may be housed in the 12 Harvard residential buildings just off campus that are usually reserved for upper class students.
Students will be required to wear masks, observe social distancing protocols and they must submit to Covid-19 tests every three days. The testing regime is subject to change, depending on the recommendations of public health officials.
To eat, students will have access to “touchless food pick-up,” from campus dining halls. They can eat outside or bring food back to their bedrooms or common areas.
Students will have “some access to athletic and recreational facilities” in order to promote wellness, according to the announcement, but those details have yet to be spelled out. As for sports like football, the spokesperson acknowledged that it would be impossible to field a team if students are not present. But Harvard is waiting for the Ivy League to make an announcement, expected July 8, about league competition.
Students have until July 24 to decide whether to defer enrollment. “We maintain a flexible deferral policy,” says the spokesperson. Harvard usually says yes to those students who choose to defer. Payment for the first semester is not due until mid-August. Harvard is raising its total billed costs this year from $68,607 to $72,356.
Princeton also announced its reopening plans today. It is inviting first-year students and juniors to live on campus. As at Harvard, teaching will be done remotely.
While colleges around the world struggle to devise reopening plans that ensure enough students will enroll, America’s most elite universities can assume that they will fill all of their seats with students eager to attend. Harvard admitted 4.92% of applicants to the class of 2024, just slightly more than the record low of 4.5% to the class of 2023.
In early June, Harvard announced that its law school and five of its graduate schools will be online-only in the fall.