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The COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus pandemic has profoundly changed student life for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

Timeline of Events

January 2020 to early March

  • Concerns building around the pandemic, especially for New York City.
  • Near the end of this period, Columbia administration keeping in eye on the infection rates, peer schools like NYU and other Ivies, and creating their own University COVID-19 Task Force with infectious disease professors, upper-level administration, and other appointees.


  • After a period of uncertainty, students were told to leave campus, barring special circumstances. This was relatively well-received, compared to peer schools like Princeton.
  • Columbia Housing directed students to two external moving and storage companies. Due to extreme load, this ended up working out badly, and many students were forced to leave their belongings or pay large amounts to ship them to their home addresses.

Remainder of Spring 2020

  • The semester moved to P/F (not P/D/F) for both SEAS and CC students.
  • Many professors chose to cancel their final exams in favor of projects due to the P/F policy and timezone differences.

Fall 2020

  • Both Summer 2020 and Fall 2020 were shifted back to letter-grading.
  • Most student concerns centered around too much Zoom and screen usage, academic honesty, and timezones. Only classes under the Engineering department were required to be recorded and asynchronous.
  • On November 16th, 2020, ESC announced that they had convinced the Columbia administration to allow SEAS undergrads to take one class P/D/F, regardless of class level or subject, including major requirements. This policy came in stark contrast to the usual SEAS P/D/F policy, which allows students to P/D/F one 3000+ level humanities class per semester. With this new policy, students had a chance to select the P/D/F grading option up until the last day of classes, and after learning their final grade in the class, had the option to uncover the Pass if they chose.
  • Soon after, on November 18th, CCSC announced the same policy would also apply to CC students. No such policy was extended to GS or Barnard students.

Spring 2021

  • Despite many high hopes, Columbia did not return to normal in the spring of 2021.
  • CC and SEAS seniors were guaranteed housing, while everyone else got the boot (students with extenuating circumstances had the option to petition for housing, and many received it).
  • Barnard guaranteed housing for seniors and freshmen, while sophomores and juniors got the short end of the stick. As with Columbia, Barnard students could also petition for housing if they had extenuating circumstances, but because of Barnards limited dorm space, very few were accepted.
  • Despite it's best efforts to de-densify campus, around 70-80% of the undergrad population returned to NYC, scattered across dorms and off-campus apartments in Morningside Heights.
  • To safely allow this much higher volume of students, Columbia developed a rigorous testing program.
  • Courses were shifted to a hybrid modality, where each professor had control over how much they wanted to teach in-person or online, with in-person teaching staying within NYC guidelines of course. The vast majority of professors decided to stick with the online format, and classes that did go hybrid had mixed effectiveness.
  • Facilities slowly opened up. Libraries were available to students who signed up for 4-hour time slots. Dodge Gym reopened for use. Undergrad labs once again began hiring undergrad students.
  • During the winter, Columbia set up heated outdoor tents for students to have a safe place to socialize without freezing to death.

Virtual Learning

Returning Back to Normal