Messages from the University

Washington University Fall Opening Update: New Students and Families

July 31, 2020

Dear new Washington University students and families,

As we have shared previously, we are so thrilled that you have chosen Washington University and we want to again extend our welcome to you, as our newest members of the Bear Family!  Without a doubt, your first year at WashU will be historic and memorable. You will find that when we face challenges at Washington University, we tackle them head on, with determination, creativity, and care for our community. This year has presented us with a great challenge and we want to share more today about how we will approach the fall semester in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By now, we hope you have had the opportunity to review the message from Chancellor Andrew D. Martin and Provost Beverly Wendland related to our fall planning. There are many important details in that message about the return to campus.

There is one thing we need all of you to do by 5 p.m. CDT, on Wednesday, August 5. Now that you have seen our detailed plans for fall, you will need to submit an Intention for Fall Study form to indicate whether you plan to study in-person or remotely.

For first-year students who may be considering a gap year, please see the University’s official policy and note that any requests to defer enrollment must be received by 5 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, August 5. Individual requests will be reviewed and decisions rendered no later than August 15.

We also want to provide some additional updates that may help you to determine if in-person or remote study is best for you.

WashU Community Pledge and Policy Acknowledgement

We know this has been hard for all of you. Many of you did not get to experience an in-person high school graduation. Your summer plans likely were made more difficult by the conditions where you live and the uncertainty we all are facing. We know you are excited about your future at Washington University and we can’t wait to meet all of you. But the start to your college experience will also be different than those who came before you. We know we can do this, and we also know that if we are willing to work together, and if we all agree to abide by our public health principles, many of us can be together on campus.

Please carefully review the WashU Community Pledge and Policy Acknowledgment for Students. We are asking that you make sure you will be able to adhere to this Community Pledge, including public health requirements for those of you who are coming to campus, and that you all understand  the policies in place for the fall semester, whether you will be studying on campus or remotely. The Community Pledge will be part of a COVID-19 education and training module that you all will be required to complete through our online learning platform Canvas before the semester begins. You’ll be provided more information on the module soon.

In order for us to be together, we all must agree to:

  • Wear face coverings at all times when we are indoors (except in suites and apartments with only your roommates) and when we are outside and unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distance;
  • Physically distance at all times – this means we must stay 6 feet apart from those people we do not live with in individual suites and apartments – AT ALL TIMES;
  • Monitor symptoms and stay home if we are not feeling well – there will be a daily self-screening tool for all of us who are coming to campus that will help us do this together;
  • Practice great hygiene by washing our hands regularly for at least 20 seconds and following other health recommendations.

Staying Connected and the Academic Experience

We know not everyone will be able to be here in person, and to support those of you who can’t be with us on campus this fall, please know we are hard at work developing new and innovative ways to stay connected – whether that is through virtual connections with our hundreds of student groups, the online courses being developed by our world-class faculty, or the plans we have in place to support and connect students with employers and internships through our career services. Your academic deans will send additional details about your academic program shortly.

Arrival to Campus and Testing

The First Year Center will continue to be your source of information about Bear Beginnings, your welcome and orientation to WashU. We are adjusting Fall Welcome to reduce the size of our in-person events and will provide a virtual experience for those who choose to take their classes remotely. Details about Get Your Bearings online orientation and Fall Welcome are available on the New Students website.

Very soon, those who are planning to come to campus in person will be arriving from all over the country and around the world. We are asking every student and family coming to significantly limit their interactions with others for two weeks before departing for campus. Additionally, we are developing plans to test students who will be living in University housing for COVID-19 when they arrive in September. The University will not accept test results administered prior to arriving on campus. If you are taking classes on campus, you will receive a care kit that includes a mask/face covering and a thermometer. More information will be available when we communicate detailed information about our move-in process later in August.


Washington University is known for its world-class residential life program and the many outstanding housing options we provide to our students both on and near campus. The biggest challenge we face related to housing our students this fall is density. We have carefully considered and studied many options for the fall given our existing housing portfolio and options that are available to us near campus. We have decided on the plan below – a plan that prioritizes student safety and that of our community while also allowing for students to be able to live together in a community and study on and near our campus.

In response to COVID-19, the American College Health Association has recommended placing all students in single bedrooms. All students living in on- and off-campus Residential Life managed properties will be assigned to single private bedrooms. This will reduce our on-campus residential density to no more than 65% of the normal capacity, and will limit the number of people sharing bathrooms. Residence hall lounges, study rooms, kitchens, and other common spaces will be reconfigured and marked to allow for physical distancing. In some cases, furniture will be moved or removed entirely to create more space.

First-year students, you will live on the South 40, which is where all new students live during their first year, every year. Even though everyone will be living in single rooms, we will attempt to honor existing roommate requests by assigning those students near or adjacent to each other.

Transfer students, we know that many of you are still seeking housing. Residential Life may be able to provide housing for some, but not all transfer students. The First Year Center and Residential Life will provide more information about housing resources in the Transfer Student Edition of the Bear Bulletin on Monday, August 3.

For the 2020-21 academic year, we also will be lifting the first-year residency requirement for students, so if you wish to seek alternative accommodations, or live at home (for students from the St. Louis region), you will be able to do so this year. This change is both for students who wish to take classes in person and for those who wish to take their courses online.

Housing assignments will be finalized by August 24. Following the release of assignments, students will have until 5 p.m. CDT on Monday, August 31 to cancel their housing contract without penalty.

It is also important to share that in light of the pandemic, we are reserving a significant number of beds on campus to be used as both isolation housing for COVID-positive students, and quarantine housing for those who have been exposed to COVID and need a place to self-quarantine based on the recommendations of our medical team. Staff from Habif Health & Wellness Center will monitor students staying in isolation and quarantine housing. We will ensure the students in university isolation and quarantine housing have meals delivered and that they do not need to leave their rooms. In many cases, COVID-positive students will be assigned to share apartments with other COVID-positive students while they recover. Students told to quarantine will be assigned to stay in a room by themselves. Quarantine and isolation housing will be available by referral from Habif Health & Wellness Center to all students, regardless of whether they have an existing Residential Life contract.

Finally, to help ensure the safety of our residential communities, our guest policies will be changed for the fall semester. Residential Life properties will only be accessible to the students who live there and the staff who work there. Guests, including those who live in other residential spaces on campus, will not be permitted until the public health situation improves. There will be exceptions for a limited number of family members related to move-in – those details will be communicated soon.

Later today, Residential Life will send a follow-up communication with important and detailed instructions to students with current housing contracts.

Town Halls

We are planning several town halls next week, and we hope you can join us as we answer questions and share additional information about the fall semester. The town hall schedule and information about how to participate are available on the WashU Together website.

International Students

We understand that this spring and summer brought on many changes to U.S. governmental guidance around your visa status throughout the pandemic. We are glad that the current policy provides you the most flexibility to maintain your status and safety while studying at WashU. The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) will continue to provide summaries of relevant guidelines and be your main source of information regarding any updates. Please look for a communication from OISS later today regarding questions and information on next week’s town hall addressing the details for international students returning to campus.

Financial Support

We know the current pandemic has affected every single one of you. We want to make sure you know that we are here for you. For some, these past few months have created financial strain. Please reach out to your individual financial aid counselor in Student Financial Services if you have questions about your individual situation. Families whose financial circumstances have changed significantly are also encouraged to apply for need-based aid, even if they didn’t qualify in the past.

We also will be opening a crisis fund as an additional source of support. Information about the crisis fund will be available next week. In addition, we have worked hard this summer to make sure there is extra technology support available to all students eligible for financial aid who may need a new computer. Finally, we want to be clear that in the event the University needs to move to alternate operations again as a result of the pandemic, our housing and dining will remain open for students who are in a situation where they are not able to travel home.

We want you to know how much we are looking forward to meeting you!  Washington University is a great place to work, teach and study, because of you, our very talented students!  We look forward to being together with you soon, whether in person or virtually. We know we can do this if we work together!


Ronné Turner, Vice Provost of Admissions and Financial Aid

Robert M. Wild, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs