This past year, many schools struggled to remain open amidst Covid breakouts and used a combination of testing, masks, and social distancing practices to give students access to some on-campus life. Hopes are high for the fall of 2021 due to the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines. Many colleges are requiring, incentivizing, or recommending that students and staff be fully vaccinated against Covid in the hopes of a return to a more normal fall 2021 semester.

Will Covid-19 Vaccines be Required?

Already there are 200 campuses and counting that are requiring Covid vaccines for students. Highly selective private schools that are mandating the vaccine for students include Amherst, BC, Brown, BU, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Lehigh, MIT, Notre Dame, NYU, Princeton, Stanford, Tufts, Penn, USC, Wake Forest, WashU, Williams, and Yale. Fewer public universities are mandating student vaccines, but those that already are include Cal State University, Rutgers, University of California, University of Colorado, University of Maryland, and University of Massachusetts. Most of these schools are requiring students to register proof of vaccination through the college’s app. Right now the Covid vaccines do not have full FDA approval, only emergency use authorization. Therefore, some schools have been hesitant to require them, until full FDA approval is granted.

Some universities, such as the State University of New York, do not yet feel that a mandate is necessary because students are willingly getting the vaccine. SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras stated, “If by the middle of summer, if we feel like our students have not gotten vaccinated enough to come back, we’ll talk about a mandatory vaccination program, but we’ll cross that bridge only if we have to get to it,” he said. “Right now we feel very confident that most of our students are going to get vaccinated.”

Other schools are trying to incentivize Covid vaccines for students, rather than create a mandate. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, students who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to submit to weekly Covid testing this fall. Dickinson State University created a plan to allow fully vaccinated students to be exempt from mask-wearing as early as this spring and to make mask wearing optional for the fall 2021 semester for all vaccinated students.

Harvard is currently recommending, but not requiring, the Covid vaccine for students. Even the schools with vaccine mandates have stated that they will allow exemptions for medical and religious reasons. Brown has gone a step further, stating, “Undergraduate and graduate students who are not vaccinated and do not qualify for a medical or religious exemption will not be permitted to access campus and will need to either petition to study remotely from their permanent residence or take a leave of absence.”

What Will Campus Look Like in the Fall 2021?

Many schools plan for a full return of residential occupancy and in-person classes for the fall of 2021, with some public health measures in place.  According to NPR, “Even with large portions of their student bodies vaccinated, campuses are likely to keep many of the elements that have come to define COVID-19 college: masking, frequent coronavirus testing and social distancing. Even with a vaccination requirement for the fall, Rutgers has said it will continue to test all students and faculty members until public health officials advise otherwise.”

As of April 15, 2021, more than 90% of Notre Dame’s undergrad and professional students were already vaccinated with at least their first vaccine dose. This allowed Notre Dame to already “relax some of the campus health protocols, including allowing expanded visitation in residence hall lounges and dispensing with face masks outdoors for gatherings of fewer than 25 people.”

If there is a high level of immunity in the fall, Cornell plans to begin the semester with normal in-person instruction without a routinely provided online option, but with enhanced safety measures (e.g., mandatory high-quality mask wearing, special seating, additional ventilation, surveillance testing, etc.). Duke and Georgetown have announced plans for normal residential and classroom density this fall and will continue to follow public health guidelines regarding masking and testing.

Yale expects the return of mostly in-person classes. “We likely will continue to require some preventive measures such as mask wearing and asymptomatic testing, and we will have vaccination clinics as needed. All cohorts of Yale College students are expected to be eligible for on-campus housing, and our plans include a return to normal housing density. We may have a phased move-in to allow for vaccination of arriving students who have not had the opportunity to be inoculated in their home states or countries.”

Dr. Sarah Van Orman, USC’s chief health officer, states, “We believe that higher education generally will be able to resume a kind of normal activity in the fall of ’21, and by that I mean students in classrooms and in the residence halls, others on campus, and things generally open. But it will not look like the fall of 2019, before the pandemic. That will take a while.”

The return to full occupancy is great news for colleges and students who have struggled the past year. Hopefully all of this is giant step in the right direction! At Collegiate Gateway, we understand the stress and anxiety surrounding these new changes in the college process. Explore our upcoming presentations on our website or set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our admissions consulting services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!