November/December 2020Vol. XXXIII No. 2

MIT’s Plan for the Spring Semester

Cynthia Barnhart

On November 2, 2020, I wrote to the MIT community to share our current plan for the spring semester. I reiterated the principles that guided our decision-making, described the lessons learned so far this fall, and expressed appreciation to the MIT community for the perseverance and care we have shown for one another throughout the pandemic. Below, please find a summary of what we decided and why.

How we got here and what we learned

As President Reif outlined in July, our plan for the fall was careful and measured. So we could test our approach and adjust it as we learned, we extended invitations to return to campus only to graduate students, rising seniors, and students facing certain hardships, plus some members of our research enterprise. We indicated then that, if all went well under that plan, we would bring back first-years, sophomores, and juniors in the spring, so that every undergraduate class would have the opportunity to be on campus for at least one semester this academic year.

In assessing whether we could proceed with the spring plan we initially envisioned, we returned to the guiding principles that informed our July decisions:

  • Protect the public health of our entire community by reducing the number of people on campus;
  • Preserve our ability to deliver on MIT’s mission of teaching and research;
  • Enable all students to stay on track to their degrees; and
  • Remain dynamic and flexible in our approach, recognizing that the pandemic’s course may require MIT to change direction (and plans). 

To arrive at a decision for the spring, we re-examined the community’s extensive due diligence that informed President Reif’s July announcement. We evaluated Covid-19’s worsening local and national trajectory as well as projections for its path this coming winter and spring. And we looked to the lessons we’ve learned so far this fall about managing life on campus.

With nearly three months of the semester behind us, we have been able to contain the spread of the virus by making careful choices about access to campus and by implementing rigorous testing, tracing, isolation, and compliance systems. But nothing has been more important than the sustained effort by those accessing campus this fall to adhere to the social compact of the Covid era. This compact – which we all need to continue to abide by now more than ever given the concerning uptick in cases across Massachusetts, the country, and the world – requires us to take responsibility for our own health, and for each other’s.

What we decided about the spring

Our plan for the spring is much like our plan for the fall but involves a different undergraduate cohort. And, just as we did with our preparations for the fall, we are approaching the spring mindful of the fact that the pandemic’s persistent grip could force us to pivot at a moment’s notice.

Specifically, as we had hoped, all current first-years, sophomores, and juniors who would like to live and learn on campus are invited to do so. In order to access campus facilities, they will need to reside on campus. Seniors facing circumstances related to their safety, living conditions, visa status, or other hardship have applied for campus housing through the Student Housing Assistance Review Process (SHARP). A total of 122 seniors have been granted SHARP housing for the winter and/or spring.

We will make a decision by the end of the fall semester about whether seniors who choose to live nearby can have access to campus facilities in the same way that graduate students who live off campus do now.

We will be able to make a more informed determination after we learn more about our ability to manage the health of our community during cold weather, with Covid-19 prevalence on the rise and flu season beginning, and after we see how many first-years, sophomores, and juniors will access campus in the spring.

Other key details of our current spring 2021 plan:

  • Research operations will continue as they are now, as will graduate student education, which will follow the modified spring semester calendar described below. This could change depending on Covid-19 infection and transmission on campus and in the broader community.
  • Just as in the fall, many of our subjects will be taught exclusively online, with some opportunities for undergraduates living on campus and some graduate students to have in-person instruction. Departments will continue to make arrangements to ensure all students are able to stay on track with their degree progress.
  • Because cold weather makes it harder to socialize outdoors and because the to-and-fro of spring break travel presents an obvious risk of viral spread, the spring semester will start two weeks later for all students; instruction will be entirely online for the first two weeks to accommodate a one-week quarantine period for all on-campus students; and we will replace spring break with several long weekends distributed throughout the semester.
  • IAP 2021 will be all virtual and begin on Monday, January 4, 2021 and end on Friday, January 29, 2021.
  • We aim to continue to follow key residential life policies to reduce the possibility of infection and transmission while enabling safe, meaningful social connections:
    • The undergraduate pod program and the graduate residential visitors policy will be available to students in the spring.
    • Undergraduate students residing on campus will be required to be on a meal plan, which MIT will continue to subsidize.
    • There will be no competitive winter season athletics (a final determination about spring sports will be made in the coming weeks).
  • Restrictions on visiting student and scholar appointments will continue into the spring term as will our current travel guidelines for the MIT community.

It’s important for all students considering returning to campus for the spring (or in the case of first-year undergraduates, coming to campus for the first time) to know what life at MIT will be like. The Covid-19 policies and procedures in effect this fall will largely stay in place but we will work with our entire community to make sure we stay connected and create opportunities to safely socialize.


The students, faculty, and staff who are regularly accessing MIT’s campus this fall as well as those who are studying or working remotely have been essential to the success of the fall semester so far and contribute to our belief that we can safely extend our unique mind, hand, and heart educational opportunities to a larger cohort of students in the spring.