Last Updated: June 3, 2021

SIPA is preparing for a full return to campus for the Fall 2021 semester, and we look forward to welcoming all our students to the International Affairs Building!

The University continues to carefully monitor public health conditions and will update the community regarding any changes to our current expectation for a robust, in-person fall semester.

These FAQs will be revised as the summer progresses and more information becomes available. 


Fall 2021: Arriving on Campus, Courses, and More

When must I arrive on campus?

Orientation Week for new first-year students begins on Monday, August 30. All new (first-year) students must be physically present in New York on this date and participate in each day of Orientation, which lasts from August 30 through September 3. (More details will be shared in the coming weeks.)

The first day of classes is Thursday, September 9, 2021. All continuing (second-year) students are expected to be physically present in New York no later than this date. All classes will be taught in person and all students are expected to attend in person.


What are the immunization requirements and deadlines for COVID-19?

Students will be able to attend class in person once they can demonstrate they are fully vaccinated. Students should arrange their travel and vaccination plans to ensure that they are fully vaccinated prior to the start of Orientation (first-year students) or the first day of classes (continuing students).

International students unable to secure a vaccine in their home country will be able to attend class in person once they can demonstrate that they have initiated the process for securing full vaccination and are following additional University-mandated safety protocols. 

We strongly urge students to read the University’s COVID-19 FAQs, which are updated regularly and provide the latest guidance, including information about:

  • Vaccine requirements for all students, faculty, and staff
  • Accessing vaccinations
  • Vaccination protocols for international students unable to secure a vaccine in their home country
  • Continuing on-campus public health protocols


What are the immunization requirements and deadlines for MMR and meningitis?

In addition to the COVID-19 vaccination, all students must have their immunizations for measles, mumps, and rubella approved by Columbia Health well before Monday, August 16, 2021 so that they can register for classes. Students without approved required immunizations will not be able to register for classes.

You can learn more about the requirements, process for documenting immunization, and additional FAQs at Columbia Health’s Immunization website.


I am a student living in the United States but outside the New York City region. Can I remain outside New York City and attend remotely using the online HyFlex system?

All students are required to attend classes in person. 


What will classes look like for Fall 2021?

SIPA will offer more than 200 courses this fall (including courses with multiple sections), which is comparable to the number and scope of courses that were offered in both Fall 2019 and Fall 2020.

All classes will be taught in person.


Will all students be able to attend each class in person?

The current expectation is that there will be no physical distancing requirements for classrooms in the fall 2021 semester. If public health guidance changes and calls for physical distancing, it may mean reductions to the in-person seating capacity in SIPA classrooms. In the event that we need to alternate in-person seating, each professor will plan a suitable rotation.


During the two-week “shopping period” for courses, will students be able to attend courses for which they are not registered?

During the Add/Drop (or “shopping”) period, students will be permitted to attend courses they are interested in, even if they are not registered.


Columbia and SIPA Facilities and Services

How will Columbia University make certain that the campus is as safe as possible?

Columbia requires all students, faculty, and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be on campus.

In addition, as described in detail on the University’s COVID-19 website, Columbia continues to conduct comprehensive steps to mitigate risk: implementing best-practice adjustments to buildings and common spaces; establishing rigorous individual-level requirements; and fostering actions to build a culture of mutual care and compliance. 


Will students be able to access Lehman Library and other libraries?

Columbia Libraries continue to evaluate public health guidelines. Visit their website for current information regarding student access to library facilities and services.

As always, Lehman Library will provide electronic reserves containing links to licensed electronic content (e-journal articles, e-books, and streaming media), which are embedded into Canvas pages for specific courses. 


Grading System, Absences, and Travel

What grading system will be operational in Fall 2021 and beyond?

After a single semester of pass/fail grading in Spring 2020—representing a one-time exception to our ordinary practice—Columbia University has already returned to normal letter grading. Students should plan for letter grades unless a course specifically permits pass/fail grading and the student has actively chosen that option in SSOL. Note: Courses taken to fulfill SIPA core, concentration, and specialization requirements must be taken for a letter grade.


How will absences be counted during the fall semester, with COVID-19 infections still a considerable risk around the world?

Professors determine their own policies for absences from individual courses, and most allow some excused absences. Students should request clarification if it’s not provided in the syllabus.

If students find that they must miss several classes, we strongly recommend that they consult both their professors and their advising dean in the Office of Student Affairs. If an underlying problem, such as a COVID infection, seriously disrupts a student’s ability to study, they should make clear plans to address missed classes and assignments. Under especially serious circumstances, they may consider a leave of absence (LOA).

Students who are unable to complete an exam due to circumstances beyond their control should inform the professor in advance. Students are required to provide documentation of the reason for missing the exam to allow the professor to determine what type of accommodation is appropriate. Students also are encouraged to inform the Office of Student Affairs about the circumstances that might prevent them from completing a course.


Does SIPA’s excused-absence policy apply to sick family members (such as children) as well? What accommodations, if any, will be made for students who are parents if their children become ill (with COVID-19 or another sickness)?

Students should promptly inform both their professors and the Office of Student Affairs if parenting or other family responsibilities make it impossible for them to complete their coursework. During these challenging times, SIPA will be as reasonable as possible in granting accommodations for family- and illness-related issues. Students with a parenting-related issue should contact their Advising Dean in SIPA’s Office of Student Affairs. 


What is the latest information about Columbia-related travel, including for Capstone workshops?

Columbia University continues to review its policies on student travel and updates the relevant webpage regularly. As of June 2, regulations for Fall 2021 had not yet been published.


Student Assistantships: TAs, Readers, Program Assistants, Student Assistants, Departmental Research Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Graduate Research Fellows, and Tutors

Will it be possible to fulfill the responsibilities of any of these assistantships fully online?

All students, including those in various assistantship roles, are expected to attend SIPA in person and perform responsibilities in person as directed by their supervisor.


COVID-19: Relocating to NYC

What advice do you have for students relocating to New York City? Are there special instructions for those from outside of the United States or from another state?

Please consult New York State’s travel advisory protocols. The University’s COVID-19 website has extensive information about public health protocols, including quarantine procedures and vaccine requirements.


Registration: Full-Time Attendance, Leaves, and Deferrals

May students request a reduced course load or attend SIPA part time?

All students must be enrolled full time, meaning a course load of at least 12 points at SIPA. The only exception to this is students in the Executive MPA program who are American citizens or permanent residents. (Note: International students in the Executive MPA program are required to be enrolled at SIPA full time.)


What is the process for newly admitted students to defer their matriculation?

The process for deferring matriculation is straightforward and has not changed due to COVID-19.

The deadline is July 15, 2021. Students can learn more on the SIPA Admissions website


What is the process for continuing students to secure a leave of absence?

The process for securing leaves of absence (LOA) is straightforward and has not changed due to COVID-19. 

Students can read more in the SIPA Bulletin and should consult their advising dean with questions regarding their specific circumstances.

International students who have questions regarding how a leave might affect their visa status or CPT or OPT eligibility must immediately consult Columbia University’s International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO).


Questions Specific to International Students

Because policies and procedures are continually changing, we strongly advise that international students verify the latest requirements by consulting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Columbia’s International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO). Please note also that the answers to many of these questions are student-specific and only ISSO can advise students.

Can international students who enter the United States on student visas take classes online?

All international students at SIPA who enter the United States on student visas are required to attend classes in person.


Can international students take classes online from their home country?

Any student unable to come to the United States because of documented and verifiable visa delays or travel restrictions must immediately consult with Columbia University’s International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO), which can advise on assistance and options. After consulting with ISSO and if appropriate, such students may be permitted to enroll remotely for a very short transition period prior to their arrival on campus if they email—and are granted permission by—SIPA’s Office of Student Affairs well in advance of the first day of classes.


Will international students be able to secure curricular practical training (CPT) eligibility for internships during summer 2022?

International students who have questions regarding CPT and OPT eligibility must consult  Columbia University’s International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) for guidance on this question.


Do continuing international students need to reapply for an I-20 certificate?

International students who have questions regarding the I-20 Certificate must consult Columbia University’s International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) for guidance on this question.


If you have questions, please write [email protected]