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Academic Year 2020-2021 FAQ

Updated January 15, 2021


Caltech plans to continue with a primarily remote instructional model for both undergraduate and graduate academic programs in the winter term. More information can be found in the November 2 update to the Caltech community.

The Registrar's Office will be providing updated information about registration, enrollment, and the academic calendar.

In the spring, two separate committees were constituted with the expressed goal of planning for the return of on-campus instruction and residential living.

The Committee on Reconstituting On-Campus Instruction delivered a comprehensive report and recommendations that took into consideration traditional and nontraditional teaching spaces, teaching models, technologies, and the expressed interest of students and faculty (ascertained through surveys and consultation with student and faculty leaders). In developing its recommendations, the committee assessed the HVAC systems of classrooms and laboratories and modeled seating capacity and configurations for classrooms and auditoria.

A Student Affairs Planning Group simultaneously assessed all available on-campus housing options to understand occupancy restrictions and needs, and to identify isolation and quarantine requirements to support the campus community throughout the duration of the pandemic. Since May 2020, rooms in Avery House have been dedicated for use as isolation and quarantine space; the Bechtel Residence was added as a secondary space for such purposes in September 2020. It is important to note that because of the configuration of some on-campus residential spaces not all of our residences are suitable for student housing during the pandemic. When single-room assignments are considered with isolation and quarantine needs, the Institute anticipates it would be able to accommodate up to a third of the undergraduate population.

While the research and planning efforts of the two committees mentioned above were expressly focused on the fall term, their work has continued to inform the plans for the entire 2020-21 academic year. The groups have updated recommendations to respond to the pandemic and have been instrumental in positioning the Institute to present plans to public health for possible in-person living and learning models. Throughout this process we have learned the importance of adaptability and responding to the situation as it evolves; we have continued to plan for many different models and worked to maintain as much flexibility as possible in our phased approach.

Throughout the pandemic, Caltech has consulted closely with colleagues and health officials at the Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD), which has direct jurisdiction over campus operation, as well as with the Los Angeles County Health Department and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which establishes guidelines for the region more broadly. Faculty researchers and experts have also provided counsel to health and government officials at the state and national level, and shared new technologies and research developments as they are advanced.

PPHD has commended the Institute for its careful management of its return to research operations and its plans for how Caltech can safely and reasonable manage a return to in-person instruction and residential living. And while the current health conditions and trajectory of the pandemic have thus far prevented a return of undergraduate students to on-campus instruction, we will continue to actively assess and monitor the situation and return to conversations with PPHD in the new year as we determine whether in-person instruction can be added to our operations for the spring term.

Caltech has and will continue to explore all available and reasonable options for bringing undergraduate students back to campus. We are actively monitoring and assessing public health conditions, while also expanding preventative health measures and testing capabilities on campus, to prepare for students' return.

Caltech is uniquely positioned in Los Angeles County in that we have our own local health authority in the Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD). Jurisdictionally, our operations are restricted by the health orders and restrictions implemented by PHHD and not by the Los Angeles County Health Department (LACHD). This also means that programs like the waiver program offered by LACHD, which is still dependent on meeting a strict set of public health conditions, is not available to Caltech. Should the county's requirements the waiver program be met, however, we would similarly explore our options for expanded operations with PPHD.

For fall term academic year 2020-2021 Caltech will return to the standard undergraduate grading policy. The aim of this approach is to encourage students to fully engage with their coursework, and to preserve the integrity of a Caltech degree. A return to standard grading was recommended by the Committee on Reconstituting On-Campus Instruction (CRCI), after careful analysis of pass/fail and graded coursework in the spring term and consultation with students and faculty.

The undergraduate deans will continue to work with students who have special circumstances, including COVID-19 related circumstances, in order to provide appropriate educational accommodations, including the possibility of electing pass/fail grading or reduced course loads.

We will continue to evaluate grading policy in upcoming terms based on ongoing analysis of student coursework and consultation with faculty and students.

Continuing students may request a leave of absence through the Deans' Office. Additional information for undergraduates is available at https://deans.caltech.edu/leaves-absence. Incoming undergraduate first-year or transfer students may defer their enrollment by contacting the Undergraduate Admissions Office.

Yes, Caltech will continue to require that synchronous class meetings be recorded in case students lose connectivity during the class or miss some pieces due to technological difficulties. Though it is rare, faculty may on occasion also experience connectivity issues, and recordings can be lost; recordings are not meant to take the place of synchronous participation and cannot be guaranteed. It is important that students stay current with course material and progress through the course at the pace set by the instructor, regardless of the class format. Please refer to https://learn.caltech.edu for additional information about remote learning.

Caltech is transitioning to the Canvas Learning Management System for fall. In Canvas, unlike in Moodle, students will automatically have access to LMS materials for the courses in which they are enrolled, and their access will be updated automatically multiple times per day based on changes in official enrollment as processed by the Registrar's Office. Updates on Canvas will be provided through the Registrar's Office and on learn.caltech.edu.

As usual, new TAs will need to participate in an orientation program with the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach, which will be available remotely; information will be available at http://ctlo.caltech.edu by the beginning of September.

Training on the use of tools and technologies in support of remote fall teaching, and resources for TAs, are available at http://teach.caltech.edu; additional training and resources will be added over the summer. We are working to resolve questions related to employment for students who are away from the Caltech campus.

While lecture courses will be (almost) exclusively online, courses in reading and research may have in-person components with the consent of students and instructors, as long as appropriate health and safety protocols can be followed.

We are working with the options to address these questions (keeping in mind that many options do not have rotations). The options with rotations may be able to in some cases conduct these remotely. In-person rotations are impacted by the reduced density and schedules governing laboratory research that will make it more difficult to train and accommodate rotation students during this period.

Yes. Additional information about remote matriculation for graduate students can be found in the July 29 memo from the Dean of Graduate Studies.

Offices that support students will remain open and operational during the fall; many have already rolled out remote access to their support services and these will continue in the fall. For example, the Undergraduate Deans' Office peer tutoring program; professional and peer writing support from Hixon Writing Center; Student Wellness Services offerings such as occupational therapy, counseling, and group programs; discussions and affinity groups offered by the Caltech Center for Inclusion and Diversity; and services provided by the Caltech Library, the Career Development Center, the CTLO, and others will continue to be available to students remotely in the fall.

We are expanding access to online tools that will help, such as digital, collaborative whiteboard applications, and our new learning management system, Canvas, will help faculty provide structure and guidance to student collaboration. In the spring, faculty also found innovative solutions to doing some kinds of experimentation and design coursework remotely; we are sharing those practices and examples with faculty widely this summer and engaging groups of instructors to help them design learning experiences that are engaging and effective for fall. Finally, the Library and Vice Provost's Office are offering the loan of tablet devices to students who need them to facilitate collaboration; more details will be available about this option closer to the fall term.

Students may be allowed to participate in undergraduate research if the following conditions are met:

  1. the student and faculty mentor commit to an assignment of at least nine hours per week, regardless of whether students are paid or registered for research credit;
  2. mentors have added the undergraduate researcher to their laboratory operations plans, and the modified plan is approved by the cognizant division office;
  3. there is a back-up plan for the project that would allow the student to continue to work remotely (and earn full academic credit) if on-campus activity is discontinued;
  4. the student completes all relevant training and follows all current health and safety protocols as outlined on the coronavirus website.


No, however, for all students, the house activity fee of $302, which is part of the students fees, has been waived for the 2020-21 academic year. Students will receive a credit on their Bursar bill for the amount billed each term. For new incoming students, the $500 orientation fee has been eliminated.

Caltech's tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year were established in advance of the outbreak of the global pandemic. While the Institute has not reduced tuition, we have increased investment in academic and support services, and extended our commitment to students with financial need. In an effort to support families whose circumstances may have changed as a result of the pandemic, the Financial Aid Office will review aid appeals and consider new aid applications throughout the academic year.

We recognize that there are many differences in how colleges and universities have responded to the pandemic, and these include the approach to tuition and fees.

The pandemic has not changed our belief in the value of a Caltech degree. Nor has it changed our commitment to investing the time and resources necessary to provide the highest possible educational experience. In an effort to ensure effective and collaborative learning in an online environment, Caltech has invested significantly in new technologies and learning platforms. Some of this has gone directly to students through the iPad loaner program. Faculty and staff have committed significant time and effort to implementing changes to the teaching and learning process, and the same can be said on the research side. Further, there has been significant investment of time and funds in the health measures and protocols that are necessary to support the health and wellbeing of community members while also fulfilling the Institute's research and education mission.

Caltech's financial aid program is based on the demonstrated need of the family, and the Institute will continue to meet 100 percent of that demonstrated need during this global pandemic. Any family who feels that their financial situation has changed, particularly due to COVID-19, should contact the Financial Aid Office for assistance. If a student does not qualify for financial aid but still finds difficulty in paying their tuition, they should contact the Bursar's Office about possible payment plan options.

The mandatory fees, which were reduced to reimburse house activity fees, are used to support a range of support services, academic programs, and enrichment programs which all continue in an online environment. In fact, the campus response to online learning, student support, and COVID-19 health and safety measure has required a very high level of activity compared to normal operations. Co-curricular student activities and organizations are being supported online. Although campus is closed, Student Affairs and other staff are actively working from home, and some essential staff are working on campus as well.

We are confident that the investment in time and resources that we have made will result in a student experience that is consistent with Caltech's high standards.

If you are on Caltech financial aid, typically there are three different room and board budgets we use to package aid; on-campus, off-campus, or at home with family. Given this pandemic, we decided that this element of the budget should be consistent regardless of where you live. This amount is not on top of the current budget but rather replaces the standard campus living allowance regardless of where you reside during the school year. If you do not live on campus and your aid covers room/board, it is likely you will have a credit on your Bursar account and can request a refund.

In most cases the changes will be minimal as the reduction in aid will be equal to the reduction in the student budget.

The Financial Aid Office will be revising student budgets and aid during the month of July. New students should expect to receive a revised aid offer by the end of the month to reflect the elimination of the orientation fee.

There's still time to apply for financial aid for AY2020-21. Please visit http://www.finaid.caltech.edu/Applying for instructions on how to apply.

All students will receive a credit of $100.67 on their Bursar bill each term as a refund of the house activity portion of the student fees.

Prebills were made available to all students on July 31, 2020. The prebill is viewable through the student portal in the "My Student Documents" section. Along with your prebill there will be other important documents you will need to complete and return.

The first statement for Fall 2020-21 is available in CASHNet, Caltech's online student billing system. Go to the Bursar's Office website and select CASHNet Instructions at http://bursar.caltech.edu/pay.

  • California Institute of Technology – Account Number 926011052
  • General Bank Reference Address: JP Morgan Chase, New York, NY 10004
  • Bank Routing and Transit Number 021000021
  • SWIFT Code: CHASUS33
  • Remit US Dollar amount only
  • Reference student name and UID in the memo section of the wire

In the 2020-2021 academic year, Work Study awards will still be factored into financial aid packages, and remote opportunities will be available for students to earn their work expectation. Please note however if a student is living abroad and has work study in their current aid package, we will have to revise their financial aid as work study cannot be utilized outside the country due to foreign tax and other employment implications.

We understand the challenges that many families are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we're committed to making a Caltech education accessible to all students. Please contact financial aid if you have questions or concerns.

You can send an email to bursardocuments@caltech.edu or leave a message on the Bursar's Office main line at 626-395-2988.

If you have a US bank, the Bursar's Office can process an ACH direct deposit to your bank account. If you do not have a US bank, we can process a wire transfer to your international bank account or mail a refund check to you. You can view the steps on how to request a refund here: http://bursar.caltech.edu/refunds.


In accordance with state and local orders, undergraduate student housing remains closed for fall. Exceptions may be granted in situations in which students may otherwise be housing insecure.

Graduate student housing will continue to operate in accordance with the Institute's policies and public health measures, including the Graduate Student Community Health and Hygiene Policy for the 2020-21 Academic Year.

Students who elect to return to the Pasadena area and find their own accommodations in the community will have access to campus facilities in ways that are consistent with current guidelines for faculty, graduate students, and staff.

It is important to note, however, their movement around campus will be significantly limited, with entry to buildings limited to keycard access, and they will not have access to the campus undergraduate residences during fall term.

It is unlikely that we will require students to return to campus in the winter or spring terms.  If the public health situation improves significantly, we are optimistic that we will be able to provide in-person instruction and accommodate some level of student occupancy in residence. In that case, it is likely that students would be invited to return on a voluntary basis.

The requirement to have health insurance stands; it is important that all students have access to timely care wherever they reside. Students may elect to purchase the United HealthCare Student Resources plan, which provides coverage nationwide, or retain their family plan or other coverage as long as it meets the minimum benefit requirements.

The Housing office has made every attempt to minimize the number of students who had to move during this time. Unfortunately, the current demand for graduate housing exceeds our supply and we have asked some students to move out through a lottery process.

Housing does not provide assistance to students living off campus. There are a number of online resources the students can use to find housing off campus, as they have done in previous years.


The Institute has developed a series of procedures to mitigate the spread of infectious disease in dining areas. Updates to the facilities and dining processes include:

  • Crew-serve and pre-packaged meals only.
  • Enforced physical distancing for all patrons. Floor decals spaced 6 feet apart will guide waiting patrons on proper distancing.
  • Designated entrances and exits with separate lines for each station, with proper distancing between patrons.
  • Requirements for all individuals to wear a face covering that fully covers their mouth and nose at all times while in dining facilities.
  • Installation of hand-sanitizing stations at entrances and exits, and posted signage promoting correct handwashing and sanitizing procedures.
  • Increased sanitation of all frequently used spaces
  • Installation of clear protective guards at cashier stations. Students will swipe their own ID cards.
  • Addition of clear, standing barriers above current sneeze guards to provide additional protection to protect staff and customers
  • Indoor seating will be strictly prohibited. All students will be asked to return to their rooms or eat outside at one of our outdoor spaces.
  • Regular health monitoring of all CDS employees.
  • Management of staff scheduling procedures to reduce exposure risks.


Public health guidance does not currently permit team practices or competition. Caltech coaches will support enrolled student-athletes consistent with public health guidance and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-permissible activities. The majority of team activities will be virtual support and individual training instruction. Student athletes must complete their NCAA eligibility affirmations and medical clearance to participate in these virtual activities as well as any in person instruction as it may become appropriate throughout the academic year.

Caltech does not expect to compete in the Fall sport season due to public health concerns. The NCAA and the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) are still considering permissible competitive play in the Spring. It is our hope to do that if public health conditions, as well as state and local health directives, permit competition.  The reduced student population plan will impact teams differently, and thus any appropriate team activities will be team-specific based on risk assessments for those sports and the presence of team members on campus.

The NCAA is working to provide very flexible relief to playing "clock" rules. Usually a student has five years to play four years' worth of sports. The administrative committees are discussing a variety of options to assist students with flexibility to preserve playing eligibility. Additionally, if there are any spring competitions, a student would have to use greater than 50 percent of the usually allowable competition dates in order to utilize one of their four allowable years.

Caltech values the educational sports program of its 16 Division 3 teams and its ability to provide sports as part of a cocurricular program for its students, not as an entertainment or commercial endeavor and ancillary to the core educational mission. Caltech is committed to its sports program and to supporting our students who participate in these programs, and looks forward to returning to regular team practice and competitive opportunities when safe to do so.

In accordance with Governor Newsom's announcement on July 13, 2020, the Braun Athletic Center has suspended all indoor exercise appointments until further notice. The facility will continue to offer appointments for individual exercise at the swimming pools, tennis courts, track, and other outdoor spaces in accordance with all public health guidance and our protocols.

Appointment reservations for the outdoor areas may still be made online at rec.caltech.edu. Access to the outdoor facilities for exercise will continue to be through the main doors of the Braun Athletic Center. Compliance with our posted protocols will continue to be important. Please be aware that the status of our facilities for exercise may continue to evolve, based on other local, state and county health guidance and orders. 


It is imperative that all members of the community share the responsibility for mitigating the spread of infection. Members of the Caltech community will be expected to follow all on-campus protocols, including wearing a face covering, maintaining physical distance, and performing a daily health screening and reporting, among other measures. When inside facilities on campus, whether residences, auxiliary services, classrooms, laboratories, or offices, all individuals will be expected to adhere to the health guidelines and protocols for that space.

The Caltech Community Commitment is a new document that establishes a shared understanding of, and commitment to comply with, outlined principles and preventative health measures that can help ensure the entire community's health and wellbeing. As a condition of enrollment for the 2020-21 Academic Year, students are expected to agree to the terms of the commitment.

In addition to the Commitment, students must abide by the terms of two new policies: Undergraduate Health and Hygiene Policy for the 2020–21 Academic Year and the Graduate Student Community Health and Hygiene Policy.

We have implemented preventative measures to mitigate the spread of infection and to quickly identify individuals who may be ill. We have established procedures and space for isolation and quarantine, and a dedicated contact-tracing team. We will follow guidance from public health officials for managing an outbreak within the community. In the event that we have a high number of infections, we will implement a shelter-in-place plan where members of the residential community are isolated and access to and from campus is limited to essential services

Yes, a face covering that fully covers both the mouth and nose is required inside and outside of campus facilities, whenever an individual is in the presence of other individuals. This requirement is in accordance with local and state orders; see the Institute guidance on proper use of face coverings for additional information.


We have a range of opportunities for beginners as well as those who are experienced. For example, experience is needed for our large ensembles, but we have a beginning level section of class guitar, in addition to intermediate and advanced classes. Also, Art and Theater welcome those both with and without background.

We hold placement auditions for everyone for the purpose of finding a good fit for each person. Our goal is to accommodate all students.  Information about all of our opportunities will be available on our website. Auditions will be electronic this year and will take place during the week before classes begin.

Yes. All of our courses may be taken for credit.

Our programs are organized to support your studies. Students typically find that the time involved, which is typically just once per week, is a refreshing change that is a fun and rejuvenating break from to academic work.


We understand that recent directives by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement pose a challenge to our international student community. We are committed to supporting these students. For that reason, information for undergraduate international students is available in the International Student FAQ.