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Graduate Students' Fall FAQ

Updated September 25 2020

The information contained in this FAQ is supplemental to the Fall 2020 Plan and is specifically designed to address graduate student concerns and questions about the academic program and support for the fall term. For additional information on the following topics, please refer to:


Currently, the Institute is waiting on authorization from the state to resume in-person instruction. As a result, lecture courses for graduate students will be online and students may enroll in these courses remotely. Research may also be conducted online or in some cases in-person. For PhD students, participation in research is a vital component of their curriculum and degree progress.

Caltech is currently approved to conduct research activities. Research is governed by Institute policies and all graduate students working in a research group must follow the Institute's instructions on going to campus and will need to be included in the research plans of the PI, which are approved by the division chairs.

Students should consult with their adviser and option prior to deciding enrollment options.

We are working with the options to address this question (keeping in mind that many options do not have rotations). Some options with rotations may be able to conduct these remotely. In-person rotations will likely be 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.

Graduate students are required to maintain continuous enrollment for each term of the academic year, including summer. Continuing students who do not wish to participate in the fall term may request a leave of absence in consultation with their adviser, option, and the Graduate Studies Office. Additional information for graduates is available in the Leave Policy.

Requirements for candidacy and qualifying exams will be extended by a minimum of one term to allow students adequate time to re-engage in research and schedule their respective exams with their faculty committees. Time-to-degree will also be extended by a minimum of one term, and the Institute will offer a second conferring of degrees at the October Board of Trustees meeting. To be eligible for degree conferral in October, degree requirements must be met no later than September 29, 2020. Concerns or questions about how option-specific requirements are being handled should be directed to the option.


We will permit incoming graduate students to matriculate into a degree program remotely from within the United States and temporarily into a non-degree status remotely from outside of the United States. We are also recommending that incoming international students with Initial F-1 and J-1 SEVIS records remain outside the United States. A letter detailing these developments has been sent to the incoming graduate students and is posted on the Graduate Office website. Additional information was sent in the email to new international students on July 31.

Graduate students may enroll between September 1 through October 2. The deadline for adding courses (Add Day) is on October 16, and the deadline for dropping courses (Drop Day) is on November 18. Students in a non-degree program arriving in the United States before Add Day will be transferred into the degree program. Those arriving after this date will be transferred before the start of the Winter term.

For those students who have been formally admitted into a degree program, all graded courses, including research, taken while in a temporary non-degree status will be applied to the degree program once international students have obtained the necessary visa to enter the United States and ISP has activated their SEVIS record.

Incoming graduate first-year or transfer students may defer their enrollment by discussing with their option and contacting the Graduate Studies Office.

Stipends and the tuition and fees scholarship will remain unchanged if it is possible to do so. Due to employment laws in countries outside the United States, it is possible that the source of funding may change for the fall term, but the total amount will remain the same. In some cases, it may not be possible to transfer the payment outside the country and we are working to better understand these situations.

Self-funded students are expected to pay the full tuition and fees.

Students with external fellowships should contact the Graduate Office and these situations will be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

Our understanding is that this is possible in most cases, and we are consulting with the relevant parties to work through the details and understand all the issues before sending additional information.

It may. Fellowship stipends are not considered wages, while Teaching and Research Assistantships are considered wages, and employment laws within the country of residence may apply. We are still working on getting clarity on this issue and will send updates from the Graduate Studies Office when available.

Students who are traveling to Caltech from another country are required to self-quarantine, which includes staying home and practicing social distancing for 14 days. Caltech will provide quarantine space to those students who have a Caltech housing assignment that does not meet the minimum guidelines for quarantine. For guidance on living in residence, please see our COVID-19 Self-Quarantine Information page.

Students may go into quarantine housing as early as September 1, 2020. Your housing contract starts the day you arrive at Caltech. Please be sure to notify Housing of your arrival plans by sending an email to housing@caltech.edu.


The Graduate Student Community Health and Hygiene Policy outlines the expectations for the graduate student community regarding efforts to mitigate the spread of disease. It is imperative that all members of the community are clear about the need for compliance. These measures are intended to keep everyone safe.

If you are found to be in violation of public health guidelines or Institute policies, you will be reminded of the expectations. If the problem persists, the Graduate Dean's Office will be notified. Under the policy, the Graduate Dean or their designee will determine the appropriate sanctions.

No. We have previously allowed students in Caltech housing to have guests for up to 3 days per month. Given our individual and collective responsibility to remain vigilant in the practice of physical distancing and cautious in our return to more traditional operations, we will no longer allow guests in Caltech residential properties until further notice. Bringing in guests has understandably been a source of concern and friction among roommates and other residents. This policy change is necessary to reduce the risk of infection in the campus community and brings our residential policies in alignment with the Institute prohibition against inviting or hosting visitors by campus laboratories.

Caltech contracts and leases are being changed to reflect the new guest policy. You will receive notification of this change directly from the Housing office.

More information can be found in the Guest Policy FAQs below.


Housing has created a schedule to stagger moves in and out of living spaces. This schedule will also allow residents to maintain social distance. In addition, the stairwells in the Catalina apartments have been designated as one way so students do not find themselves in close proximity.

Feel free to talk with your roommate directly about the concern. You may also email the Residential Life Coordinator for graduate students or one of the Graduate Resident Associates. Initial reports will take an educational approach, but if there is an ongoing disregard for the policy, the Graduate Dean will determine the appropriate sanctions.

While non-student/non-Caltech affiliated partners are not able to enter data into the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application, all individuals should proactively monitor their health on a daily basis, practice physical distancing and wear face coverings, and avoid gathering with individuals outside of the household. If a partner tests positive for COVID-19 or becomes ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the Caltech student should not enter campus, and should contact covid19@caltech.edu or use the Report an Illness feature through the web app so that the circumstances can be evaluated by the COVID-19 management team.

Caltech has canceled all in-person campus events and gatherings until further notice. As soon as circumstances change, we will be encouraging and organizing safe social events in person. Until then, this is all part of our effort to keep the community safe and healthy.

No. The Catalina Recreation Rooms and building lounges are closed until further notice.

The outdoor grills are available for residents' use and only people in your household can use the grill/patio area at a designated/requested time. Please make a reservation 48 hours in advance by emailing the Residential Life Coordinator, Isabel Peng, at ipeng@caltech.edu. While using the grills, please be mindful of social distancing, wear face coverings, and thoroughly clean the grill area after use.

The Office of Residential Experience (ORE) is continuing to host regular virtual social and co-curricular programs. These programs are an excellent way to meet and connect with other graduate residents. Examples of past virtual programs include movie nights on Zoom, DIY tea tasting, baking/cooking recipes, fitness tournament, sci-fi book club, and more. Events will be advertised via email and the monthly ORE e-newsletter.

It can be difficult living with other people during the pandemic. There may be conversations around maintaining good hygiene, physical distancing, use of face coverings, increased cleaning of high-touch and shared spaces, and finding consensus on how best to live together during this challenging time to reduce risk of potential virus transmission.

The ORE team is available to help graduate residents facilitate difficult roommate conversations and connect students with appropriate resources. If you or your roommates have any concerns, please email gradras@caltech.edu and we can help with your specific situation.

If there is housing available, the Housing Office will be happy to help you relocate to in-residence living. Please contact housing@caltech.edu.

If you need to change your plans, we will accept the cancellation without penalty.


On August 4, 2020, Caltech sent a communication to the graduate student community announcing the new Graduate Student Community Health and Hygiene Policy which prohibits guests in all Caltech housing. Following this announcement, the Caltech Housing office also sent an update to all residents informing them of new guest policy and the updates to their lease or contract. In addition, The California Department of Public Health recently released guidelines for institutes of higher education (IHE). The State of California guidelines limit guests requiring campuses to restrict "building access by non-residents, including outside guests, non-residential staff, and others." Below please find information on frequently asked questions related to the Policy

Guests are defined as any person who i) is not on the lease or written into the housing contract and therefore is not a permanent part of that ‘household'; and ii) does not perform an essential task for the member(s) of the household. Guests are restricted from entering Caltech housing units (i.e. apartments, studios, etc.) and are not allowed to use communal Caltech housing spaces, like laundry rooms, shared bathrooms, and recreation rooms. Guests, such as parents, family members, friends, research group members, and significant others, are not permitted to be physically present in those spaces. Guests are allowed in outdoor spaces (i.e. courtyards, front lawns, central areas) as long as they are practicing physical distancing and wearing a face covering. Partners or other family members who reside with students in residence are not considered guests as long as Caltech has knowledge of their residency by way of a contract or lease and the partner has agreed to follow all Caltech policies, the Health and Hygiene Policy, perform the attestation responsibilities and commit to not having any guests as well. Students in housing are responsible for ensuring their non-student partners are complying with these expectations.

This Policy applies to all residents in Caltech Housing including students, staff, and postdocs. Exemptions to this policy may include, allowance for such as individuals as personal care attendants for students with disabilities, childcare providers, or essential workers. If you believe your situation warrants an exemption for ADA reasons, please submit a CASS form at http://www.cass.caltech.edu.

If you require an exemption for an essential worker, please complete the following Exemption Request form.

This policy is in direct response to state guidance on guests and is intended to respond to the current pandemic - this is not a permanent change in policy. The Office of Residential Experience (ORE) is continuing to host regular virtual social and co-curricular programs. These programs, advertised via email and the monthly ORE e-newsletter, are an excellent way to meet and connect with other graduate residents. The no-guest policy is being implemented so that we can protect the most vulnerable members of our community; it applies to all groups living in Caltech Housing, including undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, faculty, and staff. The no-guest policy is being implemented: a) out of recognition that indoor aerosol transmission is the most common and viable route of transmission; b) to prevent another campus shutdown if significant spread of COVID-19 occurs in any part of Caltech, including Caltech Housing; c) for students living in shared units who are put in a difficult situation by roommates bringing in guests during the pandemic. Caltech is one of many Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) that has instituted a new policy prohibiting guest in residences. Other IHEs who also have incorporated similar policies include USC, Stanford, Claremont Colleges, and MIT.

If your roommate violates the guest policy we encourage you to talk to your roommate first about your concerns. Living as a community during this unprecedented time requires all community members to have honest, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations like this. If you would feel more comfortable managing the situation with a conflict resolution mediator, please reach out to your RAs or RLC for assistance.

If a resident is not found in compliance, initial reports will take an educational approach. However, if there is an ongoing disregard for the policy, and a disregard for concerns and safety of roommates and the larger Caltech Housing community, the resident will be referred to the Graduate Dean who will determine the appropriate sanctions. This is NOT a "if you have a guest, we will evict you" policy; however, we do need to address violations and consider the appropriate actions to effectively manage community compliance. We recognize graduate students look out for each other and prioritize community in their decisions – we are working to reinforce those actions.