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3/12/2020 - Update for Undergraduate Students

To: Caltech Undergraduate Students
From: Joseph E. Shepherd, Vice President for Student Affairs

As a follow up to the most recent community update regarding Caltech's decision to officially end the instructional term on March 11, I wanted to both provide you with additional guidance that is particularly relevant to the undergraduate student community, and to share some of the reasoning behind the Institute's actions.

COVID-19 is a very real public health concern not only worldwide but in our local community and on campus. Caltech has an open campus and collaborates extensively with partners around the nation and the world, making it very challenging to control the introduction and spread of the virus.

If the public health situation deteriorates in our community, this may result in significant staff, faculty, and student illness, in which case we do not know if we will be able to keep all the student residences open. Our ability to cope with a substantial level of student illness may also be diminished if public schools and childcare in the area close, requiring staff to stay at home.

The likelihood of transmission increases substantially when there is a group living in close proximity that shares bathrooms and dining areas. Best practices in public health are to reduce or eliminate the possibility of transmission through dispersing individuals, practicing social distancing, and canceling in-person academic activities. To support these efforts, we need to reduce the population within the shared living environment of the undergraduate residences.

We agree with these concerns from public health officials and have acted on them. This is also why we are limiting in-person interaction, finishing the term online, and considering a move to online instruction in the spring. All academic and support groups on campus have been asked to be very mindful of hygiene, social distancing, limiting travel, and reducing the size of or eliminating large gatherings.

The Institute did not come to this decision easily. We know that this is very disruptive to our students' lives, and our academic and research programs. We have taken these precautionary steps out of concern for the welfare of our community. We are committed to returning to our traditional academic and business operations as soon as it is safe to do so.

This following information is based on the current situation and will be updated as the situation evolves.

Campus Residences

  • To help manage the evolving situation on campus, we are asking all undergraduate students to indicate whether they are planning to leave or stay on campus via this webform. Please fill out the form as soon as you know your plans.

Leaving Campus

  • We urge all undergraduate students who are able to do so, to return home as soon as possible to complete assignments and final exams electronically. This is in the best interest of student and community health.
  • If you would like to leave campus and have financial needs or other considerations that might prevent you from doing so, please contact the dean's office for additional guidance and support.
  • As you are packing, please take all valuables, any necessary medications, an adequate supply of clothing, books, your laptops and other electronics, etc. While on-campus instruction is currently scheduled to resume on March 30, this is a rapidly evolving situation and that schedule may change. You should be prepared to be away from campus longer than is currently expected.

Remaining on Campus

  • Students who need to remain in Caltech undergraduate housing may do so; however, they should be prepared for the possibility that the Institute may implement reduced or alternate dining services and shift room assignments in order to create quarantine space.
  • Any students who remain on campus need to be mindful of the inherent risks of congregate living environments. We are asking that students engage in appropriate social distancing, avoid student gatherings, and limit socializing in the residences and on campus. All social events in the residences have been canceled until April 6.
  • If you are an international student, live in an already-impacted area, or are otherwise unable to return home, you are permitted to stay on campus. If you would like to go elsewhere and need guidance, please consult with the Office of Residential Experience/Housing, which has curated a centralized list of student volunteers who have invited classmates to their personal residences.


  • Completing this term: The Institute is asking faculty to provide a one-week extension for submission of exams, projects, and papers that are due to complete the winter term. You will be receiving communications from your instructors about how to complete final projects, problem sets, and exams. Please be attentive to the electronic messaging, emails, and websites that are used for communications in your classes.
  • Spring term: We hope to be able to resume regular campus operations and classes on March 30, but the situation is continually evolving and we will need to evaluate our campus in light of the projected public health situation at that time. For now, the Institute has extended the deadline for academic eligibility for the spring term to April 17.

    We will stay in regular communication with you and provide timely updates on the resumption of classes. You will be receiving emails from Caltech that will provide essential information and instructions regarding the resumption of instruction, completion of graduation requirements, and return to campus. It is vitally important that you read your email on a regular basis to stay informed about these developments.

    We are keenly aware that any prolonged closure or delay in starting classes will have an impact on many students, particularly graduating seniors and students with summer plans. The Deans and Registrar will be working with faculty and students to address and accommodate these circumstances.

    We ask that students wishing to return early for spring term wait until the Institute has resumed regular operations. Please stay at home, monitor email communications on the status of the Institute, and contact the Housing Office for further instructions.
  • Support services: During the time you are away from campus, the Hixon Writing Center will be conducting its one-to-one meetings with students online; you can find more information at Caltech Accessibility Services for Students will continue to support students with documented needs.

    Deans tutors will also continue to be available to support Caltech undergraduates. Students are encouraged to utilize whatever video chat apps they prefer in order to communicate most effectively with tutors, and tutors should continue tracking hours as usual. Information can be found at

Preventative Care and Planning

Wherever you are during the coming weeks, there are several simple and effective steps you can take to make sure that you are prepared for any infectious disease, including COVID-19:

  • If you are taking a medication, make sure that you have an adequate (30-day) supply.
  • Make sure you have stocked up on food and other essential items for at least a 14-day period.
  • Practice good hygiene at all times: cover your cough, wash your hands with soap and water, and avoid touching your face.
  • Be mindful of your proximity to people you don't know when in public. Consider replacing handshakes with a wave and a smile.
  • Finally, misinformation about COVID-19 is rampant, and can create confusion and panic. Rely on official communications from the CDC, PPHD, and the Caltech COVID-19 information webpage.

In addition, please practice common-sense social distancing, which should include taking into account your and your family's risk profiles and enacting measures that will protect you and those around you. Current guidance from health officials is to maintain a distance of approximately 6 feet from others when possible.

If You Become Ill

  • If you remain on campus and are ill with a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other flu-like symptoms (such as sore throat, body aches, congestion), call Student Wellness Services at (626) 395-6393. Please do not come to the Student Wellness Services building unless you are directed to do so. It is important to limit your contact with others if you are ill. A healthcare provider will inquire about your symptoms and risk factors, and will give you further instructions regarding self-isolation. At this time, testing for COVID-19 is taking place at the direction of the Pasadena Public Health Department until commercial testing is available.
  • If you experience a medical emergency, please call Campus Security at (626) 395-5000.

Mental Health Resources

  • Students who are experiencing increased anxiety or stress related to the virus, concerns about family overseas, or your personal health may contact Student Counseling Services for consultation and support. Call (626) 395-8331 to arrange an appointment.

For more information on COVID-19 and ongoing updates on the Institute's response, please visit Targeted information for Students and Parents, as well as for Institute employees, is also being collected online.