Ready to Head to Campus for In-Person Learning? Here's What to Expect When You Get There

college student

On every college campus, it's common for students to be tightly packed together – in dorm rooms, dining facilities, lecture halls, the library and weekend parties. The crowded nature of college life led to more than 700,000 COVID-19 cases as of May 2021 (and counting) on U.S. campuses since the pandemic began. An estimated 260,000 of those occurred in 2021.

Even though more people are getting vaccinated and COVID-19 cases are slowing down, colleges and universities are struggling with how to keep students safe when they return to campus this fall. With no national system in place to guide them, every college and university must develop their own guidelines. And those guidelines will likely change often.

If you or your kids are headed to campus this fall, here are some things you may see when you get there.  

Vaccine Requirements

Hundreds of institutions have announced plans to require students to be fully vaccinated when they return to campus, and more are added to the list daily. If your school requires vaccination, they can enforce it by putting a hold on your registration. If you don't submit proof of vaccination, you won't be able to sign up for classes. Some colleges and universities are only requiring vaccines for certain students, such as athletes who practice and travel together or those who live in dorms. Others aren't requiring vaccines but are strongly encouraging them, and are even offering incentives if you can prove you're vaccinated.

COVID-19 Testing

If your school doesn't require proof of vaccination, they could continue mandating that unvaccinated students, faculty and staff be tested regularly for COVID-19. Such tests are normally held right on campus and are conducted at no charge.

Creative Scheduling

Is your school starting earlier in the fall than usual or packing more class sessions into a shorter term? That's because some schools are opting to finish up the semester in time to get students off campus before flu season gets into full swing. They also want to avoid a predicted COVID-19 "winter surge" around the holidays.

Social Distancing

Some aspects of social distancing will likely continue on campus for the 2021-22 school year. These may include:

  • A hybrid of in-person and online instruction. For instance, you may see large lectures held remotely, but then you meet in-person with a small group of students to discuss lectures and work on projects.
  • Spacing desks farther apart.
  • Holding more classes outdoors, as weather allows.
  • Lengthening the time between classes to avoid crowded halls and outdoor spaces.
  • Allowing only one person to live in each dorm room.
  • Enforcing a limit on the number of students who can gather at on-campus parties and other social events.

Other Precautions

Schools will likely keep many of these existing safety precautions in place:

  • Mask-wearing. Although many states have lifted mask requirements, some universities may encourage or require masks in crowded settings.
  • No buffet-style dining or other self-serve food options, with staggered meal times in the dining halls.
  • Sanitizing and hand-washing stations, and all related signage.
  • More frequent cleaning and disinfecting of common areas.
  • Increased ventilation in indoor spaces.

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Date Last Reviewed: June 17, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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