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2020-2021 Academic Year and Pandemic Information

Page updated April 12, 2021

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been significant operational changes at Duke. This page provides information specific to Duke Graduate School students and will be updated as plans evolve. Graduate School students who have questions about Duke’s pandemic-related plans should first check this page and If the answer is not on either site, please send your question to We will try to answer questions as quickly and fully as we can, but please understand that there are many uncertainties, and plans could change on short notice depending on how the pandemic develops.

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Fall 2021

[Updated 4/12]

  • Duke has announced that it plans to require all new and returning Duke students to present proof of vaccination to Student Health before they can enroll for the fall 2021 semester. This policy will cover all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—in all degree programs—who intend to be on the Duke campus for any period of time starting with the fall 2021 semester. Documented medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated.
  • We know that many incoming international students have questions about their ability to secure visas in time to travel to Durham for the Fall 2021 semester. While we do not have any information at this point, Duke has been actively advocating on behalf of international students. For instance, the university recently joined with other institutions in the American Council on Education and sent a letter to the U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, advocating for specific actions to be taken to allow international students to study in the U.S. this fall.



Spring 2021

[Updated 2/11]



Health and Safety

COVID-19 testing

[Updated 1/12]

  • Graduate students are required to undergo entry COVID testing by the university before they can come on campus for spring 2021. Students' DukeCards will not be activated until they complete entry testing, unless they had been cleared to continue coming to campus and are currently participating in winter break surveillance testing. Information about entry testing for spring 2021 was sent to students in a December 21 email. Students received different versions of the message depending on which entry testing period they were assigned to. Only use the entry-testing sign-up link in the email that was sent directly to you (If you did not receive that email and need campus access in the spring, contact The university has also posted a new set of FAQs about spring COVID testing for graduate and professional students.


COVID-19 vaccine information


Public health measures

All members of the Duke community are required to follow Duke's public-health measures, which are listed on


Mask distribution

In fall 2020, Duke provided three reusable cloth masks for each student, faculty, and staff. The Graduate School worked with departments to distribute the masks to all Graduate School students. 


Student health and wellness resources
  • Student Health is open for essential services only. Student Health also offers video/tele-health visits to students residing in North Carolina. Do not come to Student Health before calling 919-681-9355 to speak with a nurse so we can determine the safest way to address your health care needs. For urgent matters after hours, you may speak to a nurse by contacting UNC Healthlink at 919-966-3820. The last scheduled daily appointment will be 3:20 p.m. 
  • The Divinity School is offering virtual worship on Tuesday-Friday at 11:25 a.m.


Health insurance / Duke Student Medical Insurance Plan (SMIP)
  • Incoming and continuing Ph.D. students who remain outside the U.S. can ask for coverage through the Duke SMIP, but it is important to note that the SMIP only covers emergency care if you are outside the U.S.
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has has approved a continuation-of-coverage option for the 2020-21 plan year for the Duke SMIP. This continuation is available to students who have graduated in the spring or summer of 2020 (and thus are no longer eligibile to stay on the Duke SMIP) and their dependents.



Campus Access, Facilities, and Services

Campus access

Any graduate student who intends to come on to campus at any point this year for classes or any other activities must complete four tasks before they can access campus buildings with their DukeCard:

  • Agree to follow the Duke Compact by providing a digital signature in a web portal.1
  • Agree to follow student policies by providing a digital signature in a web portal.1
  • Undergo COVID-19 testing administered by Duke. This includes both entry testing before the start of the semester and ongoing surveillance testing throughout the semester.2
  • Complete daily online symptom monitoring using the SymMon app before coming to campus.

1- Signing of the Duke Compact and student policies is done through a portal maintained by the Duke Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance (OARC). Students who had signed these documents at the start of the fall 2020 semester do not need to sign them again for spring 2021. As for new students who are beginning their study at Duke in spring 2021, the OARC will contact them directly. For more information about the Duke Compact, please see If you have any technical difficulties with the web platform for signing the Duke Compact and the student policy plan, please contact the OARC at

2 - Instructions on COVID entry testing for spring 2021 was emailed to students on December 21. Information about entry and surveillance testing is posted at


Graduate School offices

To minimize health risk to its staff, The Graduate School is limiting the number of staff members at its offices (third floor of Old Chemistry Building) at any one time and implementing a set of safety protocol for interactions with students, facutly, staff, and other visitors to our offices. The protocol includes such measures as meeting by appointment only (no walk-ins) and meeting remotely as a rule. Please review the protocols before you come to our offices.


Parking and transportation

Please check the Duke Parking and Transportation site for the latest bus schedule, as service has been changing frequently as new restrictions on campus activity are implemented.

In August 2020, parking permit fee deductions resumed with no change in rates for academic year 2020-21. In addition to the annual parking permit option, Duke is offering non-refundable flexible parking options for staff, faculty, and students in a limited selection of campus parking lots. | Details

Questions about parking and transportation should be sent to the Duke Parking & Transportation office at, 919-684-7275.



[Updated 11/17]

  • See Duke Libraries' November 13 post for details about their winter break operations. Note that all libraries will close by 6:00 p.m. on December 11 (with different closing times that day for different locations) and will remain closed through January 3.


    Campus dining

    See FAQs about Duke Dining operations.


    Duke Rec

    Due to pandemic-related safety measures, graduate students will not have physical access to Duke’s recreation facilities during the 2020-2021 academic year, but Duke Rec is offering digital memberships that provide access to all of its virtual programming. The digital membership is $60 per semester and is prorated based on the date of enrollment.

    In keeping with The Graduate School’s policy of covering rec fees for Ph.D. students in their guaranteed funding period, Ph.D. students in years 1-5 who purchase a digital membership will receive a reimbursement at the end of the fall and spring semesters for the cost of their membership. This reimbursement will be a direct payment to the student through payroll.

    Please see Duke Rec’s FAQs and email if you have questions about the digital membership or Duke Rec access. Financial questions should be sent to



    Remote Participation

    There are numerous questions about remote participation, and the answers often vary depending on a student’s status. The tables below provide quick answers to two key questions—remote classes and Ph.D. stipends—with links to more detailed explanations. International students should also consult the Q&A [link to international students FAQ page] that has been developed specifically for them for more information about visas, academic status, and financial support.

    Can I take classes remotely?





    Incoming international students


    Yes, if visa regulations and certain specified conditions are met | Details

    Incoming domestic students



    Continuing international students


     Yes, if visa regulations permit | Details

    Continuing domestic students








    Incoming international students


     Yes, if visa regulations permit | Details

    Incoming domestic students



    Continuing international students


     Yes, if visa regulations permit | Details

    Continuing domestic students




    Will I receive my Ph.D. stipend if I am not in residence?




    Incoming international students


     No | Details

    Incoming domestic students


     No | Details

    Continuing international students


     Yes, if it is a non-compensatory stipend | Details

    Continuing domestic students


    Yes, if it’s a non-compensatory stipend; or if it’s a compensatory stipend and you are a resident in California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, or Washington, D.C.


    Remote course loads for international students

    [Updated July 26]

    Continuing international students who are in the U.S. can enroll in a full load of online courses for fall 2020.

    Incoming international students cannot be enrolled in an online-only program and must be registered for at least one in-person or hybrid course for fall 2020. 

    Reason for the difference:

    Under normal conditions, international master’s and Ph.D. students with F-1 visas who are in the United States but not on campus typically may only take one online course per semester. Due to the pandemic, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) waived the one-course limit on remote participation by F-visa students for spring and summer 2020. 

    It was announced July 14 that the U.S. government will retain that exemption, which allowed international students to remain in the United States regardless of whether their classes were in-person or online. On July 24, however, ICE issued clarifications that incoming international students are not allowed to enter the U.S. if they plan to enroll in only online courses.

    More information is available in Executive Vice Provost Jennifer Francis’ July 25 email to incoming international students, and on the Keep Learning website. Please contact the Duke Visa Office ( if you have questions about this situation.



    Incoming Students

    Non-local Participation for Incoming Ph.D. Students

    We ask all incoming Ph.D. students—domestic and international—to do their utmost to be in residence in the Durham area for fall semester, even if they are taking courses remotely. If you will not be able to travel to Durham, whether because of visa issues, travel prohibitions, or other obstacles, we strongly recommend that you defer matriculation to fall 2021, given the number of uncertainties.

    Schools may provide incoming Ph.D. students who cannot travel to Durham with tuition scholarships (and coverage of fees, if relevant) and allow them to take classes remotely, under the following limitations and conditions:

    • Limitations:
      • Those incoming students will not be able to receive compensatory stipends (e.g., teaching or research assistantships). Non-compensatory fellowship stipends are allowed for incoming domestic students and incoming international students who are in the U.S.
      • Those incoming international students who do not have visas and remain outside the U.S. will not be automatically enrolled in Duke-sponsored health insurance (SMIP), but they are still eligible if they want to enroll in that plan. To do so, they should contact
      • Those students will have to be able to take courses at the times offered.
      • Those students must be in residence no later than fall 2021 to continue in their degree program.
      • Those students who are international must be eligible to take a full load of courses remotely (see below).
    • Conditions:
      • The relevant school and program have to agree to make this option available.
      • Those students will retain the same duration of stipend support as other Ph.D. students (guaranteed 5 years of stipends starting from the time they are in residence). The tuition and fee support they receive while taking classes remotely will be considered part of their guaranteed 5 years of tuition and fee coverage.


    Non-local participation for incoming master’s Students

    Incoming domestic master’s students may take a full- or part-time load of fall courses online, without being in residence.

    International master’s students are not required to have valid visas to take courses online from outside of the U.S. Self-paying master’s students can register for online courses and pay their own tuition. Students receiving tuition scholarships can apply those scholarships to their tuition bill. Consult your director of graduate studies about potential online coursework. 

    Incoming master’s students who cannot travel to Durham will not be able to receive compensatory stipends (e.g., teaching or research assistantships). Non-compensatory stipends are allowed for incoming domestic and international master’s students who are in the U.S. but not in residence.


    English for International Students (EIS)

    All EIS courses will be offered online this spring.



    Academic calendar

    [Updated 12/21]

    The Graduate School follows the Duke University academic calendar:

    • January 20: Graduate and undergraduate classes begin
    • April 23: Graduate and undergraduate classes end
    • April 24-26: Graduate and undergraduate reading period
    • April 27-May 1: Final examinations


    Course formats
    • Courses will be scheduled to be either online only or hybrid.
    • Hybrid courses have in-person as well as online activities, but can be taken remotely if needed.
    • No courses will be scheduled as having in-person meetings only, though hybrid courses may have separate in-person as well as online sections, as appropriate.
    • Please refer to the Registrar’s Course Schedule Policy for details. 
    • Please be aware that for in-person courses, all students and faculty must adhere to university policies on social distancing. The university will post these policies as we get closer to the start of classes, but generally include maintaining adequate space between individuals and wearing of masks.


    Milestone examinations (prelims, dissertations/thesis defenses)

    Please see the published schedule. For students planning to graduate in May 2021, thesis and dissertations exams must take place by April 1, and Non-thesis master’s examinations must be held by April 15.

    Preliminary exams, as well as qualifying exams, must occur by May 1, 2021.

    Here are The Graduate School's updated guidelines regarding defenses and examinations in summer and fall 2020:

    • See published deadlines for summer and fall 2020 Ph.D. dissertation and master’s thesis submissions and defenses, as well as submission of non-thesis master’s documentation.
    • For preliminary examinations, those already planned and scheduled should occur when feasible. The deadline for third-year students to complete their prelims by the end of the spring 2020 semester is extended to the end of fall 2020 semester.
    • For fall 2020 and spring 2021, all parties may participate in milestone exams (prelims, master’s thesis, master’s non-thesis and dissertation defense) remotely as needed. The student and committee members may participate in-person if they desire, but they must follow university social distancing guidelines in effect at the time of the exam.
    • There is no need to submit a formal email request to hold a remote milestone exam.
    • If there is a public component to a defense, such as a seminar, university social-distancing guidelines must be followed. Guests can participate remotely, and we recommend using Zoom meetings.
    • For all dissertation and thesis defenses, students no longer need to schedule exam certificate appointments with the Graduate School administrator who conducted the format check of their dissertation or thesis. 
    • The hard-copy exam card has been replaced by an Electronic Milestone Exam Certificate that will be pre-populated for each graduating student by Graduate School staff and emailed directly from The Graduate School to each dissertation or thesis committee Chair and DGSA.        
    • No physical signatures are required. Instructions for chairs and DGSs will be in the electronic exam card. 
    • Students will not submit signed title pages or abstract title pages.
    • Students will receive instructions regarding electronic submission of the advisor-approved embargo document in the email they receive from ProQuest after their initial submission has been reviewed by a TGS administrator.
    • The Graduate School’s Office of Academic Affairs is working on a separate electronic examination certificate form for non-thesis master’s examinations. 
    • Students should direct inquiries about qualifying exams to their Ph.D. program or department DGS.

    If you have any questions about defenses and exams that not addressed by the guidelines above, please contact The Graduate School's Office of Academic Affairs (

    When holding a remote defense, please follow these security and privacy tips for Zoom.

    See a compilation of guidelines and tips on holding a remote defense.



    Research and Teaching

    Lab operations

    On May 13, 2020, Duke began a measured process of restarting laboratory research activities in campus and leased facilities. For more information, see the guidelines on the Duke Research website, including information specifically pertaining to graduate students.


    On-campus/in-person teaching

    Graduate student teaching assistants will have the same flexibility as faculty with regard to face-to-face teaching. In their May 29, 2020, message to faculty, President Price and Provost Kornbluth stated that “No faculty will be required to teach on campus if they have concerns about their health and safety. Nor will any faculty have to disclose their personal health concerns.” This was reaffirmed in Provost Kornbluth's July 16, 2020, email to Ph.D. students.


    Resources for graduate students serving as TAs or instructors of record
    • Duke Learning Innovation has developed Flexible Teaching, a website to support faculty and others in instructional roles in designing and developing courses that can be successful in any mode of delivery — face-to-face, online or hybrid. The site includes a guide to flexible teaching for graduate TAs.
    • The university has compiled a set of safety and wellness tips (PDF) for graduate students who are serving as TAs or instructors of record for in-person classes. The tips cover topics such as what language to include in your syllabus and how to handle situations where a student in class is not complying with public-health measures.



    Non-essential Duke-supported travel remains suspended. Graduate School students can request exceptions for essential travel by completing this form and submitting to

    At this time, due to current restrictions outlined in the Duke travel policy, The Graduate School will not award conference travel awards related to actual travel until further notice, but will award funds to cover web-based conference registration expenses. The same guidelines regarding the expense and application process should be followed.

    Students participating in exchange programs funded by Duke should not plan to travel until the current Duke travel suspension is lifted or modified.




    Financial support during COVID-19 disruptions
    • Duke has created a mechanism for Ph.D. students whose progress to degree has been significantly delayed by the pandemic to apply for funding extensions as they approach the end of their guaranteed funding period.
    • Duke provided funding and employment opportunities during summer 2020 for any enrolled and continuing Ph.D. student who needs it and does not have 12-month funding. As part of that commitment, Duke created more than 100 experiential fellowships with external organizations and RAships of various kinds with internal Duke units. 
    • Duke has established a student assistance fund to provide resources to help students in immediate financial distress.
    • The Graduate and Professional Student Council has an Emergency Travel Fund that students can apply for, and the application window restrictions have been lifted.
    • The GPSG Community Pantry is open for weekly bag pickups and deliveries on Saturdays from noon to 2:00 p.m. The pantry remains closed for in-person shopping. Volunteer opportunities are also available. See the pantry website for more information, signups, and COVID-19 policies.


    Tuition and fees

    Tuition for Graduate School students for the 2020-2021 academic year reverted to the 2019-2020 rates, and a number of fees will be adjusted as well. See the August 5 announcement for details.


    Summer Research Fellowships for summer 2020

    Both competitive and guaranteed Summer Research Fellowships for summer 2020 have been awarded as planned. However, recipients must follow current restrictions on university-funded travel. Currently, all non-essential university-funded travel, both domestic and international, is suspended, per the president’s March 10 message to the university community.

    To provide students with greater flexibility in seeking funding opportunities during the COVID-19 disruption, we have lifted caps on stipend supplementation for recipients of the Summer Research Fellowship.


    What about prepaid expenses for a conference or research travel that I can no longer go to because of Duke’s new travel restrictions?

    For Conference Travel awards from The Graduate School, we will allow submissions for reimbursement of non-refundable prepaid travel expenses in lieu of the already awarded fellowship. This only applies to students who have already applied and received notification from TGS of their award. Proof of non-refundable status will be required with submissions. At this time, due to current restrictions outlined in the Duke travel policy, new conference travel awards will not be issued until further notice. TGS will award funds for web-based conference registration with the same guidelines regarding the expense and application process. 

    Students who have received the following research travel fellowships from The Graduate School for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years must follow current Duke travel restrictions. Recipients will have until the end of the 2020-2021 academic year to use those funds.

    Fully funded academic year fellowships that include a travel component, such as the James B. Duke International and the Julian Price, as well as the Domestic and International Dissertation Research Travel Awards, will be disbursed as originally awarded. However, recipients cannot use fellowship funds to facilitate travel while restrictions on Duke-sponsored travel are active.

    The Dean’s Research Award for Master’s Student will open for non-travel research applications soon. Until Duke University lifts the current restriction against university-funded travel, applications for travel research/conference support cannot be considered. Qualifying applications may propose support for items such as equipment and software purchases, licensing, and materials acquisition. 

    Fellowship questions can be sent to


    With the restrictions on coming to campus, how do I get my stipend check if I am not participating in direct deposit?

    Payroll services is mailing all live checks generated in the regular biweekly and monthly payrolls to home addresses. If you have elected not to participate in direct deposit, please make sure their home addresses are updated using Duke@Work. (Details)


    Other Questions

    I am a prospective graduate student, and because of COVID-19, my undergraduate institution adopted a Pass/No Pass grading policy (or another similar policy) for the spring 2020 semester. How will this affect my chances of being accepted for graduate study at Duke?

    Duke will not penalize applicants whose transcripts show Pass/No Pass or other similar grading options from Spring 2020, regardless of whether it was the individual student or the institution that chose a particular option. Please see our application review process for more details on how we review applications.


    Graduate School Communications to Graduate Students