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Fall 2020 and COVID-19 Information

Page updated September 21, 2020

Update 9/21: COVID surveillance testing has begun for graduate students. See the information about the testing process, locations, and times. Also see Graduate School-specific FAQs.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-2021 academic year will see significant operational changes as Duke works to ensure the safety of its community while continuing its missions in education, research, patient-care, and service. This page provides information specific to Duke Graduate School students and will be updated as plans evolve. 

If you are a Graduate School student and have a question about Duke’s plans for fall 2020, please first check this page and, where the university posts campus-wide information and updates about plans for reopening campus. If the answer is not on either site, you can 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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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 receive Duke-sponsored health insurance (SMIP) until they can be in residence.
    • 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.



The Graduate School’s fall orientation for its incoming students, including the mandatory Responsible Conduct of Research orientation, will be held entirely online through a combination of prerecorded videos and live Zoom sessions. Students will receive information on how to access the content in July. The live sessions are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, August 11.

Individual graduate programs and departments have their own orientation activities. Incoming students should check with their programs about those events.


English for International Students (EIS)

EIS placement exams for incoming students will be administered online on August 3-14. Students will be contacted about exam scheduling after President Price announces definitive plans for the fall term.

All EIS courses will be offered online this fall.



Academic calendar

The Graduate School follows the Duke University academic calendar, which has been revised to reflect earlier class start and end times for fall 2020:

  • August 10: Graduate orientation begins
  • August 17: Graduate and undergraduate classes begin
  • November 16: Graduate and undergraduate classes end
  • November 17-20: Graduate and undergraduate reading period
  • November 20-24: Final examinations



Previous fall 2020 course registrations have been deleted. All students will need to register again once the new course schedule is established.

[Update 7/27] Book bagging for the fall 2020 semester opened in DukeHub on July 27. Students will be able to transfer courses from their book bag to their active fall registration starting August 3. Please see the July 27 email from The Graduate School's Office of Academic Affairs for key information about registration, such as guidance on instruction modes, online courses for international students, and documentation for special registration requests.


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 December 2020, thesis and dissertations exams must take place by November 23, and Non-thesis master’s examinations must be held by December 7.

Preliminary exams, as well as qualifying exams, must occur by December 14.

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.


Health and Safety

COVID-19 Testing

[Updated 9/10]

  • Graduate students were required to undergo baseline COVID testing by the university before they could come on campus, with the important exception of Ph.D. students who have been regularly coming to campus this summer for approved research/other activities. Duke conducted baseline testing of Graduate School students on August 17-20. Instructions for making an appointment were sent to students on August 11.


Mask Distribution

Duke is providing three reusable cloth masks for each student, faculty, and staff. The Graduate School is working with departments to distribute the masks to all Graduate School students. Departments will receive their graduate students’ masks on August 6-12. DGSAs should have more information about when and how departments will distribute those masks to their 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. 


Health insurance / Duke Student Medical Insurance Plan (SMIP)
  • 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.


Research and Teaching

Returning to labs

On May 13, Duke began a measured process of restarting laboratory research activities in campus and leased facilities. While many are eager to get back to the bench, ensuring the health and safety of our students, staff, and faculty is Duke's first priority and responsibility. The only research activities that will be permitted to return to work at this time are those that must be conducted on-site in research facilities. The approval process for laboratories to resume on-site research activities is managed by the individual schools. 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 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 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 Graduate School and Duke Learning Innovation are holding a four-workshop series to help graduate students prepare for serving as TAs in online courses. The workshop series has been offered twice over the summer and is being offered again August 18-October 20.
  • 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.



As of July 2020, 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 new conference travel awards until further notice.


Campus Access, Facilities, and Services

Access to Campus

Any graduate student who intends to come on to campus at any point this year for classes or any other activities must complete three 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 by August 17.
  • Agree to follow student policies by providing a digital signature in a web portal by August 17.
  • Undergo COVID-19 testing administered by Duke during August 17-September 1.

For more details about how to complete these three tasks, please see the August 3 email to Graduate School students.

For more information about the Duke Compact, please see (there is a list of questions specific to graduate and professional students at the bottom of the page).


Graduate School offices

The Graduate School reopened its offices on the third floor of the Old Chemistry Building starting August 3. To minimize health risk to our staff, we are limiting the number of staff members on site 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.

Beginning in August, parking permit fee deductions will resume with no change in rates for academic year 2020-21. In addition to the annual parking permit option, Duke will offer non-refundable flexible parking options for staff, faculty, and students in a limited selection of campus parking lots beginning Aug. 3, 2020. | Details

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


  • Please check the Duke University Libraries' updates page and FAQ for the latest updates on access.
  • We have confirmed with Duke Libraries that materials borrowed in spring 2020 by graduating students that cannot be returned before the end of the term will NOT result in a diploma hold or library fines.


    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




    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.
    • Tuition for Graduate School students for the 2020-2021 academic year will revert to the 2019-2020 rates, and a number of fees will be adjusted as well.
    • 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. In her July 16 message to Ph.D. students, Provost Sally Kornbluth said the university plans to do the same for summer 2021 if COVID is still causing severe disruptions by then.
    • 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 GPSC Community Pantry is now 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 will revert 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.

    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