What College Students Should Expect for the Fall 2021 Semester

Here's what students should expect as they return to campus this fall.

College students are heading back to school in the fall, but many wonder if they will return to normal or a continued limited campus experience. From freshmen to seniors, this semester likely holds another round of adaptation but also a return to something close to normalcy.

Here’s what students should expect as they return to campus this fall.

Vaccination Requirements

One of the biggest predictors in a return to typical campus life will be vaccination rates among student populations. With the leading Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations showing a continued 90+% effectiveness, universities are relying on these to prevent outbreaks in community living.

Some campuses like Yale University and UC Berkeley will require students to be vaccinated to return for the fall 2021 semester. UC Berkeley understands it may be difficult for some students to procure a vaccine before arrival and plans to assist them in locating local vaccination resources.

On-Campus Testing and Quarantining

Testing will remain available on campuses to identify outbreaks before they spread. UPenn is making plans to test for COVID-19 and follow up with contact tracing in cases on campus.

Students who test positive will still be subject to quarantine as defined by residence life policies.

Mask Rules

Mask rules applying to classrooms and common areas are likely to extend with CDC guidelines. Currently, schools have rules requiring masks to be worn in lecture halls, libraries, events, and even on the way to a hall bathroom.

As vaccinations increase and cases reduce, there is hope students will return to a mask-free environment in their dorms and even classrooms. However, given the CDC’s guidelines and current concerns about viral variants, this may not change during the fall 2021 semester.

In-Person Classes

While there has been a mix of in-person classes, Zoom learning, and truncated semesters wrapped up online over the last year, the fall 2021 semester holds promise for a return to even more in-person classes.

Professors and students alike are looking forward to in-person seminars and labs where face-to-face contact is a significant part of the learning process. However, as not all schools can advance directly to full capacity in dorms, plans are in place to continue some online or hybrid learning.

Events, Activities, and Parties

The class of 2022 returns this fall and hopes to have a normal graduation ceremony for the first time in two years. Whether that remains true is yet to be seen, but rules about events and parties will likely stay in place as the fall semester gets underway.

Activities including sports and clubs can resume with appropriate measures in place to protect health.

While academic events and the social scene are a huge part of the college experience, schools are looking to curtail some behaviors that may spread viruses amongst the student population. Schools encourage social distancing at these events and parties.

Residence Life Requirements

Many students will return to campus for the first time in a year and a half for classes this fall. This means residence life reductions around the country will rapidly scale back up to house these returning students.

Dorms that had switched to reduced occupancy likely will return to their previous capacity. Uconn plans to return to 90% capacity in dorms. This will facilitate a return to more in-person coursework and activities.

A New Kind of College Experience

While no campus can claim a complete relaxation of COVID-19 policy, many expect a return to business as usual for fall 2021 thanks to increased vaccination and lower community spread. For college students finishing up their final year, this is a welcome reprieve from quarantine policy. Similarly, those entering college for the first time—both freshmen and sophomores who completed their first year remotely—are understandably excited about their shot at the college experience.


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