Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Update

In the interest of protecting the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and community members, the Graduate School continues to operate in a remote format. MORE INFO>

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Frequently Asked Questions related to COVID-19

Please continue to check this page frequently for updates.

Last updated: January 4, 2021

Given the rapidly changing circumstances due to the COVID-19 outbreak (e.g. school, daycare, and other business closures) that may make it difficult for graduate students to complete activities, supervisors of graduate students involved in research, teaching and other activities, and graduate student advisers overall should continue to provide flexibility for their graduate students.

Guidance for Spring 2021

Below are current answers to several questions that we have received with information that is current as of today. Check back often, as we will update these answers as decisions are made.

Given the ongoing pandemic, and in the interest of reducing the risk of spreading the disease, graduate programs are encouraged to hold all benchmark examinations in a remote format; the blanket exception for fully-remote examinations is available for those who choose that approach. If the student agrees, programs may offer in-person examinations only with appropriate protective protocols in place (at least 6 feet spacing, masks, hand sanitizer available, surfaces disinfected before and after the examination, etc.).

Please refer to the updated details guidance from the Graduate School: Revised Guidance for Exceptions to In-Person Participation Requirements for Graduate Benchmark Examination.

Students should work with their faculty advisers to determine the expectation of the start dates for their graduate assistantship appointments and arrival timeline. We expect graduate students on graduate assistantships will still begin the activities associated with their graduate assistantships in the January time frame as outlined on their Terms of Offer (including teaching, if appropriate to the activities of the assistantship, but in a remote format) and they should be appointed and paid in January. These activities may or may not be on campus as is appropriate based on University recommendations for public safety and, in the case of research, the Office of Senior Vice President for Research guidance related to research facilities and whether graduate students are able to be in these facilities and feel safe doing so. The arrangement should be mutually agreeable to the student and adviser. This is a continuation of a similar approach undertaken after November 20th for remote delivery of courses in fall 2020—graduate student appointments continued through December as normal, though location of appointment activities were often altered.


Graduate fellowships should be processed as normal for a January start date, as there are no expectations of activities associated with these appointment types. However, students must work closely with their faculty advisers to determine how to make good academic progress and take advantage of the time they have available to devote to research and scholarship during such appointments.


Graduate traineeships should be processed as normal for a January start date whenever possible. However, traineeships may or may not be able to take place as planned based on University recommendations for public safety and Office of Senior Vice President for Research guidance related to research facilities and whether graduate students are able to be in these facilities and feel safe doing so. The arrangement should be mutually agreeable to the student and adviser, the training grant PI, and the relevant college research administrator/external sponsor.

If international students plan be here for the spring semester in person and will be on a graduate assistantship/fellowships/traineeships, their appointments will need to be processed and fully approved by the January payroll deadline. Programs should not delay processing their appointment or paying the appointment in January if they are intending to arrive on campus for spring, even if their arrival is delayed into the February time frame. As described above, they should work with the faculty advisers related to the expectations around the start dates for their graduate assistantship appointments and confirmation that their activities can be accommodated in a modified way before they arrive on campus.?

No, at this time we do not anticipate extended time limits for students enrolled in the Spring 2021 semester. However, we will be monitoring the situation closely and will make adjustments as needed.


If a graduate student contracts COVID-19 (or any illness) and is unable to continue teaching, the graduate student should contact the department responsible for the course. Colleges and academic units have been asked to create a plan for how to reassign classes if the instructor becomes ill and cannot teach. You should work with the individual who supervises your activities as a first point of contact.

The Graduate School has a Leave of Absence policy (GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence) that covers both short and longer-term leaves required for a variety of reasons, including illness.

Graduate students who encounter challenges to adjust their teaching assignment that cannot be resolved at the local level are encouraged to follow the established process in their academic units for resolving disputes and if unsuccessful, may seek assistance from Dr. Sarah Ades, Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs in The Graduate School.

Graduate students may also seek formal accommodations from the Penn State’s Office of Student Disability Resources.


During this time, graduate programs have been encouraged to be flexible.

Graduate School Administrative Policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence provides relevant details for handling graduate student leaves. GSAD-906 is flexible and addresses short- or long- term absences, while protecting the student’s standing in and eventual return to their program of studies.

A graduate student supported by a graduate assistantship, fellowship, or traineeship may request a Paid Absence. More information is available in the Graduate School’s guidelines "Management of Graduate Assistantships, Fellowships, and Traineeships for Graduate Students with an Approved Leave of Absence". There are two options:

  • Paid Short-Term Absence - Short-term absences are defined in Policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence as lasting 3 weeks or less.
  • Paid Extended Absence - Extended absences are defined in Policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence as lasting 3 or more weeks but less than a full semester.



The University is preparing guidelines to ensure the safety of all instructors, including graduate teaching assistants and graduate students serving as instructors of record. Detailed information will be shared in the near future.


Penn State is committed to protecting the health of all members of its community while delivering high quality instruction. As Penn State moves forward with making adjustments for teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the recommendations and guidelines pertaining to faculty instructors also applies to all instructors and teaching assistants, including graduate student instructors of record and graduate teaching assistants.

Graduate students who encounter challenges to adjust their teaching assignment are encouraged to follow the established process in their academic units for resolving disputes and if unsuccessful, may seek assistance from Dr. Sarah Ades, Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs in The Graduate School.

Graduate students with disabilities may also seek formal accommodations from Penn State’s Office of Student Disability Resources.


The University is preparing to assess teaching modality for all instructors; graduate students will be assessed for their concerns as part of that process.


Please contact your program head for details specific to your program.


The Penn State COVID-19 Compact outlines the University’s health and safety requirements and guidelines established for a return to on-campus learning. As part of that Compact, we require all students to commit to following these health and safety steps, and to acknowledge the risks of exposure to COVID-19 that exist even with the mitigation steps taken by Penn State and their compliance with the Compact. Some have misinterpreted the language of the Compact as a waiver of students’ rights, which was neither the case, nor the intent. 

The Compact is not a condition of a graduate assistantship or fellowship/traineeship (it is not part of the appointment process), but the Compact is part of being a student. Such appointments have not been held up or gone unprocessed based on the Compact and student status will not be revoked for fall semester for registered students who do not acknowledge the Compact.  Graduate students who are already registered and do not acknowledge the Compact will be able to continue their assistantship activities this semester, and fellows/trainees will continue to be supported. 

However, we have also clarified and it was confirmed to us that failure by any student to acknowledge the Compact, even graduate students already registered for classes and appointed to an assistantship/fellowship/traineeship, will result in that individual not being able to access LionPATH as a student, which will prevent actions such as registering for future classes, making changes to a schedule, and/or filing an intent to graduate among other student actions in the system. In addition, if a student has not registered for fall courses, they will not be able to access LionPATH to do so without first acknowledging the Compact. If they are appointed to an assistantship or fellowship/traineeship and not registered, they will not be in compliance with requirements that they be registered, full-time students while on these support packages as outlined in policies GSAD 901 and 907. The Graduate School will contact the graduate programs of graduate assistants and fellows/trainees who are not registered appropriately in late September/early October; if registration is not updated, which is required to be completed by program staff at that point in the semester, their appointment will need to be ended. Students who are registered late may be assessed late registration fees. This consequence of not being able to access LionPATH is stated in the Compact FAQs and confirmed by Student Affairs. 

The purpose of the Compact is to communicate to students that the University has adopted student conduct requirements regarding mask-wearing and other public health measures in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. The Compact outlines these requirements and makes students aware that failure to comply with these requirements may result in disciplinary actions, as is the case for all members of the University community. These public health measures are in keeping with recommendations from the CDC and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The requirements apply to all students regardless of whether they have acknowledged the Compact.   

The Compact also states in the last paragraph of the acknowledgement section that students are exempt from the terms of the Compact if they are “enrolled in an entirely remote learning experience, will not be on any Penn State campus, and will not reside in communities surrounding any Penn State campus.” Because LionPATH is not set up in a way that fully remote students can be distinguished from those who are not fully remote, all students, including those taking classes through the World Campus, are required to acknowledge the Compact to access LionPATH.  So, to be clear, the provisions only apply to those who could interact in-person on a Penn State campus or surrounding community, even though all students need to acknowledge the Compact. 

More information and FAQs can be found on the COVID-19 Compact website.  



  • The comprehensive and final oral dissertation exam policies listed below require that the student and a minimum number of faculty members be present. Given the situation, exceptions will be provided without prior approval so that the exam can be held remotely, if so desired. Please see the Revised Guidance for Exceptions to In-Person Participation Requirements for Graduate Benchmark Examinations document for more information.
    • Comprehensive Examinations
      • GCAC-606 Comprehensive Examination - Research Doctorate
      • GCAC-700-F Comprehensive Examination - Professional Doctoral Degrees
    • Final Oral Examinations
      • GCAC-608 Final Oral Examination - Research Doctorate
      • GCAC-700-G Culminating Project / Final Performance - Professional Doctoral Degrees
  • For all exams held remotely, the graduate program is responsible for (1) setting up the video conference for the purposes of the examination, (2) ensuring that the technology meets the needs of the examination and that all participants are trained in the relevant technology if needed before the examination, and (3) ensuring that the student and committee members test the system before the day of the examination.

The format of the qualifying exam is determined by the graduate program. If it does include an oral examination, all such exams are to be held via video conferencing, given the guidelines issued by the University that activities should be conducted remotely.

Graduate programs are welcome to make the public presentation available to the public remotely through video conferencing technology, or to cancel it, as they see fit.

Our main goal is to ensure that students’ academic standing is not jeopardized by events ensuing from the COVID-19 situation.  

  • Graduate students are expected to continue their research to the extent possible. However, there may be limitations on their ability to do so to the fullest extent due to constraints imposed by continuing research remotely and the rapidly changing circumstances that may arise due to the COVID-19 outbreak (e.g. school, daycare, and other business closures). As such, graduate student advisers should provide flexibility and appropriate accommodations such that the student’s academic standing is not jeopardized.
  • Any program-specific deadlines for milestone exams should be extended as needed given the exigencies of the COVID-19 outbreak. 
  • Several Graduate Council Academic policies, including those requiring comprehensive and final oral examinations to be held in person, have been adapted and blanket exceptions issued. Please see the guidance here for more information and a complete list of affected policies.

The deadline for submitting the final thesis or dissertation and supporting materials has been extended one week to April 6, 2020. If this additional time is not needed, you are urged to upload your documents as early as possible; this will facilitate the completion of all subsequent necessary steps in time for degree conferral in this challenging environment.

The April 24th deadline to have all committee members “sign”/submit their electronic approval has also been extended by one week. The new deadline is now May 1, 2020.

Questions may be directed to the Office of Theses and Dissertations at They will be pleased to assist you in any way possible.


There are several University resources devoted to remote teaching and online learning. In response to the move to remote delivery, the University has created the website with Remote Teaching ( information.

Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) is offering virtual office hours each day during the week of March 16. During these sessions, instructors can get help with transitioning their courses from a residential format to remote. You can also schedule a consultation.

Additional Penn State resources include:

Other non-Penn State resources that may be helpful include:

Please consult with the department and/or instructor responsible for the course for guidance.


  • There are a variety of resources available at Information Technology at Penn State, such as Zoom conferencing.
  • Consult with IT staff from your college for assistance on conducting your research remotely. 
  • Develop a list of projects that can be completed remotely in consultation with your research supervisor. 
  • Develop a plan for regular communications with your research supervisor and other research collaborators. 
    • Information about how to use a variety of technologies can be found on the IT Learning and Development site with self-guided trainings on the resources & materials page.  
    • Work with your research supervisor and relevant IT personnel to ensure that you will have remote access to files, data, servers, etc. 
  • Yes, those in high-risk groups should take all the necessary precautions. More information can be found here. Please discuss the situation with your research adviser so that you can work together to find a way that you can continue to make academic progress remotely. You would also be eligible to take a leave of absence as described in GCAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence.
  • It is our expectation that all graduate faculty will follow the guidance from the University, their colleges and the Graduate School and provide flexibility and appropriate allowances for their students with respect to time devoted to research. Should problems arise, students are encouraged to discuss the situation with their graduate program head and/or the Associate Dean for Graduate Education in their academic college (or equivalent for those in an IDGP) as outlined in the Avenues to Address Graduate Student Concerns guidance.
  • Students with a concern related to their adviser/supervisor of their research, teaching, or other activities who do not wish to consult directly with their adviser or graduate program leaders may contact Dr. Sarah Ades (, the Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs in the Graduate School, who is the ombudsperson for all graduate students across the University. Any graduate student may contact her to report and/or discuss an issue, with the assurance of maintaining confidentiality if requested and as allowable by applicable policies and laws.
  • Penn State is actively and carefully monitoring the situation regarding COVID-19. Please consult the Penn State Coronavirus Information Site for updates.
  • As of March 24, 2020, all research is reduced to essential research-related activities.
  • As of March 20, 2020 all university buildings are locked and accessible only to those who have access and a need to be there.

Human subjects research visits are to be postponed if they cannot be performed remotely and are not essential to a participant's health and/or do not have a direct therapeutic benefit (see COVID-19: Human Subjects for more details). If this postponement impacts your degree research, your faculty adviser/co-investigators are to consult with you to develop revised/alternative plans to enable continued progress towards your degree.

All University-sponsored international travel involving students, faculty and staff is suspended until further notice. This guidance will be revisited monthly and revised as U.S. Department of State and other public health guidance evolves. Please check regularly for updates.

Students who wish to travel internationally for academically essential purposes should review the materials:

  • Student International Travel Exception Documents
    • Student International Travel FAQs – PDF
    • Graduate COVID International Travel Exception Form – DOCX
    • COVID-19 Student Travel Safety Plan – DOCX

International Students

Global Programs has created a FAQ page for international students with answers to many questions ranging from remote learning to returning home/reentering the US to various visa issues including OPT. Please consult the page frequently as it is being continually updated. For individual advice, students may call +1-814-865-6348 or complete the eform via the Submit a Question link.


At this time, stipend distributions will not be interrupted.

  • Graduate School Administrative Policy GSAD-906 provides relevant details for handling graduate student leaves. A graduate student supported by a graduate assistantship, fellowship, or traineeship may request a Paid Absence.
    • There are two options:
      • Paid Short-Term Absence - Short-term absences are defined in Policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence as lasting 3 weeks or less.
      • Paid Extended Absence - Extended absences are defined in Policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence as lasting 3 or more weeks but less than a full semester.
  • You should check with the individual funding agency for information about alterations to deadlines or other policies.
  • Efforts will be made to hold the information sessions via video conferencing.

Health and Well-Being

See the Penn State Coronavirus Information Site for information regarding health services, self-quarantine, and what to do if you recently returned from international travel.

The CDC has released information for Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19, and Penn State resources are available to students at University Park through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and at the College of Medicine through the Office of Professional Mental Health.

If you have additional questions or needs, please contact Student Care and Advocacy at

All graduate students covered by the Student Health Insurance Plan can access professional counseling remotely via BetterHelp, and can access board-certified physicians online or on the phone (where permitted) through Telehealth Medical’s HealthiestYou. The doctors on Telehealth can even send a prescription to a preferred pharmacy.

There is an emergency fund to support Penn State students, the Student Care & Advocacy Emergency Fund, which will be made available to students in financial need across the commonwealth who apply for emergency assistance.


All on-campus student-sponsored events and activities, such as student organization meetings, will be postponed/canceled until April 6, at the earliest, or if possible, should be held remotely via Zoom. This direction is applicable to all other locations, including gatherings at off-campus locations.

The Graduate Writing Center will remain open until further notice and all appointments will be held remotely.

This page was generated on July 31, 2021 at 3:22 PM Eastern Time. This may not be the most recent version. Check the website for updates.