October 28, 2020

Dear Students, Families, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing today to share some of the key elements of our plans for the spring semester. Although the fall has been, by necessity, a different kind of residential experience for everyone involved, it has brought great joy to have students on campus and I am grateful to everyone for their efforts to ensure a successful semester so far. Dean of Students Liz Agosto will continue to communicate with you about spring planning over the next several weeks.

Based on our experience this fall and the continued adherence to our COVID-19 safety protocols in our community, we plan to bring approximately 1,200 students in the spring (versus the 970 or so who arrived at the beginning of the fall semester). We will continue to maintain a low residential density by assigning only one student per room in the residence halls, using at least one residence hall that was not in use in the fall, and maintaining adequate isolation and quarantine spaces.

Barring unforeseen developments in the course of the pandemic that could necessitate a shift, we are pleased to be able to invite for the spring semester all seniors, juniors, first-years, and transfer students, as well as those students in the sophomore class whose home circumstances impede their academic progress. The latter group of students can find the criteria and process for petitioning to be on campus in the online FAQ.

We understand that this is good news for many, but disappointing to our sophomores. If there is room, we will look to bring back as many sophomores as possible; we expect to know more about student intentions and space availability by mid-November. We anticipate that some sophomores may wish to study abroad. At this time, the College is continuing to sponsor some study away programs. Janna Behrens, Associate Dean and Director of the Global Education Office, can advise which programs still have plans to run in the spring and will accept students from the United States. Please contact her soon, as deadlines for some programs are rapidly approaching. For juniors planning to study abroad during the spring term, we will preserve space, knowing that some programs may be canceled and that travel could be curtailed or unwise because of the pandemic.

Here is additional information we hope will be helpful to you.

Making Your Decision

Since we are trying to accommodate as many students who wish to study on campus as possible, please think carefully about your spring plans and only indicate a preference to study on campus if you truly wish and plan to do so. As was the case this fall, any student who wishes to study remotely or take a voluntary educational leave may do so, even if they have been invited to campus. Students will receive an email this Friday, October 30, with a personalized link to the Spring 2021 Intent Form, where you will be able to declare your intentions for the spring semester.

Important Dates

  • Filing of intent forms: October 30 until November 15 at 11:59 p.m. ET
  • First round of pre-registration for spring classes: November 2-6
  • Second round of pre-registration for spring classes: November 16-20
  • Notification of decisions on petitions for spring residence: November 18
  • Registration of housing preferences: November 18-December 2
  • Housing assignments process: December 3-16
  • Housing assignments notification: December 18
  • Classes begin: Wednesday, February 3
  • Classes conclude: Wednesday, May 5


I was happy to see in the recent survey that our students report being generally quite satisfied with their educational experience, both in-person and remote. Spring classes will, once again, be offered as a mixture of in-person and online instruction, at the discretion of the instructor. We anticipate that many faculty members will continue to offer some kind of in-person opportunities to students, whether that is a course, office hours, or advising sessions. While there will be no scheduled week-long spring break, we are exploring the idea of having a few days off over the course of the semester.

Life on Campus

A number of factors have allowed Amherst successfully to sustain having students in residence: a rigorous testing program—just five of the more than 41,000 COVID-19 tests administered have come back positive as of this message—careful planning by College faculty and staff, and the extent to which students, staff, and faculty have adhered to our health and safety protocols. Our small size and rural location have also helped. To give us the best chance for continued success, most of the health and safety measures we established in August, including those articulated in the Statement of Shared Responsibility, will remain in place through the spring. (See also Information for Students.) Because students will not be able to spend time outdoors in the dead of winter, more gathering spaces will be made available than were open in the fall, once students have gotten two negative test results on campus. As eligible students make their decisions about spring residency, they should keep in mind:

  • As was required for the fall semester, a pre-arrival testing protocol will be in place, the details of which will be communicated to students who will be on campus.
  • Students will not be allowed to leave campus, including into the town of Amherst, without the permission of the Office of Student Affairs (which will be granted only for doctors’ appointments, family emergencies, or other exceptional circumstances).
  • No off-campus visitors, including Amherst students studying remotely, will be permitted.
  • Mandatory, three-times-per-week testing will be required of students. (The testing protocol for staff and faculty will also remain the same.)
  • No large gatherings will be permitted. Physical distancing will be required. Face masks must be worn at all times except when students are alone in their rooms or actively eating. Students must practice frequent hand-washing and good overall hygiene.
  • Dining will be offered via a grab-and-go model.
  • Students who violate health and safety protocols may be asked to leave campus.

We are always mindful of the need to balance health and safety measures with the social well-being of our community. While some restrictions in place at the beginning of the fall semester have been mildly relaxed over time to accommodate requests expressed in a recent student survey, spring semester on-campus students should be aware that we will begin the spring semester with similarly strict protocols in place that may be eased after we establish a safe environment. I have already mentioned the exception of more available indoor spaces for students once they have gotten two negative tests. During the fall, shifts in policy and practice included permitting food delivery from off campus to a single intake location on campus and piloting a similar program for students 21 and older to purchase modest quantities of beer and wine. We also began allowing access to residence halls other than students’ own, and opening additional indoor spaces across campus for socializing in small groups.

Student/Family Town Hall

As a reminder, we will hold a student and family virtual town hall tomorrow, Thursday, October 29, at 7 p.m. ET. We ask that you please register for the event ahead of time. The registration page allows you to submit questions in advance. You will also be able to ask questions during the town hall.

I want to acknowledge the extraordinary circumstances we are all trying to navigate. I am grateful to the entire Amherst College community for your willingness to operate in new ways, for your creativity in finding those ways, and for your ability to maintain focus on our shared academic priorities and our sense of community.

Please take good care of yourselves. We look forward to connecting with you, whether in person or online, throughout the coming weeks and months. Thank you for your patience and understanding.