Spring 2021 update for programs

Dear Colleagues:

Welcome back to the second half of this most unusual academic year. Thank you for your continued support and advocacy for graduate students.

The purpose of this message is to provide you with information about the spring semester. Your students will receive a parallel message. Although this information is accurate as of this date, our situation continues to be very fluid. This message will be posted on The Graduate School’s coronavirus update website and will be updated throughout the semester.


We are in the midst of an application review season unlike any we have seen before. Like UNC-Chapel Hill, many universities and colleges moved to pass/fail grading in spring 2020 and again in fall 2020. As such, it is likely that you will see pass/fail grades on many of the transcripts that you review. Please remember, a “pass” is just that—a grade indicating that the student mastered the content of the course. Please treat it as such and do not penalize applicants for having such grades on their transcripts. If you have concerns about an applicant’s mastery of content, please consider using the interview process to further assess their knowledge base.

Given the current travel restrictions and quarantine rules in many states, we cannot recommend in-person interviews at this time. Rather, we urge you to take advantage of Zoom and other technologies. Although Zoom provides the opportunity for both audio and video interactions, it is not equivalent to a face-to-face interaction. Please keep this in mind when you compare this year’s interviews to those you have conducted in person in the past.

Please also keep in mind that access to broadband internet is not universal and some of your most outstanding applicants may not have access to this technology and may have to do their interviews under suboptimal conditions.

Please refer to the admissions guidance our office provided in mid-September for additional advice concerning this season’s admissions cycle.

Spring Semester 2021

Start date and remote instruction: The spring semester will start on January 19, 2021. Classes will be offered through five modes of instruction, two of which include in-person, on campus sessions. Although undergraduate instruction will start remotely, the College/ Schools have flexibility and may start courses remotely or in person. Please provide your students with clear communications regarding your mode(s) of instruction, making sure to indicate whether they vary from course to course.

Community Standards: All members of the Carolina community are expected to adhere to our COVID-19 Community Standards, which are:

In addition to five mandatory standards, these additional community standards are strongly encouraged:

In addition, all students were asked to log into ConnectCarolina and complete two important steps if you haven’t already:

  1. Update their physical address and phone number for the spring semester
  2. Complete the COVID-19 Student Acknowledgement

Please note: your students must fulfill this requirement regardless of their location or mode of instruction, if they are in a residential program (students in fully online programs are excepted). Additional details about community standards are available at Community Standards Dashboard.

Wellness Days: In lieu of spring break, the University has scheduled five Student Wellness Days*:

*For the majority of campus; dates may differ in the Professional Schools.

Please remember that Student Wellness Days are intended as breaks from the semester and try not to schedule major assignments on days following these breaks.

COVID-19 Testing requirements: Please review the spring 2021 Carolina Together Testing Program. Graduate students who must come to campus to teach or take courses are required to be tested once per week. Graduate students living in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro are but not accessing campus can be tested once a week voluntarily. Please communicate to your students any additional requirements that are specific to your program. The Carolina Together Testing Program has information on testing center locations, hours and protocols. Graduate students are not required to participate in prior to arrival testing before returning to campus.

Deadlines and Milestones: At present, we plan to adhere to the published calendar and deadlines for spring 2021. However, we realize our situation is very fluid and will work with the Registrar and others to adjust dates, if necessary.

Grading: Everyone in our University community has been under extraordinary pressure since the pandemic started early this year, including our graduate students, many of whom are balancing the demands of family (e.g. elder care, child care, home schooling) with their responsibilities on campus (e.g. teaching, research) and the work necessary to continue progressing toward their degrees (e.g. courses, research, field work). Thank you for taking these added burdens into account when you assign grades and please remember that the incomplete (IN) grade is available together with the “CV” grade for graduate students who have been adversely affected by the pandemic. The CV grade provides an additional 3 months beyond the one-year afforded by the IN grade, for students to complete the work required for spring 2021 courses. As always, IN grades should be completed in a year but have the option for extensions of time if needed.

Graduate Student Payment and Financial Support

Payroll and awards: The standard dates for student employment were changed to accommodate the earlier start date in August. Students employed for the entire academic year (August 5 – May 4), will continue to receive a paycheck each month of employment, however, the payment for August was larger and the payment for May will be smaller than usual. For students hired for the spring semester only, the payroll dates are January 1 – May 5. Fellowships, awards, and other financial aid were disbursed beginning January 11, 2021.

Additional Financial Support for Students Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Carolina Student Impact Fund offers immediate support, guidance and emergency funding to help undergraduate, graduate and professional students adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employment Abroad: We will continue to review requests for exceptions to our policy that students must be in the country to be hired as graduate assistants. This applies to both domestic and international students. Please consult the UNC Global website for information about global employment options. Exception requests should be submitted by departments, using the RASR work flow.

For graduate assistants, employment through a professional employer organization (PEO) will likely be the most appropriate option, though it is worth noting that the associated fees are significant, typically more than the base amount paid to a graduate student. The preferred PEO for our university is Global Upside. UNC Global website has a PEO information sheet that estimates costs associated with employing a student through the PEO. Both service and non-service appointments should be routed for review/ approval so we can consider export control and other issues that might complicate engaging/paying your student.


As long as the state-wide travel ban continues, we will continue to review requests for exceptions to travel for research, meetings, and other academics-related business. Students should work with their advisors/departments to submit their travel requests through the RASR work flow.

Spring 2021 Events

Degree Completion, Commencement/ Hooding: The University has not yet made a decision about May 2021 commencement. We will provide an update on the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony once that decision has been made. Students planning to graduate in May 2021 should apply to graduate via their ConnectCarolina StudentCenter by Friday, February 26.  Students who plan to graduate in May 2021 and have a thesis/dissertation requirement must submit their document via ProQuest by 4pm on Wednesday, April 21.  May 2021 degrees will be awarded on May 16, 2021.

Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week: Each spring, the University celebrates Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week with a series of activities and events that culminates in the Graduate Student Recognition Celebration. This year, it is likely that most of these events will be virtual, including the Recognition Celebration. We will provide updates later in the semester.

Graduate Student Wellness

Please encourage your students to be kind to themselves and practice self-care. Let them know they are not alone in feeling anxious and it is perfectly normal to be concerned about the future. It may help for them to talk to someone or take advantage of other resources that are available on campus. Here are some resources that may be helpful:

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to The Graduate School if you need support. This contact guide will help, if you are uncertain who to contact about a specific issue.

Finally, thank you again for persevering through this health crisis and these uncertain times. I know everyone is likely a bit worried about what the future holds. Please be kind to and take care of yourself. Remember, the Office of Human Resources, Employee & Management Relations has resources that may be helpful (please note those resources are also available to students who are employees). The Employee Assistance Program is a confidential counseling and resource program that is designed to help University employees and their families deal with both personal and work-related concerns)

On behalf of everyone in The Graduate School, we are grateful for your collegiality and look forward to working with you during spring 2021.

—Dean Suzanne Barbour