Spring 2021 update for students

Dear Students:

Welcome back to the second half of this most unusual academic year. Thank you for persevering. I know you are tired and frustrated and appreciate your continued patience as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The purpose of this message is to provide you with information about the spring semester, which has also been provided to your graduate program. Although this information is accurate as of this date, our situation continues to be very fluid. In addition, some of the information relates to decisions that are made at the level of departments, programs or even individual courses. Please contact your program or instructors for the specific information that pertains to your academic program. This message will be posted on The Graduate School’s coronavirus update website and will be updated throughout the semester.

Spring Semester 2021

Start date and remote instruction: The spring semester will start on January 19, 2021. Classes will be offered through 5 modes of instruction, two of which include in-person, on campus sessions. Undergraduate instruction will start remotely and this may affect the courses you are teaching. It is also possible that course(s) you are taking will start remotely. Please check with your instructors to find out if your courses will start remotely.

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: you must fulfill this requirement regardless of your location or mode of instruction, if you are in a residential program (students in fully online programs are excepted). Additional details about the COVID-19 Community Standards are available on the Carolina Together website.

Wellness Days: In lieu of spring break, the University has scheduled 5 Student Wellness Days*:

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

We’ve asked faculty to be cognizant that the Student Wellness Days are intended as breaks from the semester and asked them to try not to schedule major assignments for students on days following these breaks. We hope you will extend the same courtesy to undergraduates in your courses.

COVID-19 Testing requirements: Please review the spring 2021 Carolina Together Testing Program information. 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. Your program may have specific requirements and will communicate those directly. Please see Carolina Together Testing Program for 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 will 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 and we know this pressure has been particularly acute for 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). We will continue to encourage faculty to take these added burdens into account when they assign grades.

The incomplete (IN) grade will be 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.

Payment and Financial Support

Payroll and awards: For the spring semester only, the payroll dates are January 1 – May 5. If you have specific questions about your payroll, check with your program’s human resources manager or your student services manager. 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 the policy that students must be in the country to be hired as graduate assistants. Please note that this applies to both domestic and international students. Please work with your program if you need to request an exception. International students should keep in close contact with their graduate programs and ISSS about their plans and needs.


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. Please work with your advisors/ graduate programs to submit 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.


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 yourself and practice self-care. You are not alone in feeling anxious and it is perfectly normal to be concerned about the current state of affairs. It may help 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 don’t 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.

All best wishes for the spring semester!

—Dean Suzanne Barbour