The SAS Graduate Division realizes that the fall 2020 semester presents a number of complex challenges and questions for graduate students, whether they will be taking classes remotely or serving as teaching assistants. We want to provide general guidance to our continuing and incoming graduate students, with three important caveats:

1. Students must consult with Graduate Chairs directly because procedures and policies differ greatly from one Graduate Group to another.

2. This guidance is being issued on July 17, 2020, and we know that conditions, policies, and regulations can change quickly.

3. For international students, the best source of information is always Penn’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). Please visit the website.

  • If you have not yet done so, please read the University’s Fall 2020 Semester Plans.
  • Please contact your Graduate Group Chair directly with questions about taking courses, about assignments as teaching assistants, and for information about deferrals and/or leaves of absence. Each Graduate Group has made plans for graduate instruction and TA assignments. If you need assistance in contacting your Graduate Chair, please e-mail:
  • The majority of graduate courses will be conducted online, with some in-person exceptions and limited laboratory access with required approval. For more information on research resumption and to request approval, see:
  • In most graduate programs, students will not be required to be in residence in Fall 2020.(International students should see the additional information provided below.)
  • No graduate students will be required to participate or serve as a TA in a course or class session in person this fall semester if they are uncomfortable doing so or unable to do so due to health,  safety,  or family considerations.
  • The SAS Graduate Division has been enormously concerned about the impact of the pandemic on degree completion. In the wake of COVID-19, the School implemented a program of emergency graduate funding extensions for students in their final year of doctoral study in 2019–2020.  That program provided more than 100 additional semesters of full tuition, stipend, and health insurance for graduate students completing their degrees.
  • We remain acutely aware that continuing graduate students have faced serious obstacles and delays in their research and educational programs. Working together with Graduate Groups, we will continue to support graduate students who require additional time to complete their degrees.
  • The SAS Graduate Division, in consultation with faculty and graduate students, has created specific guidelines for graduate teaching and mentorship for the 2020–21 academic year. These include detailed inventories for teaching assistants. (Pennkey login required):  

    International Students

  • As a result of the advocacy by students and universities across the country, including Penn, the U.S. Government has agreed to revoke the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance issued on July 6th and July 7th, 2020. This maintains the status quo from March 2020, which allows students to "engage in distance-learning, either from within the U.S. or outside the country, in light of COVID-19."
  • FOR CONTINUING STUDENTS: This means that if you are currently in the United States, you **will not** be required to leave the country even if you are taking a fully online course of study. Continuing students outside of the country may continue to take online courses without jeopardizing their active status in SEVIS. You do not need an updated I-20.
  • FOR INCOMING STUDENTS: Please continue to consult the incoming student COVID-19 FAQ page:
  • Ph.D. students who remain overseas will in most cases be able to take classes remotely. Please note that students currently residing in Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea are prohibited from taking U.S. graduate classes remotely. Please contact your Graduate Group Chair and/or ISSS for further information (
  • In most graduate groups, first-year students enrolled entirely in remote classes may receive both tuition remission and non-service stipends even if they are overseas.
  • Students who are outside of the United States may receive a service stipend only if they have valid U.S. employment authorization and a U.S. bank account. Students paid service stipends through U.S. payroll are assumed to be temporarily outside the U.S. only due to COVID-19 and will therefore be taxed as though they remained in Philadelphia. These individuals may be subject to tax obligations based on their location of work and should consult their local tax authorities or personal tax advisor with questions.
  • Please note that some Graduate Groups require service (meaning work as a teaching or research fellow) in the first year. Students in these groups will need to consult their Graduate Chair. In some but not all cases, Graduate Groups may be able to delay service requirements so that students can make up those requirements when they are permitted to enter the U.S. and return to Penn.

We know that the next few months will bring many questions and challenges. We will be prepared to assist you along the way.

Beth S. Wenger
Associate Dean for Graduate Studies
SAS Graduate Division