Spring Plans Announced, Seniors, Juniors, First Years Invited to Return

Here’s what you need to know: 

  • The college announced that it would allow first years, juniors, seniors and transfer students to return on campus in the spring.
  • Around 1,200 students will be invited on campus, which is similar to the number of students that the college had initially expected to return to campus this fall. 
  • Sophomores whose “home circumstances impede their academic progress” can petition to return to campus. 
  • Depending on the number of students who wish to return, the college hopes to “bring back as many sophomores as possible,” President Biddy Martin wrote in her email.
  • Unlike the fall semester, students will be able to enter residence halls that are not their own after a series of negative tests at the beginning of the semester. The college is working to increase the availability of indoor spaces.
  • Basic Covid-19 protocols, including mandatory mask usage and social distancing guidelines, will not be altered from the fall semester, Martin said.
  • The status of spring athletics is currently unclear, but Martin noted that they would inform students as soon as the NESCAC has made a decision. 
  • Students who study remotely will not pay the room and board fee, totaling $15,910 a year, or student fees, which equal $1,000 per year. Additionally, the allowance for the personal and living expenses of students studying remotely will increase to $9,000 per year.
  • Students have from Oct. 30 until Nov. 15 to complete their spring intent form; on Nov. 18, the college will release decisions on spring residence petitions; and spring classes are scheduled to begin Feb. 3.  

On Oct. 28, the college announced in an email that it would invite first-years, juniors, seniors and transfer students back to campus for the spring 2021 semester, and that it would offer a petition process for sophomores who wish to return to campus. 

The college plans to welcome approximately 1,200 students back to campus in the spring, compared to the 970 students who came to campus this fall. Though this fall, the college invited approximately 1,200 students back, significantly fewer students chose to return than anticipated. The college explained that given this, it hopes to “bring back as many sophomores as possible” once there is a sense of how many students intend to return. The college plans to know more about availability in mid-November after eligible students share their spring plans.

Most details of daily campus operations will maintain the same as they were this fall; students will continue to live in single rooms; mask mandates and social distancing guidelines will remain in place, as will the frequent on-campus testing; and at least one residence hall will remain empty for isolation and quarantine space. Students will not be able to go into town, as in this semester, and will be pre-tested before arriving on campus. 

Dining will also largely remain the same, preserving the grab-and-go model in place this semester, according to a town hall hosted on Oct. 29 to address students’ questions and concerns regarding the spring plan. Dining services plans to revamp its menu to include more made-to-order and salad options, while preserving programs already in place like restaurant delivery through Delivery Express, Late Night Val and partnership with UMass for some meals.

Unlike this past semester, however, in which many classes and social gatherings were held in outdoor tents, the college is aiming to increase the number of indoor spaces available, primarily through expanding residence hall access; at the beginning of this semester, students were only allowed access to their own residence halls up until recently. 

During the town hall, Martin responded to a question asking why students should return to campus noting that in-person interactions prove valuable both socially and academically.     

“Being in person with a large number of your classmates, is perhaps, one of the two top reasons to come to campus,” she said. “You’ll have access to more of your classmates, and that’s particularly important for seniors, during your final semester at Amherst. You want to consolidate your friendships and cement your relationship with the college.”

Classes will still be available in remote and hybrid formats, up to the professor’s discretion, Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein assured. “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,” the email read. Epstein explained she expects 40 percent of professors to teach a class with an in-person component, as was the case this fall. 

Martin also mentioned that coming to campus will give students the opportunity to problem solve and to “face challenges and also help solve problems,” she said. There are also support services on campus, like the office of religious and spiritual life and the counseling center, she said.

On the top of students’ minds have been mid-semester breaks, with spring break having been canceled at the start of the academic year. “If we learned one thing from Mammoth Day, it’s that students like surprises,” referencing the college’s unplanned class cancelation last month. Both in Thursday’s town hall and in the email, she expressed that the college would be exploring the possibility of more dispersed days off, like Mammoth Day. 

A departure from the college’s decision to cancel all study abroad programs for the fall semester, the college will be allowing students to study away in the spring, with Martin noting that it might serve as an alternative for sophomores who are not welcomed back. Students considering studying abroad should consult with Associate Dean and Director of the Global Education Office Janna Behrens immediately to determine available programs, the announcement said. In a town hall hosted following the announcement, Epstein clarified that students could study away so long as their desired program did not get canceled, and advised students to pre-register for Amherst courses in the event that cancelation occurs.

On athletics, much still remains unknown; while the NESCAC officially canceled its winter sports season last month, the spring season is still up in the air. During the town hall, Martin clarified that varsity teams may continue to practice in small groups, as they did in the fall semester. 

Though the reunion’s spring celebration was canceled, Martin explained that students would likely be able to host some sort of commencement celebration while following campus covid-protocol, granted that cases do not worsen by the spring. While so much remains up in the air, Martin expects that families will not be invited on to campus to see their students graduate, she confirmed in the Town Hall. 

Surrounding students’ decision-making for the spring semester, Martin said, “Each student should make their own decision about what’s best.” But, she added, “I miss having students.”