Info for Graduate School students on fall 2020.
Info for Graduate School students on fall 2020.
Duke Graduate School
Dear graduate students,
Many of you have been eagerly awaiting more information about the fall semester. Thank you for your patience while we work with university leaders to answer the many questions that we all have. President Price has not yet announced definitive university plans for the fall, but we now know enough to provide an update on several significant topics. The information below and future updates are also available at, so please keep checking that page.
Also, you will soon receive an email survey from the university about the fall semester. Please take a couple minutes to complete that survey. Your feedback will provide valuable guidance as the university makes plans to ensure the health and safety of the Duke and Durham communities.
We know you have more questions, and we will continue to update you as we know more. Stay tuned, and take care.
Paula D. McClain, Ph.D.
Dean of The Graduate School
Vice Provost for Graduate Education


1. Non-local participation by new students
  • We ask all incoming Ph.D. students—domestic and international—to try their best to be in residence in the Durham area for fall semester, even if they are taking courses remotely. If you will not be able to travel to Durham, whether because of visa issues, travel prohibitions, or other obstacles, we strongly recommend that you defer matriculation to fall 2021, given the number of uncertainties.

    • Schools may provide incoming Ph.D. students who cannot travel to Durham with tuition scholarships (and coverage of fees, if relevant) and allow them to take classes remotely, under the following limitations and conditions:


      -- Those incoming students will not be able to receive compensatory stipends (e.g., teaching or research assistantships). Non-compensatory fellowship stipends are allowed for incoming domestic students and incoming international students who are in the U.S.

      -- Those incoming international students who do not have visas and remain outside the US will not receive Duke-sponsored health insurance (SMIP) until they can be in residence.

      -- Those students will have to be able to take courses at the times offered.

      -- Those students must be in residence no later than fall 2021 to continue in their degree program.

      -- Those students who are international must be eligible to take a full load of courses remotely (see below).


      -- The relevant school and program have to agree to make this option available.

      -- Those students will retain the same duration of stipend support as other Ph.D. students (guaranteed 5 years of stipends starting from the time they are in residence). The tuition and fee support they receive while taking classes remotely will be considered part of their guaranteed 5 years of tuition and fee coverage.

  • International master’s and Ph.D. students with F-1 visas who are in the United States but not on campus typically may only take one online course per semester. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) waived the one-course limit on remote participation by F-visa students for spring and summer 2020. We do not yet have final clarity about whether these students will be able to take full-time online course loads in the coming term. The expectation is that universities will receive a similar dispensation so long as they are operating under a special COVID-19 framework.  We will confirm that as soon as we receive official guidance from ICE.

  • Incoming domestic master’s students may take a full- or part-time load of fall courses online, without being in residence.

2. Q&A for international students
We know our international Ph.D. and master’s students have many questions about visas, remote classes, and financial support. We have worked with university leaders to develop a Q&A that addresses some of those questions. The Q&A is at We will continue to update this information as we know more.

3. Academic calendar for 2020-2021
The Graduate School follows the Duke University Academic Calendar, which has now been revised to reflect earlier class start and end times for fall 2020:
  • August 10: Graduate Orientation begins
  • August 17: Graduate and undergraduate classes begin
  • November 16: Graduate and undergraduate classes end
  • November 17-20: Graduate and undergraduate reading period
  • November 20-24: Final examinations

4. Orientation for new students
The Graduate School’s orientation for incoming Ph.D. and master’s students, including the mandatory Responsible Conduct of Research orientation, will be held entirely online. Orientation week begins August 10. Students will receive more information about orientation in July.

5. Milestone examinations
  • The established schedule will apply, as published. Thesis and dissertation exams must take place by November 23 for students planning to graduate in December. Non-thesis master’s examinations must be held by December 7. Preliminary exams, as well as qualifying exams, must be held by December 14.

  • For both fall and spring terms, all parties may participate in milestone exams (prelims, master’s thesis, master’s non-thesis and dissertation) remotely as needed. The student and/or committee members may participate in-person if they desire, but they must follow university social distancing guidelines in effect at the time of the exam.

6. Courses for the fall term
  • Courses will be scheduled to be either online only or hybrid.

  • Hybrid courses have in-person as well as online activities, but can be taken remotely if needed.

  • No courses will be scheduled as having in-person meetings only, though hybrid courses may have separate in-person as well as online sections, as appropriate.

  • Please refer to the Registrar’s Course Schedule Policy for details. 

  • Please be aware that for in-person courses, all students and faculty must adhere to university policies on social distancing. The university will post these policies as we get closer to the start of classes, but they generally include maintaining adequate space between individuals and wearing masks.

7. Registration
  • Because of the course changes due to COVID-19, previous fall 2020 course registrations will be deleted in late June. All students will need to register again, once the course schedule is established in late July. The Registrar has emailed continuing and matriculated new students about re-registering.

  • The new registration window is expected to be August 3-12.

8. English for International Students (EIS)
  • EIS placement exams for incoming students will be administered online on August 3-14. Students will be contacted about exam scheduling after President Price announces definitive plans for the fall term.

  • All EIS courses will be offered online this fall. 
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