May 4, 2021 at 12:07 p.m.

Planning for Fall 2021

Dear CSSW Students,

I write today to provide important information regarding Fall 2021.

As we look ahead to September, it is clear that there are a number of positive trends with regard to the COVID pandemic. It is also true that the landscape remains both complex and challenging. Leaders at the School and the University are engaged in extensive conversation about our plans for the fall. In their April 26th message, Provost Ira Katznelson and Dr. Donna Lynne announced that the University is planning to pursue a greatly increased campus presence starting in September. Let me emphasize their message that our top priority remains the health and safety of our community. Further, we will continue to provide a vibrant and effective education using all modalities available to us and prepare for the unexpected.

This message provides preliminary guidance on fall plans. Note that these plans pertain to CSSW only, and not to other units at the University. Please also bear in mind that current plans are subject to change as we continue to monitor the uncertain public health situation, and anchored in the University-level safety decisions for the fall semester.

Here is what we can tell you today, as we look to September:


  • Our Online Campus will continue to offer robust course offerings and Practicum Learning opportunities, as it has for the past six years.
  • Our Residential Campus will dramatically increase the number of in-person classes compared to the 2020-2021 academic year. While there will still be some proportion of courses offered online via Zoom on the Residential Campus for both Master’s and doctoral students, the majority of classes will be offered in-person, with the possible integration of some online components and modalities, where appropriate. Our faculty look forward to meeting with you again in our classrooms on a regular basis.
  • For students in our Residential and Online Campuses who live in the New York area, the number of in-person co-curricular opportunities will increase significantly as we move into the Fall 2021 semester, and again into the Spring 2022 term.
  • practicum placements for MS students will be both in-person and remote, depending on the policies in place at each agency. Given greater vaccine coverage, we anticipate that the number of in-person practicum opportunities will increase, but this is not within our control and students must be prepared for a variety of practicum formats.
  • PhD students should also plan for greater on-the-ground activities as they engage in their coursework and research projects, in consultation with their mentors and supervisors.
  • All Residential Campus students should plan to move to the NYC area this fall.


  • Practicum Learning Considerations for MS Students: We always intended to have students living abroad join us in NYC as soon as possible. This includes international students, U.S. citizens, and permanent residents of the U.S. currently residing outside the U.S. During the height of the pandemic, we piloted a number of flexible opportunities in an attempt to address some of the extraordinary challenges of travel, impediments to obtaining visas, and financial constraints and safety concerns, among other issues. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic this spring and summer, all CSSW students must be living in the U.S. in order to engage in fieldwork during the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters. For a whole host of regulatory and logistical reasons, it will not be possible to engage in fieldwork unless living in the U.S.
  • Coursework Considerations for MS Students: Students will have a number of options if they remain outside of the U.S., including pursuing coursework part-time if appropriate for a student’s current stage within the degree. However, students residing outside of the U.S. will not have the opportunity to engage in Practicum Learning. Through individualized conversations with Admissions ( and Advising (, other options are possible. For new students, these include deferring enrollment to a future semester; and for continuing students, it might be possible to pursue a leave of absence until a semester when living in the U.S. is more feasible. As always, international students should consult our International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) about the most up-to-date requirements for studying in the U.S. or at a U.S. institution: For example, international students must, in general, study full-time and (at least partly) in-person if they are living in the U.S. These requirements would typically necessitate living within commuting distance of our NYC campus. SEVIS transfer students from other U.S. institutions may have additional options but would need to discuss these with and receive approval from ISSO. We recognize the challenges of global travel at this time and regret that these limitations exist, but we will work with each student to best meet their needs under these unavoidable constraints.
  • Coursework and Research Considerations for PhD Students: PhD students are encouraged to get in touch with Jessica Troiano (, Director of Administration for the Doctoral Program, if a discussion about their particular circumstances could be helpful.

Throughout the summer, you will continue to receive more information from us, including access to our Fall 2021 Information Hub, in June. If you have questions in the meantime, new students should contact Admissions at, and current students should contact Advising at

Please bear in mind that the decisions and recommendations contained in this note are based on our knowledge of on-the-ground conditions as of this date. As we all know, public health conditions can change at any point, and we all must be ready for shifts in our practices as the situation evolves over time. You’ve all demonstrated remarkable flexibility over the past year, and we appreciate that.

Thank you for choosing social work as a calling and a profession, and for choosing Columbia for your education. Your dedication and expertise as social workers are greatly needed in today’s world.

In community,