Fall 2020 FAQ for graduate students

June 19, 2020 - by Sarah Igram

Although many uncertainties remain as we look ahead to the Fall 2020 semester, please read the latest plans for the fall calendar, changes to class scheduling, information on how courses will be delivered, plans for Prep Week and final exams, and much more. The remainder of this page provides additional information of special interest to graduate students.


Overview of academics for Fall 2020

President Wintersteen and Provost Wickert sent a letter to all graduate students on July 10 that summarizes:

  • information on class formats and scheduling,
  • coursework while quarantining or self-isolating,
  • options for students at high risk for serious illness due to COVID-19, and
  • assistantship provisions.


Assess your risk and seek necessary alternative arrangements

Graduate teaching, research, and administrative assistants (GAs) who are at high risk for serious illness due to COVID-19 as defined by the Centers for Disease Control may follow the guidance from University Human Resources. GAs who are not at high risk themselves but live with someone who is, may also follow the guidance. Specific health conditions are not entered on the form that UHR provides, and the review process is confidential. Please complete the UHR process as soon as possible if you are interested in exploring an alternate arrangement for serving as a GA.

Graduate students who are at high risk for serious illness due to COVID-19 as defined by the Centers for Disease Control who have concerns about in-person classes required to complete their degree requirements should reach out to their advisers. The next step is for you to have a conversation with your course instructors.  If you cannot come to an agreement regarding alternative arrangements with your instructors, your next step is to speak to your DOGE or department chair to discuss your concerns. The Graduate College encourages DOGEs and department chairs to be as flexible as possible with students who have concerns. 

If you have a documented disability and want to discuss potential academic accommodations, please contact Student Accessibility Services. If you have a documented disability and want to discuss potential assistantship related accommodations, please visit the Graduate College Disability Accommodations website for instructions.

If you neither meet the CDC guidelines for high risk nor have a documented disability, you may still have concerns about the impact of attending your classes or carrying out your assistantship duties. If you are one of these individuals, you should have a conversation with your instructor, major professor, or assistantship supervisor. If you cannot reach a solution, your next step is to speak to your DOGE or department chair to discuss your concerns. The Graduate College encourages DOGEs and department chairs to be as flexible as possible with students who have concerns.   


If you're traveling from outside the U.S.

Consistent with CDC guidance, Iowa State University students, faculty, and staff who have traveled outside of the United States should self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to the United States, and complete the quarantine period before engaging in any activity on campus. Please read the Office of Risk Management's guidance for completing that period of self-quarantine before returning to campus. 


Assistantship appointment dates

Fall appointments may begin as early as August 3, and they may end as early as November 25 or as late as December 31. The end date is set by the supervisor of the assistantship and typically does not affect the total stipend provided for the semester.


Minimum assistantship stipends

The adjusted Fall 2020 calendar has no effect on the minimum stipends for graduate teaching, research, and administrative assistants.


TA activity on Labor Day

Classes will be held on Labor Day, Monday, September 7. Like instructional faculty and staff, graduate teaching assistants will be expected to fulfill their roles that day as directed by their supervisors.


Assistantships of graduating international students

Assistantship appointments for international students who are graduating this fall must end by November 25. Assistantship appointments for all others may continue into December even though classes will not be held that month. Graduating international students should contact the Office of International Students and Scholars to discuss the best approaches for concluding their degree programs.


Graduate College deadlines

Despite the changes to the academic calendar, to provide students with the most flexibility possible, the Graduate College will maintain its deadlines rather than move them forward. These include critical dates related to POSC approval, requesting approval for oral examinations, and graduation. If you have any questions or concerns about fall graduation, please contact Lisa Elm, Graduate College Student Services Specialist, at lkelm@iastate.edu.


Oral exams between Summer 2020 and Fall 2020

Students scheduling a preliminary or final oral exam from August 8 to August 24 must register for a minimum of one credit for either Summer 2020 or Fall 2020. Students taking their preliminary or final oral examination on or after August 25 must register for at least one credit for Fall 2020. Students scheduling their preliminary or final oral examination after November 25 may register for either Fall 2020 or Spring 2021.


Remote and in-person exams

The Graduate College continues to allow all preliminary and final oral exams to be held virtually. The requirement to seek permission for a virtual exam is waived. Graduate students and faculty will be notified in advance when these accommodations are ended. Students and their committees may hold oral exams in person with physical distancing and the use of cloth face coverings. If the student and all committee members are unable to agree on whether an exam is virtual or in person, please contact Lisa Elm, Graduate College Student Services Specialist, at lkelm@iastate.edu. Public portions of exams (e.g., seminars) should be arranged based on policies in the relevant department or graduate program.


Requesting preliminary and final oral exams

These exams need to be approved and scheduled in advance with the Graduate College. Submit the preliminary oral examination request at least two weeks before your scheduled preliminary oral. Submit the final oral examination request at least three weeks before your scheduled final oral. 


Face coverings

Two cloth face coverings will be provided to each student before fall classes begin and are required for all students, faculty, and staff. Face coverings reduce infection risk. As a graduate student, you are a role model for thousands of others on campus. Your use of face coverings will inspire others and show that you are doing your part to promote health in our community. Please wear them.


If you fear unreasonable expectations

The Graduate College has been told that some graduate assistants anticipate unreasonable demands from their supervisors this fall. In the unlikely event that you are asked to perform more duties than would be appropriate for a ¼-, ½-, or ¾-time appointment, or duties that might increase risk of COVID-19 infection, please speak directly to your supervisor, your graduate program director (DOGE), or department chair. You also may contact the Ombuds Office or the Graduate College.  


Take health and wellness seriously

The Student Counseling Service is here for you as a graduate student. Get to know the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, and engage with student Wellness Services. Be physically active, especially outdoors, where the risk of COVID-19 infection is diminished. Eat well to improve your health and immune system. And wash those hands! 


Positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 needs to report that confidentially within 10 days of receiving the test result by using this form. Students who test positive will be counseled on strategies for continuing to make academic progress. Contact tracing will also occur for any person who tests positive. The goal of contact tracing is to identify everyone an infected person has been in contact with (students, faculty, staff, others) who was less than 6 feet away for more than 15 minutes (per CDC guidance). If classmates, faculty, or teaching assistants meet this definition, they will be contacted. Assigned seating in classrooms may be used to enhance contact tracing.


Medical costs

Iowa State is mitigating the risk of COVID-19 in numerous ways, but the possibility of infection cannot be eliminated. The Student and Scholar Health Insurance Program (SSHIP) will provide benefits to any participant who incurs expenses for COVID-19 treatment. The student’s cost share for in-network services includes a $450 deductible, 20% coinsurance, and a $10 or $20 copay for medication. The out-of-pocket maximum is $4,100. More information is available in the Summary of Benefits and Coverage section of this website. SSHIP has been enhanced by Wellmark through August 31 as described here. COVID-19 testing is free for students.  


Take advantage of a full suite of services

The Graduate College main office (1137 Pearson Hall) will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning August 3. In-person assistance will be available by request and appointment. Physical access in the office will be limited to promote social distancing. Face coverings will be required in the office, and signage will direct visitors to enter and exit through different doors, both of which can be opened without touching them with your hand. Office surfaces used frequently will be disinfected regularly, and hand sanitizer will be available. Although we will make it as safe as we can to be in our office, we encourage you to contact us (at 515-294-4531 or via email) before visiting so that we can assist you remotely. All the beneficial programming of the Center for Communication Excellence and Graduate Career Services will remain virtual through Fall 2020.



Please consider your computer needs carefully. To enhance safety, most public computer labs on campus will be closed during the coming semester. If you have relied on those facilities in the past, you may wish to acquire a laptop.  Parks Library has computer equipment that may be borrowed. Questions can be sent to lib-support@iastate.edu.


Will there be a fall commencement ceremony? 

This issue is under consideration at this time. Information about a fall commencement ceremony will be posted on the Graduation & Commencement website at a later date. Additionally, the Graduate College will keep students informed of any updates.


What are the plans for Spring 2021?

Spring 2021 is scheduled to begin on Monday, January 11 and end on Thursday, May 6, with Spring Break during the week of March 15. Changes to the calendar are possible depending on the status of the pandemic later this year.


Let us know

For many, graduate school is characterized by ambiguity, stress, and limited resources. Help is available if you are struggling with finances, academic expectations, food insecurity, your advisor, housing, career plans, or myriad other factors that affect your success as a student. For example, the Office of Student Financial Aid can advise you about financing your education, and a Food Pantry is operating. 

Tags: covid-19 updates