First, we want to acknowledge that these are tremendously stressful times for everyone, including students trying to make plans for Fall semester. But it also should be a great year to be a SIPA student.  Many faculty are modifying their courses to address the critical issues of the day, including COVID-19 and racial justice. SIPA will continue its robust co-curricular programming on issues from current economic crises and international security confrontations to national politics and green energy, to name just a few. As Dean Merit E. Janow has said, “Despite the uncertainties and the precautions we all must undertake, we will have opportunities to study, learn and engage with the world and each other. Our mission and our work have never been more important.”

To help you prepare for the Fall, we present the following Q&A, drawn from questions submitted by SIPASA leaders and other students, as well as staff suggestions. We will update the Q&A, whenever needed.

If you have questions, please write


Q: Is SIPA operating on the three-semester schedule described by President Bollinger?

A: SIPA will offer its full (standard) curriculum in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, allowing students to complete their coursework in the usual timeframe. SIPA will not utilize the Summer semester for coursework for its four-semester programs (MIA, MPA, MPA-DP). Students in the MPA in Economic Policy Management should contact their Program staff for details about Summer 2021. There are no changes to SIPA’s Fall calendar, which will begin on September 8th. Spring semester, however, will start one week earlier than usual, on January 11th, and end on April 26th. Commencement will take place that same week. Once the University determines the date and time of SIPA’s graduation, we will share that information with you.



Q: What will classes look like for Fall 2020?

SIPA will offer a total of 245 courses this Fall (including courses with multiple sections) – that is more or less identical to the number and scope of courses offered in Fall 2019. All courses will be taught online for the entire semester. In addition, if public health conditions allow, some courses will be taught on-campus in Hybrid mode (the professor will simultaneously teach remote and in-person students from a SIPA classroom). We have posted information (here) about which courses will be taught Online Only and which will be taught Hybrid. Currently, about 20% of courses will be taught in Hybrid mode, 68% in Online Only, and the mode of instruction is yet to be determined for about 12% of courses. Our goal is to clarify mode of instruction for all courses by early August, subject to possible changes required by public health guidelines for NYC and Columbia University.


Q: How does SIPA plan to accommodate students in remote classes?

SIPA faculty are hard at work transforming their courses for online instruction. Their redesigned courses will utilize best practices, including interactive tools to facilitate engagement; out-of-class group work that will allow students to work together at a time of their choosing; asynchronous (recorded) materials that students may view when convenient. Because students will take classes from around the world, nearly all courses will be recorded and posted on CourseWorks. (At this time, only about 12 out of 245 courses will not be recorded, and we are working with each of those faculty to develop accommodations for students who might find it difficult to attend every session. By early August, the SIPA Bulletin will identify any courses that will not be recorded, and those faculty will list accommodations in their respective syllabi.)


Q: What will “Hybrid” classes look like?

Subject to public health restrictions, SIPA will offer some courses in ‘Hybrid’ mode. Faculty will simultaneously teach online and in-person students from a SIPA classroom. All classrooms are being upgraded with cameras and microphones to facilitate engagement of in-person and online participants. Large monitors are being added to most classrooms, in order to make it easier for online and in-person participants to interact with one another. Students in a Hybrid classroom will be able to see online students – via their own laptop and, in most classrooms, via these new monitors. Special microphones in classrooms will allow in-person students to be heard by those online. A camera in the back of the classroom will provide several views of the classroom: the professor at the podium or the chalkboard, or the whiteboard at the front of the room. In-person and online students will see all content shared by the professor.


Q: How many sessions of a Hybrid course will be taught in-person?

Although we expect that most faculty who teach Hybrid courses will teach all sessions in-person in a classroom, University and SIPA guidelines allow them to teach up to 70% of sessions online and 30% in-person. We will provide information in August in the Bulletin – and faculty will provide details in their syllabi – if they do not plan to teach all sessions of their Hybrid course from the classroom.


Q: How will professors manage a Hybrid environment in which students potentially rotate in and out of the classroom, and how will decisions be made about who can participate in-person, and when?  How does SIPA plan to ensure these decisions are equitable and consistently applied?

Seating arrangements within the classroom will comply with public health guidelines. Current guidelines require 6-foot spacing and result in utilization of about 25 – 30% of total classroom capacity. Because only about 20% of courses will be offered on-campus in Hybrid mode, SIPA will be able to move most courses into larger classrooms than normal, allowing more students to attend in-person – while of course adhering to public health guidelines. If in-person attendance exceeds room capacity, SIPA will advise the professor to manage student attendance in the most equitable manner possible; for example, if in-person enrollment exceeds room capacity by 1/3, we would advise the professor to divide students into three equal groups and each group would attend two out of three sessions on a rotating basis.


Q: If a student begins coursework online, may she or he join Hybrid courses in person later in the semester?

If a student has informed SIPA that she/he plans to enroll in Hybrid course(s), but has been delayed entering the United States, SIPA will exercise reasonable judgement in allowing that student to matriculate into Hybrid course(s) after the start of the semester (depending on the student’s situation, this could mean at least six weeks after the beginning of the semester). Advising Deans in the Office of Student Affairs will consult with individual students to decide whether late entry will be allowed, subject to communication with the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). If students are not able to enter the US in the Fall but have started and continued all coursework online, they will be able to complete all courses remotely, and will be able to start Spring semester in Hybrid course(s), assuming the University continues Hybrid.


Q: Will faculty hold office hours for Online Only and Hybrid students?

As always, all faculty will hold office hours and will post times in their syllabi. Faculty teaching Hybrid courses will hold office hours both remotely and in-person, subject to physical distancing requirements. Many faculty will offer office hours or tutorials designed to accommodate students studying remotely in time zones distant from NYC. Some faculty teaching Online Only will offer to meet students on-campus for office hours (more information will be provided in individual course syllabi).


Q: How will Columbia University make certain that the campus is as safe as possible?

As described in detail on the University’s COVID-19 website, Columbia is conducting comprehensive steps to mitigate risk: implementing best-practice adjustments to buildings and common spaces; establishing rigorous individual-level requirements; and fostering actions to build a culture of mutual care and compliance. These include provisions for COVID testing, face coverings, daily symptom self-tests and much more.


Q: Will students be able to conduct in-person meetings for group work and other purposes?

Students will be able to conduct in-person meetings in the International Affairs Building and elsewhere on campus, subject to public health guidelines.


Q: Some classes are offered annually, such as Methods of Development in the Economic and Political Development Concentration. Is there a possibility classes such as this will be offered more frequently to accommodate students taking a leave of absence?

SIPA will monitor the number of students taking leaves in the Fall and returning in the Spring in order to determine whether special adjustments need to be made in the curriculum.


Q: Will SIPA continue Pass/Fail (used in Spring 2020) or resume letter grades in Fall 2020?

Columbia University returned to letter grades during Summer 2020, and we fully expect letter grades to be continued in Fall 2020.


Q: Will there be further updates regarding SIPA academics?

The SIPA Bulletin and related curricular resources will be updated regularly. We are working hard to finalize all course information by early August, subject to any changes in public health conditions.



Q: Will it be possible to fulfill TA/Reader positions or other assistantships fully online, even if the course is taught by the professor from a classroom?  Will it be possible to fulfill Program Assistant responsibilities remotely?

TA/Readers and Student Assistants (as well as Program Assistants) may choose whether to fulfill their responsibilities remotely or on-campus. They should inform their supervisor of their choice as soon as possible, in order to make appropriate adjustments in tutorials, recitations or other activities. Students who wish to perform their assistantship on-campus need to secure approval from their supervisor. All students—including international students—who will be assuming assistantships in the Fall have been or are being contacted by the school’s Human Resources office with instructions on the relevant appointment and payment processes. Additional questions can be sent to



Q: What advice do you have for students relocating to NYC?  Particularly those from outside of the US or from a state on the mandatory quarantine list?

Please consult New York State’s travel advisory protocols. The University’s COVID-19 website has extensive information about public health protocols, including quarantine procedures. If you choose to come to New York, you can begin classes online while you complete quarantine. It can be challenging to relocate, and the pandemic is certainly complicating matters further. Your peers in the Class of 2022 Facebook group may have suggestions. You can also schedule a call with the Office of Student Affairs to discuss any concerns.



Q: May students request a Reduced Course Load (RCL) or attend SIPA part-time?

SIPA will maintain its long-standing policy of requiring full-time enrollment (at least 12 points) for all programs, except the Executive MPA.


Q: What is the process for continuing students to secure a Leave of Absence?

The process for securing Leaves of Absence (which are not available for incoming new students) is straightforward and has not changed due to COVID-19 There are no penalties. Students have until the end of add/drop in the Fall to request a leave. In addition, students may take leaves for emergency situations until the last day of classes.  But, if you are registered in the Fall, you will want to drop before the end of add/drop in order to recoup all tuition and fees; after add/drop, you will lose all fees, and tuition is adjusted at 10% per week (details here). There are no charges if you do not register for the Fall term. You may take a leave for a semester or a year (or for one semester and then extend for one additional semester). If you've already decided on LOA for the Fall, please fill out the LOA Request.  International students who have questions regarding how a leave might affect their visa status or CPT or OPT eligibility should consult the International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO).


Q: Are students admitted for Fall 2020 able to defer admission until Spring 2021 or Fall 2021?

While we encourage admitted students to enroll this Fall, SIPA will accept applications for deferral through August 3. Visit the relevant section of the Admissions web pages to learn more about requesting a deferral.



Q: What can students on visas such as the F-1 visa expect if they take Online Only? Does SIPA have any control over this process?

The International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) has advised that continuing international students from Spring 2020 may remain in the US to study, regardless of whether their course of study is Hybrid or Online Only. ISSO also advises that incoming (new) international students are eligible for a student visa if they plan to attend a Hybrid program – for SIPA, that is at least one 3-point Hybrid course. In addition, continuing international students who wish to return to the US may be asked to provide verification that they plan to attend a Hybrid program. In order to assist new and continuing students applying for a visa, the Office of Student Affairs will provide a letter verifying that their program offers Hybrid courses. Students may request such a letter through SIPA will advise new international students who wish to seek a student visa how to secure enrollment in an appropriate Hybrid course. Because policies may change (due to factors beyond SIPA’s control), international students should verify current visa requirements by consulting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Columbia’s International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO).


Q: What happens to new international students enrolled in a Hybrid option if the University moves fully online?

ISSO advises that students on a visa will be allowed to remain in the US to study, even if the University moves to Online Only, due to public health requirements or other considerations.


Q: Will international students on visas be able to secure Curricular Practical Training (CPT) eligibility for internships during Summer 2021?

Beginning with students matriculating for the first time in Fall 2020, SIPA will require all students in the MIA and two-year MPA to fulfill their internship requirement after completing two semesters (in this particular example, as early as Summer 2021). Because of this, new international students who are enrolled full-time in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 will be eligible for CPT as early as Summer 2021, regardless of whether they enroll in Online Only or Hybrid. It is important to note, however, that new international students who wish to apply for a visa in Fall semester will be required to take one 3-point Hybrid course in Fall (and as stated above, Hybrid courses include in-person classes).
Updated July 30, 2020


Q: Due to the ICE/SEVP announcement on changes for Fall 2020, do international students need to reapply for an I-20 certificate? If an international student takes all Fall 2020 courses from outside of the United States, will she/he need an updated I-20 certificate and/or student visa to travel to the US in Spring 2021?

Because policies are continually changing, we strongly advise that international students verify the latest requirements by consulting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Columbia’s International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO).