Everything You Need To Know About The Fall Semester…So Far

Penn State announced Sunday night it will officially return to in-person instruction this fall after delivering courses virtually this spring.

As you begin pondering what life will be like at Dear Old State this fall, you’ve probably got some questions. And although Penn State may address them in two town halls on Monday, June 22, you need answers now, baby.

With that in mind, here’s everything we know about the fall semester…so far.

Classes & Calendars

Penn State’s fall semester will begin as originally scheduled on August 24. Students will remain on campus and take part in residential instruction until Friday, November 20. From then on, the rest of the semester, including final exams, will be delivered virtually. The semester will end as originally planned on December 18.

Additionally, Penn State will host classes on Labor Day (September 7) to minimize students’ travel and lower possible virus exposure over the long weekend.

Following Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s academic guidelines, Penn State will virtually deliver all courses with more than 250 students this fall. At this time, it’s unclear how smaller courses will operate. Penn State will leave those decisions to individuals campuses and “academic units” for the time being.

Although Penn State hasn’t barred professors from taking attendance this fall, the university stated its faculty is expected to be “flexible in their interpretation of class attendance policies” this fall. Hopefully, this would allow potentially sick students to seek help, quarantine at home, and not need to worry about missing out on clicker points.

Students will be expected to follow social distancing protocols in class. According to Penn State, courses may be reassigned to larger lecture halls and buildings to give students and instructors space to properly distance themselves and stay safe.

Students will also need to continue wearing face masks when they’re in lectures or commuting to and from class. Earlier this spring, Penn State announced it’d purchased approximately 500,000 face masks to be distributed among its faculty, staff, and students.


Penn State Housing will have a lot on its hands when planning for the fall semester. After all, dorms were cramped and low-key gross before the global pandemic hit.

Currently, Penn State plans to limit on-campus housing rooms to two residents each. Say goodbye to triples, folks! It’ll attempt to limit shared living spaces, potentially including common rooms, to two individuals as well. Penn State will still honor roommate requests as students sort out their housing needs this summer.

The university will also provide singles to immunocompromised or at-risk students, as well as those who request one. However, the former two will receive priority consideration for single dorm rooms.

Residence hall bathrooms will be cleaned at least twice per day this fall. Additionally, students will be expected to wear face masks in shared living spaces, including bathrooms…except when showering or brushing their teeth, of course. The guidelines will be “strictly enforced” upon students’ return to campus.

Penn State will “substantially reduce” common area seating to promote social distancing and close lounge spaces initially, planning to gradually reopen them when possible. The university is also considering discontinuing elevator usage “except for special circumstances” and enforcing one-way traffic in stairwells.

The university hasn’t yet communicated if students will be tested for the virus before moving into the dorms. However, students are asked to seek medical attention before arriving to campus if they feel they’ve been exposed or have exhibited symptoms.


It’s safe to say dining halls will look very different this fall.

At this time, Penn State plans to greatly reduce capacity in its on-campus dining facilities and remove many tables and seating areas to promote social distancing. To counter that, it’ll expand mobile ordering and carry-out options to reduce wait times and continue serving students as efficiently as possible.

Sadly, this means we won’t be seeing any self-serve options this fall, so say goodbye to those heavenly Pollock breakfast buffets. Dining’s menu selections will be “streamlined” to increase speed of service. Dining hall facilities and restrooms will receive extensive cleaning at least twice per day.

Campus Life

In accordance with Governor Wolf’s guidelines, on-campus gatherings of more than 250 individuals are prohibited and won’t be allowed upon students’ return. However, Penn State believes these restrictions could be eased as time passes.

Penn State will provide “additional information relevant to specific activities” such as THON, intramural sports, and activity fairs in the coming weeks.

On-campus facilities, including the Intramural Building, Rec Hall, and HUB, will be open when students return to campus. However, they’ll employ occupancy limits and adjust hours of operation to support and promote on-campus health. More information regarding these changes will be shared “at a later date.”

Additionally, Penn State is “working closely” with CATA to maintain on-campus routes and help folks get to and from classes safely while following proper procedures. It plans to monitor on-campus classroom capacity and limit it to make sure buses aren’t overwhelmed. Earlier this month, CATA reopened several popular routes, including the Blue Loop and Red Link.

Penn State will also employ “a robust testing and contact-tracing program” to monitor potential coronavirus spread, test symptomatic individuals, and test asymptomatic people identified through tracing.

Penn State made it clear it can’t necessarily completely ensure students follow guidelines around campus. Instead, it’ll ask them to sign a pledge to uphold community health by following suggestions such as wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing. Go figure.


Penn State Athletics has yet to respond to the university’s return to campus or the fate of the Nittany Lions’ upcoming football season. However, now that select football student-athletes have started returning to campus, there’s reason to be optimistic heading into the fall semester.

Under Governor Wolf’s recently released athletics guidelines, sporting events and gatherings will be limited to 50% occupancy. Attendees will also be required to wear face masks at all times and following social distancing protocols whenever possible.

Penn State Athletics didn’t initially respond to a request for comment regarding students’ return to campus or the upcoming football season.

Last week, an NCAA committee recommended football programs follow a six-week preseason regimen to help teams gear up for the season. The plan allows coaches to begin formally working with their teams on July 13, while practices would begin on August 7. The measures are still subject to final approval from the NCAA’s Division I Council.

Fall Commencement

Although we’re many months away from Penn State’s fall commencement, the university hasn’t provided any information regarding next semester’s ceremonies.

Penn State noted gatherings of more than 250 are prohibited under Governor Wolf’s guidelines, and a typical fall commencement of 5,300 individuals is likely off the table at this time.

However, the university stated there are “far too many unknowns in the potential path” of the pandemic to plan for an on-campus event at this time. For now, Penn State will be “carefully monitoring” the pandemic and provide information at the semester draws nearer.

Financial Aid & Funding

Penn State is distributing cash grants to students via two rounds of funding. Currently, students can apply for these grants, which can be worth up to $1,000. Funding will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis until resources are exhausted.

All students, including graduating seniors, who were enrolled in on-campus courses on or after March 27 are eligible to receive this federal aid.

The university received approximately $27.5 million from the federal government to distribute among its students. The funds aim to provide emergency aid to students affected by the pandemic and cover expenses such as course materials, technology, food, housing, health care, and child care.

Once you’ve applied, you can expect to see notification of the award in your Penn State email in the coming weeks and will be prompted to accept or decline the aid.

Accepting aid through the CARES Act has no bearing on receiving potential financial aid. You won’t need to pay these funds back to Penn State.


Although Penn State will reopen campus this fall, the university will continue limiting visitations and tours. Currently, all on-campus or off-campus visit programs are canceled through August 31. However, virtual tours and visits remain an option.

Earlier this month, Penn State announced it would not require 2021 applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores when applying for admission. The university hopes optional score submissions will make students’ lives a little bit easier amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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