COVID-19 guidance for HMS master’s and PhD students

Updated 6.4.20

NEW: Important HMS Lab Reopening information (June 4)

All Harvard faculty, staff and students must follow the University's policies and guidelines found on the Harvard University coronavirus webpage. This page includes important guidance for remote courses, travel policies, campus restrictions and visiting or returning to campus.

For PhD students, please refer to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences' coronavirus webpage.


  • Academics

    • Fall 2020 courses will commence remotely for our entering classes of medical, dental and graduate students, as well as for our HMS-directed external education programs that would have been held on campus. Your instructor will contact you with specific instructions on how to login. Please see the HMS IT Work Remotely webpage for instructions on how to download the Harvard versions of Zoom or Webex.
    • Given the uniqueness of our education programs, which run for 12 months and emphasize hands-on learning, we hope to be able to hold in-person research and clinical experiences for our returning medical and graduate students and will continue to closely follow institutional guidelines and public health developments.
    • Program leaders will be communicating soon with current and incoming students, faculty and staff to provide further details and preparations—including considerations for start dates, travel, housing, visas and financial aid/support—relative to their respective programs.
    • We hope to have all of our students back on campus by January, but we are mindful of the many unknowns and will update our projections as new information becomes available.
    • What if I am absent from a virtual class or miss a session due to illness?
      • Faculty understand that this is a time of great ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have been encouraged to practice flexibility and understanding of deadlines. If you are ill, first prioritize your health and call Harvard University Health Services at 617-495-5711 or your primary care provider for advice to determine whether to get assessment or treatment. Contact your course instructor to discuss protocols for missed classes or late assignments.
    • Will the move to virtual learning affect my F1 visa?
      • Government guidance issued on March 10 assures Harvard that international students can participate in online classes without concern for their immigration status, provided they continue to make normal progress in a full course of study as required by federal regulations.
    • Should I still meet my mentor in person?
      • No, have your meetings by video, phone or teleconferencing options.
    • Should I continue to pursue my laboratory research?
      • HMS labs are expected to be closed to all but essential personnel by Wednesday March 18 at 5 p.m. We expect HMS students to follow this guidance, whether they are in HMS Quad or hospital labs.
    • If I have a role at an HMS-affiliated hospital with stricter policies/guidelines than HMS, whose guidelines should I follow?
      •  If your affiliated hospital has stricter policies/guidelines for travel, meetings, events, etc., please follow those specific policies/guidelines. 
    • Will there be any refund for changed classes?
      • There will not be a refund for changed classes. Students will continue learning the same materials remotely.
    • Are official deadlines for May 2020 degree period in place?
      • Yes, official deadlines are still in place. Students with concerns about needing additional time to complete degree requirements should be in touch with their program director. 
    • Who should students contact with questions or concerns about this guidance?
      • Students should contact Associate Dean for Graduate Education Johanna Gutlerner or Master’s Programs Senior Administrator Kim Lincoln in the Office for Graduate Education.
    • Is there additional guidance available for graduate students who have teaching duties?
      • The University has launched a new Teach Remotely website to provide faculty with best practices, tools and support for teaching classes online.
    • How can I avoid or how will accommodations be made to disruptions to the research I am involved in?
      • All faculty and program leadership are sensitive to students’ needs during this uncertain time. Special accommodations will be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Graduating Students

    • Is there guidance for preparing to deliver my master’s capstone or thesis virtually?
      • Students will be informed of changes to capstone or thesis projects by their program director and/or program manager.
    • Will the May final thesis deadline be officially moved, or are we still operating with the May deadline?
      • We are operating on the current official deadlines and will address those needing additional time as we normally would, on a case-by-case basis.  
    • I am graduating in May, do I tell my family to continue making travel arrangements? 
      • Plans for the observance and celebration of Commencement and the local HMS ceremony have not yet changed in response to the concerns regarding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), however, the University is closely monitoring the rapidly changing guidance regarding large events. There remains significant uncertainty about gatherings after April 30.
      • Commencement is a time many graduates share with immediate and extended family and friends, and in some cases, this requires significant advance planning. We encourage you and your guests to make travel plans using refundable tickets for airline travel to campus and otherwise engage in flexible travel planning should the celebrations on campus be modified to limit participation.
  • Health and Wellness

    • This is a difficult time for us all. The pandemic is affecting our global community’s physical and mental health. Please take all the common-sense hygiene approaches: wash hands frequently and well; avoid close contact, such as handshaking, hugging etc.; practice social distancing; and avoid crowds. Monitor your temperature. If you are ill and have symptoms such as a cough, fever and/or muscle aches, contact Harvard University Health Services at 617-495-5711 or your doctor before going in. If you have been in direct contact with anyone with COVID-19, stay home and isolate yourself.
    • Watch the HMS Coping with Coronavirus web series for help dealing with daily stress, anxiety, and a range of other emotions
    • It is important to recognize that this is also a challenging time for mental health. Contact Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services for counseling and mental health resources.
    • Although you are physically remote, remain virtually connected and engaged with our community. HMS and program staff are available for you by email and Zoom. 
    • Exercise, and get sleep. 
    • Additional mental health resources are being developed and we will share them here and by email as they come online. 
  • Housing

    • Can we stay in our apartment if it is Harvard-owned, such as Harvard at Trilogy?
      • If you live in a Harvard-owned property that is not a dormitory, you will not need to move. 
    • Do we have to move out of Vanderbilt?
      • Residents have been asked to move out of Vanderbilt Hall. 
    •  I live off-campus. Do I need to stay in Boston for virtual classes?
      • As courses will be virtual until further notice, you do not need to remain in Boston.
    • Will my visa be affected if I go home?
      • Since the academic term will continue via online means, you are considered to be enrolled. Please direct any additional questions to the Harvard International Office.
    • Who should students contact with questions or concerns about this guidance?
      • Students should contact Associate Dean for Graduate Education Johanna Gutlerner or Master’s Programs Senior Administrator Kim Lincoln in the Office of Graduate Education.
  • Travel Restrictions

    What are the current policies regarding Harvard-organized and Harvard-funded international travel for students?

    Harvard-organized and Harvard-funded international travel for all students that is scheduled to start and end between now and August 31 is prohibited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. State Department have issued global level 3 and level 4 advisories: “avoid nonessential travel” and “do not travel,” respectively. It is unclear when those restrictions will be lifted. We know that many of our students – undergraduates as well as graduate and professional school students – rely on summer travel to further their education, fulfill academic requirements, and explore new work environments. This decision is difficult and disappointing, but we urge students to contact their individual Schools, centers, and programs to explore creative options for alternative summer study, research, and work. For more information, see the memo from the Vice Provost for International Affairs.

    I am an international student. What is the latest guidance on obtaining or renewing my visa?
    We are closely monitoring the worldwide suspension of routine visa processing at U.S. consular locations and advising international students and scholars accordingly. We anticipate that many newly admitted and returning international students and scholars will face delays in obtaining or renewing visas. The Harvard International Office (HIO) continues to issue the necessary University documentation for F-1, J-1, and other visa applications, so that when consular processing resumes, students and scholars will have the forms they need to schedule visa appointments. Visit the HIO COVID-19 webpage for the latest immigration updates and advice.

    • Are there restrictions for visiting or returning to campus?
    • My travel has been canceled, and I am worried about my academic progress? Who can I speak with?
      • Contact your program director or program manager for guidance.
  • General Questions

    • When will students be allowed to come back to campus?
      • We don’t know this yet, but the guidance from HMS Dean George Q. Daley for researchers is to prepare for labs to be shut down for 6-8 weeks.