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FAQs for graduate students regarding the university's COVID-19 directives

Virginia Tech began transitioning to from essential to modified operations mode on August 3. The university is looking ahead to the fall 2020 semester and is continuing to provide updates on opening plans, returning to classes, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. You'll find up to date information on the university's Ready page. You also can find updated Graduate Education information on the Graduate School's Ready Information for fall 2020 webpage. (updated August 3, 2020) 

Below are lists of frequently asked questions relevant to the impact of the Coronavirus and COVID-19 on graduate education at Virginia Tech. We’ve grouped them in three sections to make finding the question you need as convenient as possible. You’ll find a section with general questions about graduate education, including admissions, academic progress, assistantships, research and travel; a section focused on plans to resume instruction for the fall 2020 semester; and a section on what the university and graduate school have been doing during summer 2020.

The university also has been posting messages from the President, Provost, and other administrative units about Virginia Tech’s response to the pandemic, and we encourage you to consult them as well on the COVID-19 information webpage

(Updated and expanded posting: August 3, 2020)

General

I have been admitted to Virginia Tech and need to provide my final official transcript to the Graduate School. How can I provide this transcript?

Please contact the Registrar at your previous institution and have your official transcript(s) sent to the Graduate School. If your prior institution provides transcripts electronically, have your institution’s Registrar’s Office email the transcript(s) to grads@vt.edu. If your institution only mails official transcripts, our address to have your transcript(s) sent to is:

Graduate Admissions

Graduate Life Center (0325)

155 Otey Street

Blacksburg, VA  24061

I was accepted for admission to a graduate program at Virginia Tech and have been offered a teaching assistantship to start in the fall of 2020.  I am concerned that the university may not be fully operational in the fall. Can I defer enrolling in my program and acceptance of my assistantship to a future semester?

You can defer your application to another semester or year without incurring an additional application fee. Please contact Graduate Admissions (grads@vt.edu) to discuss the process.  If you elect to defer your application, Graduate Admissions will record your preferences and inform the program to which you were admitted for fall 2020. 

The deferral of admission does not automatically include your assistantship offer.  Please contact the program to which you have been admitted to discuss any matters related to deferred program enrollment or your assistantship opportunities. Individual programs will have deadlines by which they will need to know your decision to either accept or decline an assistantship offer prior to the start of the fall 2020 semester.

When considering a deferral of enrollment, check to see whether courses in your program are available online.  It may be possible to begin study from a distance, in the event that campus remains in a status of reduced operations in fall 2020. (updated June 2, 2020)

I am interested in the new Computer Science Master of Engineering degree being offered in Northern Virginia, in anticipation of the opening of the Innovation Campus.  Will that program be available in the fall?

Yes, plans remain in place to offer this program in the fall.  Please consult the Department of Computer Science for additional information on the MEng and their other graduate programs.

I am an international student.  I am close to finishing my graduate degree but concerned that the disruption in academic operations will delay me past the end date on my I-20.  Is the coronavirus considered acceptable grounds for requesting an I-20 extension? 

The coronavirus crisis alone is not an acceptable reason for requesting an I-20 extension. The rationale for I-20 extension must be related to academic progress, and you would need to demonstrate how your academic progress was delayed by the current situation.  See more at this webpage, and consult with one of our immigration advisors (540-231-8486; igss@vt.edu) if you have any questions.

How do I stay informed about any changes in immigration requirements, benefits and travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19?

Please read emails that are sent to you from International Graduate Student Services from the igss@vt.edu email address, or through the intl-grad-g@vt.edu listserv. We also recommend that you monitor updates at the official government website for F-1 and J-1 students. You can also contact our immigration advisors at 540-231-8486, igss@vt.edu with case-specific questions you may have. 

I’m a new international student accepted for the fall semester. Due to closures in my home country, I was unable to submit financial documents by the June 1 deadline. Can the deadline be extended?

Although our deadline for document submission was June 1, we will accept documents even after that date as long as students have a reasonable chance to apply for a visa and arrive in the U.S. by the time the semester begins on August 24, 2020. 

Please note that our flexibility with the submission deadline does not mean that we will be able to process documents faster to make up for the time lost with a delayed submission. (updated June 2, 2020)

I’m a current student and am planning to travel outside the U.S. during the summer. What happens if I am unable to return by the time the fall semester begins?

We recommend that students monitor this U.S. government website for information for F-1 and J-1 students, with specific attention to the COVID-19 FAQ page.

If students cannot or choose not to return to the United States to study, their SEVIS record will have to be terminated.  Students outside the U.S. should refer to the website of the nearest U.S. embassy through the U.S. Department of State for any updates about visa issuance and travel restrictions. 

When ready to return to the U.S., contact the immigration advisors at least 4-6 weeks in advance at igss@vt.edu or 540-231-8486 for information and assistance. 

I have been accepted to a graduate program at Virginia Tech but may not be able to obtain my student visa in time to begin study in the US in fall 2020.  Can I begin my program from my home country?

Please contact the program to which you have been admitted to discuss possible ways that you can begin your studies.  Specifically, inquire whether courses in your program are available online.  It may be possible to begin study from a distance, in the event that the campus remains in a status of reduced operations in fall 2020, if there are delays in processing your visa application, or if international travel remains restricted. If you choose to begin your program from your home country, you may enroll full-time (9 or more credit hours) or part-time (less than 9 credit hours). Please note that you cannot hold an assistantship appointment while outside the United States. For tuition rates, refer to the Bursar’s Office website, Graduate Extended or Virtual Campus. (Updated and expanded, June 1, 2020)

I was accepted for admission to a graduate program at Virginia Tech and have been offered a teaching assistantship to start in the fall of 2020.  I am concerned about my visa application. Can I defer enrolling in my program and acceptance of my assistantship to a future semester?

You can defer your application to another semester or year without incurring an additional application fee. Please contact Graduate Admissions (grads@vt.edu) to discuss the process.  If you elect to defer your application, Graduate Admissions will record your preferences and inform the program to which you were admitted for fall 2020. 

The deferral of admission does not automatically include your assistantship offer.  Please contact the program to which you have been admitted to discuss any matters related to deferred program enrollment or your assistantship opportunities. Individual programs will have deadlines by which they will need to know your decision to either accept or decline an assistantship offer prior to the start of the fall 2020 semester.

If you are unable to request a visa interview before your department’s specified deadline, the department may rescind the assistantship offer and extend it to another student. In this case, your department must notify you that the offer has been withdrawn owing to the likelihood that you will be unable to arrive in the U.S. for the fall semester, and they will work with you on potentially deferring your admission and assistantship offer to a future semester. (updated June 2, 2020)

I need to submit my Plan of Study and a Course Justification form so I can schedule my preliminary exam.  Instead of tracking down my committee members and program director for their physical signatures in person, can I ask them to sign the forms electronically?

Yes, under these circumstances we can accept forms approved by a method other than affixation of a ‘wet’ signature.  Several options exist. Perhaps the easiest is to circulate a pdf version of the form in question, to which each approver can add their signature securely in Acrobat.  Tutorials on obtaining and signing with a VT Personal Digital Certificate are available on 4help. Alternatively, approvers can grant via email their permission for your program coordinator to sign on their behalf.  If this option is used, be sure to append copies of the email exchanges that document the grants of proxy.  

As always, forms can be submitted as pdf attachments to grads@vt.edu or as hard copies via campus mail to MC 0325.  These approaches can be used for any interaction with the Graduate School that does not yet involve a wholly online interface (such as the exam scheduling system). (updated May 28, 2020)

To keep my graduate program on schedule, I need to have my Preliminary Examination during the summer. What should my advisor and committee do about scheduling and holding the exam?

Students have been able to use the Start of Semester Defense Exception (SSDE) throughout the entire summer to schedule and take their Preliminary Examination. The deadline for using the exemption in summer was July 24, 2020. SSDE will be available in the fall and the final deadline for filing the a SSDE application form is Sept. 18. The application should be submitted to the Graduate School no later than 3 weeks before the desired examination date to allow time to complete the review of your Plan of Study, committee membership, and other elements needed to formally schedule the exam. Once approved, the Graduate School will register you for the requisite one credit hour. (Updated August 3, 2020)

Consistent with the university’s guidance regarding classes, your advisory committee and program must take steps to make your Preliminary Exam available to you online. Instructors cannot require students to be on campus to take these or any other exams. 

Experience conducting Preliminary Exams on Zoom has been generally positive.  The Graduate School and TLOS have assembled a set of recommendations that you and your committee are advised to follow in arranging and conducting your exam.  These tips include reminders on exam scheduling and pointers on efficient, professional, and resilient remote communications.  Contact the Graduate School Admissions & Academic Progress staff for guidance (grads@vt.edu). 

I am trying to finish my dissertation in order to defend this summer. What do I need to do?  

Students have been able to use the Start of Semester Defense Exception (SSDE) throughout the entire summer to register and take their final examination. The SSDE form should be submitted to the Graduate School no later than 3 weeks before the final examination date. Once approved, the Graduate School will register you for the requisite one credit hour.  The final deadline to submit the SSDE application for summer was July 24, and the last day to defend is August 14. You apply for SSDE for fall 2020 semester. The deadline for fall 2020 semester is September 18. (Updated August 3, 2020)

What should my advisor and committee do about scheduling and holding my Final Examination / Defense?

Consistent with the university’s guidance regarding classes, your advisory committee and program must take steps to make your Final Exam available to you online. Instructors cannot require students to be on campus to take this or any other exams. 

Experience with conducting Final Exams on Zoom has been generally positive.  The Graduate School and TLOS have assembled a set of recommendations that you and your committee are advised to follow in arranging and conducting your Defense.  These tips include reminders on exam scheduling and pointers on efficient, professional, and resilient remote communications.  Contact the Graduate School Admissions & Academic Progress staff for guidance (grads@vt.edu). (Updated June 8, 2020)

What arrangements are being made for GTAs, GRAs, and GAs?

Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs), and Graduate Assistants (GAs) should remain attentive to their assistantship responsibilities while protecting their health and that of those around them. Dean DePauw’s message on graduate student employment (March 31, 2020) acknowledges the importance of roles performed by graduate assistants, as well as students’ potential vulnerability to financial hardship caused by COVID-19. 

Graduate students who hold teaching or research appointments should discuss remote options with their supervising faculty members , in consultation with your Graduate Program Director. Supervisors are asked to be as accommodating as possible. You will have an opportunity for input in the process.

The Provost's Office has created a page of resources, information and other helpful material for GTAs and other instructors in preparation for the fall semester: Preparing for Teaching and Learning in fall 2020. (updated June 29, 2020)

Questions about assistantship contracts and work expectations for the 2020-21 academic year also should be directed to your supervising faculty members and Graduate Program Directors.  (Updated June 9, 2020)

What are the guidelines related to graduate assistants working for the university?

Considering these important roles performed by graduate students and their potential vulnerability to financial hardship caused by COVID-19, departments and colleges must make every effort to continue stipend support for graduate assistants at current levels of compensation, at least until the end of the academic year. 

Graduate assistants are expected to continue carrying out the teaching, research and other duties assigned by their advisors, departments, programs or administrative units. In keeping with the need to reduce health risks to themselves and their coworkers, graduate assistants should discuss with their assistantship supervisors how to work remotely or use other strategies to reduce the need to be on site.

For graduate assistants with stipend support from extramural grants and sponsors, departments will work with the sponsoring agencies to confirm their ongoing support. In those instances where such support is not possible, the feasibility of bridge support using other departmental or college funding should be explored. In the unlikely event that such bridge support is not possible, the Dean of the Graduate School will be notified. The Dean will then work with the Vice Provost for Academic Resource Management to explore funding solutions.

While the university remains under the essential operations designation, Virginia Tech has entered Phase Two of the resumption of research functions and related laboratory activities, effective June 8, 2020.  Students are still encouraged to work remotely whenever possible, but a partial return of non-essential research activities will be permitted with approval by the researcher’s college Dean, Institute Director, or Vice President.

Student involvement in laboratories should be limited to paid research assistants and graduate students performing work related to research required for the completion of their degrees. Research for course credit will be permitted only in exceptional circumstances as approved by the appropriate college Dean, Institute Director, or Vice President. In all cases, steps must be taken to ensure that appropriate physical distancing, use of PPE, and surface disinfection practices are followed. See the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures for On-Site Laboratories form for guidance on PPE requirements and disinfection schedule documentation.  Specific circumstances will vary among graduate students, so a plan for assigned research duties should be developed through an interactive conversation between the student and faculty advisor; Graduate Program Directors can be called upon to serve as an advocate for students when necessary.

To comply with Governor Northam’s Executive Order No. 63 (2020) “Requirement to wear face covering while inside buildings,” Virginia Tech requires the use of face coverings for all employees and students in university facilities in the commonwealth.  As defined by the governor’s office, “a face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana.” Please note that face coverings do not replace the need to practice physical distancing. (updated June 10, 2020)

I will be starting a PhD program in the fall and have been enrolled in the GTA Workshop.  I understand this is a large class — how will it be conducted? 

Because of the need for social distancing and the limited capacity of available auditoria, as well as the large enrollment anticipated for GTA Workshop (GRAD 5004) this fall, the opening Phase I workshop on August 18, and all Phase II sessions, will be delivered online in a blend of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. As always, students cannot register themselves for GRAD 5004, but must ask their program graduate coordinators to register them. (updated August 3, 2020)

My research involves interaction with human subjects, including conducting interviews and physical examinations, has been suspended. When will I be able to resume my research?

Owing to the urgent need to minimize contact with other people, restrictions were placed on certain forms of human subjects research. Now that the Commonwealth of Virginia has entered into Phase Two of lifting COVID-19 restrictions, the Virginia Tech Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) and Institutional Review Board (IRB) have issued written guidance to assist researchers with resuming in-person human subjects research (HSR) activities. These resources include:

  • a checklist with a high level overview of the HRPP and IRB requirements for reinstating in-person HSR;
  • a template for satisfying COVID-19 resumption of in-person research requirements;
  • a guidance document that includes basic principles for developing your risk mitigation SOP;
  • and a COVID-19 Consent Addendum document that includes information for research participants related to the potential known risks associated with COVID-19.

The HRPP and IRB strongly suggest that you review all the documents in the order they are listed to avoid confusion. The above resources are available on the OVPRI’s Reopening Guidance webpage. (updated June 10, 2020)

Progress in my research relies on being able to travel to other locations to collect samples for analysis.  Will I be able to continue this type of work?

According to the Phase One Reopening Guidance for Virginia Tech Research functions, research-related travel may be permitted in some cases, but requires approval by the researcher’s college Dean, Institute Director, or Vice President. Quarantine upon return from travel is not required, but travelers should consider self-quarantine if exposed during travel to close contact with others in an area with known community spread. Consideration first should be given to modifying research plans such that travel and outside contact are minimized but progress still made toward program objectives. Please check the updates from the OVPRI for the latest information on research-related travel. (updated May 28, 2020)

The university has announced that some of the funding provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will be allocated to emergency financial aid for eligible students who are experiencing financial hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  How can I apply for financial assistance?

Requests for financial assistance through the CARES Act funding, as well as assistance via the university’s long-standing Student Emergency Fund, can be made through the contact form on the Dean of Students website.  Information that you provide on the contact form will allow staff to direct your request to the program for which you are eligible.

Fall 2020

When will the fall semester begin, and how long will it last?

Classes will start on Aug. 24 for the fall 2020 semester and will end on Dec. 16. All in-person classes will end before the Thanksgiving break and the remainder of the semester, including final exams, will occur online.

What are the university’s plans if there is an increase in COVID-19 cases on campus or in the region?

The University is prepared to transition in-person course instruction to online should the need arise.

What will classes look like?

The university plans on a hybrid format of in-person and online instruction. Most lecture classes, especially the large ones, will be delivered online.  Smaller lectures, seminars, sections, and labs will be offered in person as long as the space allows for social distancing.

What is the university doing to with classrooms to ensure safety?

Virginia Tech' facilities crews have been reconfiguring classroom spaces to provide 6 feet of space between students. This has reduced the capacity of instruction spaces. There will be hand santizer stations outside each classroom, and instructors will wear face shields if they are teaching in front of students. You can find out more about VT's efforts to follow public health guidelines in classrooms in this article

When will I know whether my class will meet in person or be delivered online?

Instructors published that information on July 13. Faculty will have primary responsibility for choosing the method of course delivery (online or in-person) and the design of the public health standard-operating procedures for their in-person classes.  It is anticipated that many courses will be delivered using a hybrid of in-person and online learning and that some will be fully online.  (Updated August 3, 2020)

What personal hygiene protocols will be expected of me?

The university will follow the governor’s guidelines for personal hygiene related to public health. Face coverings or masks will be required in all campus buildings, and also outside on campus grounds if physical distancing is not possible. Students, faculty, and staff members are expected to observe social distancing guidelines of six feet between individuals. All university community members are expected to continue frequent handwashing and using hand sanitizer when handwashing is not possible. 

Will we be able to hold events and activities in person?

Guidelines on gathering sizes will apply to indoor gatherings for projects, meetings, and other co-curricular activities, including recreation and fitness. Visit the Virginia Tech Ready site for more information on gatherings and indoor activities. (Updated August 3, 2020)

What activities and supports will be available for students?

Many student support services will be provided online, with some transitioning to in-person services as necessary. The university’s recreational facilities and student centers will be open, adhering to public health guidelines. 

I will be starting a PhD program in the fall and have been enrolled in the GTA Workshop.  I understand this is a large class — how will it be conducted? 

Because of the need for social distancing and the limited capacity of available auditoria, as well as the large enrollment anticipated for GTA Workshop (GRAD 5004) this fall, the opening Phase I workshop on August 18, and all Phase II sessions, will be delivered online in a blend of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. As always, students cannot register themselves for GRAD 5004 but must ask their program graduate coordinators to register them. As the fall semester approaches, registered participants will receive instructions on the scheduling and location of initial workshop activities. (updated August 3, 2020)

I will be a GTA this fall. Where can I find information from the university for instructors about teaching and learning for fall semester? 

The Office of the Provost has developed a web page for all instructors, including GTAs, with links to resources and other information: Preparing for Teaching and Learning in Fall 2020.  (updated June 29, 2020)

What about our campuses in the Washington, D.C. area, Roanoke, and beyond? 

The University's FAQs includes a page focused on our campuses in the Washington D.C. area, Roanoke, and other locations, that are updated regularly. We will share more details as we receive them, too. 

Virginia Tech has published a vt.edu/ready website with a range of FAQ sections. On the Student FAQ page, you'll find information about on-campus dining services, facilities and classroom maintenance and sanitation, events and activities, and a range of resources. Many are Blacksburg specific, but there are several resources available across our campuses or online. (Updated June 10, 2020)

Dining services also has released information about what food courts, dining halls and other eateries on campus will be doing regarding public health concerns. You can read about the changes, and see diagrams and some FAQs related to dining services, on this webpage. (updated July 1, 2010)

Summer 2020

Will the Graduate School offices remain open during the summer 2020 semester?

The Graduate School is committed to helping students continue to make progress toward their degrees while safeguarding their health, but our building hours have been modified.  Ghe Graduate Life Center is closed to public access until August 17. As always, graduate students have 24/7 access with their Hokie Passport. Graduate School offices are operating on their summer schedule: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for critical services. Please help us observe social distancing and fight the epidemic by conducting your business with the Graduate School by phone, e-mail, or Zoom whenever possible. If you have an in-person scheduled appointment or need to pick up an immigration document (between 1-4 p.m.), please enter the building using your Hokie Passport to swipe in at the Otey Street or Bookstore side entrance and follow the directions on our signage at Room 120 GLC. 

You are welcome here, and you can expect that staff members who greet you will have been abiding by CDC guidelines in limiting travel, maintaining ‘social distance,’ and observing recommended hygiene habits, such as washing hands and disinfecting surfaces, for your safety and health. Any student who feels ill or exhibits symptoms of illness should not come to the Graduate School. Please consider scheduling a conversation with Grad School staff over the phone or by Skype or Zoom.  Phone: (540) 231-6691. Email: grads@vt.edu. (updated May 28, 2020)

Do graduate students have to come to campus while classes are being conducted online? 

If a student does not need to come on campus to complete coursework, they are urged not to do so. The university is concerned first and foremost with students' health and has been operating at the “essential operations” designation since April 3, as described in Presidential Policy Memorandum No. 309. Under the directive, the university prioritized functions and services that are essential to life safety (public safety, health services), online instruction and academic support services, animal care, essential research, and maintenance of buildings and critical infrastructure.

While we remain under the essential operations designation, Virginia Tech has entered Phase Two of reopening research functions and related laboratory activities, effective Friday, May 22, 2020. If you have questions, please consult your advisor and other instructors to discuss options for working remotely or identifying other strategies designed to minimize the health risk to you and your colleagues, while still keeping you in good academic standing and advancing towards your degree. (Updated June 10, 2020)

When will the university move out of “essential operations” mode?

The university began modified operation status (Phase Three) on August 3.  (updated August 3, 2020)

Is childcare available during the summer months at Virginia Tech? 

The Graduate School supported childcare cooperative Little Hokie Hangout™ will open in July to help families who need childcare. The staff will be trained in heightened sanitization procedures, and will be wearing PPE at all times, for everyone's protection. We will provide more details to enrolling families about measures that will be taken, and what you can and should do to contribute to a successful experience. Visit the Little Hokie Hangout™ website for more information. If you have questions: Email childcare@vt.edu. Hokie Wellness also has a webpage with information for parents.