Wharton Fall 2020 Semester Plans

As we enter a new fall semester unlike any other, we are working hard to provide a safe academic experience where our students can continue to learn, engage, and connect, while ensuring the health and well-being of the Wharton community.
Please check this page for the latest updates on how fall classes will be conducted.
Last Updated: October 1, 2020

Updates from Dean Erika James

Wharton’s Plans for the Fall 2020 Semester

July 31, 2020

Wharton Community,

This afternoon, the University provided an update on their fall plans for undergraduate students. Among the details included, they confirmed that all undergraduate programs will be almost entirely online, though first-year international students will be able to receive support letters from their schools at Penn that allow them to comply with recent regulations.

I am writing to also share that Wharton’s graduate programs (MBA and MBA for Executives) will also follow this same path for the fall. As well, first-year international students will be provided with support letters. I communicated our updated decision to both student groups this week, including this morning when I delivered the news to incoming and returning MBA students via a virtual meeting. I am including the follow-up message that went to MBA students that includes clarifying details and next steps.

Like the University, this need to shift course comes as the pandemic situation appears to be worsening rather than improving.  With the virus’ spread constraining gatherings and travel access, we will need to alter Wharton’s hybrid format with course delivery being almost entirely online.

Having made the decision to move to a largely virtual format, all of us at Wharton are now able to focus our attention to a successful fall semester. We will do so following the guidelines initially outlined to govern our planning, which still very much apply. That means:

  • Maintaining the safety and well-being of Wharton faculty, students, and staff, no matter the changing global circumstances
  • Facilitating access to all coursework, no matter a student’s unique situation
  • Ensuring academic and co-curricular content is developed to be student-centric, no matter the delivery mode
  • Executing with operational excellence that aligns with the values of the Wharton School, no matter the executional complexity

Doing this primarily virtual delivery will present its challenges, but even in my short tenure here, I can confidently attest that Wharton is uniquely equipped to meet and exceed expectations on delivering an engaging, academically-edifying fall semester.  We are the preeminent business school for academic distinction, global reach and student excellence, and we will use this distinction to develop and deliver an exceptional semester. We will support faculty with virtual teaching enhancements and encourage their ability to offer options for remote faculty/student engagement. We will leverage our distinction as the world’s largest and most powerful alumni network by connecting students with young alumni in groups around the globe in ways that let them safely choose to continue or begin to experience the Wharton community wherever they are. Lastly, we will solicit input from across the community on how to have a successful mostly remote semester, so we can all double down on the areas that matter most to facilitating a Wharton-caliber experience.

I am mindful these changes affect more than just our students. The entire Wharton community has been operating towards a hybrid plan, and this adjustment will require faculty & staff to continue to make alterations to their plans. The fact that you are all impacted by these decisions is not lost on me, and I thank each of you in advance for exhibiting the ongoing flexibility and resilience this plan will take to be successful.

Please know that I share in the disappointment many members of our community are feeling about the need to make this change. I too wanted a different outcome for our students, staff and faculty this fall. However, I believe proactively making this decision will provide the clarity necessary for us all to focus on the term ahead, and the exceptional opportunity we all have as members of the Wharton School.

Updates from Penn Leadership

An Update from Penn President Amy Gutmann

October 1, 2020

We are enormously grateful to our students, faculty and staff for the outstanding start to the fall semester. Our Penn community has risen to the challenge of these unusual circumstances, finding new ways of learning, working, and talking together in an online environment as we navigate through this worldwide pandemic.

Looking ahead to the spring semester, the University continues to closely monitor developments related to the pandemic. We are regularly consulting with city, state, and federal agencies as well as our world-class health system in assessing options through multiple committees and working groups. Although we will be back in touch with you by mid-November with more comprehensive details about our plans for the spring, we write today to share with you several important changes to our calendar to facilitate planning for students and families.

The spring semester will start one week later, on January 20. If we are able to welcome students to campus, move-in would be on or about January 10. To provide a maximum amount of time for scheduling, we are also moving Advance Registration for the spring semester to November 30-December 7. This change will enable our students and faculty to have as much information as possible, before the last day of classes, when making decisions about spring term courses. Exams will end on December 22 as previously scheduled. Despite the later start to the spring semester, we will be able to preserve a shortened spring break on March 10-11, held on a Wednesday and Thursday to discourage travel during the pandemic. Professional programs may deviate from this schedule. Learn more »

Wharton-Specific Updates by Program

From Wharton Degree Programs

Below is a list of websites with the most recent updates from specific academic programs. Please note that programs will continue to communicate with students independently, outside of these resources.

Undergraduate Program

Important information and undergraduate program updates can be found on Undergrad Inside.

A Message to International Students from Vice Dean Diana Robertson (July 9, 2020)

MBA Program

Important information and undergraduate program updates can be found on MBA Inside.

A Message to Students from Vice Dean Howie Kaufold (July 31, 2020)

Updates for MBA Students on MyWharton

Updates on the MBA Admissions Blog

MBA for Executives Program

Updates for WEMBA students on MyWharton

Doctoral Program

Announcements for PhD Students

COVID-19 updates and resources for PhD Students

Dean’s Newsletter Archive

Read the latest issue of Dean Erika James’ newsletter, an ongoing communication to inform and engage the Wharton community this fall semester.

Archived Messages from Dean Erika James

Dean Erika James | July 9, 2020

A message to the Wharton Community from Dean Erika James

July 9, 2020

Members of the Wharton Community:

Across the country, colleges and universities have begun sharing plans for resuming operations this coming semester after months of uncertainty brought about by COVID-19. President Gutmann’s recent statement for Penn details our University’s current thinking on needed health and safety campus procedures, while also pledging to sustain “teaching, learning, research and service.” By balancing a commitment to the student experience and caution for their community’s safety, institutions will usher in a new academic year amid the lingering effects of the global pandemic. It is within this context that I feel it necessary to provide perspective on Wharton’s approach for fall 2020.

I also recognize this is my first formal communication to you as Dean of the Wharton School. Under normal circumstances, I would use this time to offer heartfelt thanks for your warm welcome and share my goals for the first months of my tenure. While that is still needed, priority must be placed on communicating how Wharton can evaluate the complicated decisions around fall instruction to ensure we continue delivering exceptional academics, impactful research, and an engaging student experience. It is also true that navigating Wharton through this ever-shifting situation will remain a focus of mine — and in many ways the entire school — for the foreseeable future. For those reasons, a formalized foundation can assist us as we strive to provide excellence while creating a safe environment for all.

Guiding Principles

One of my formal areas of academic study is crisis leadership, where a key to managing in turbulent times is the development of principles to frame an organization’s planning and execution. In recent days, I’ve worked with Wharton faculty and staff to outline an agreed-upon set of guiding principles to advance our collective efforts for the fall. These principles should be a litmus test for evaluating the viability of new ideas and initiatives, as well as a reminder of our commitment to the entire Wharton community during this process. They include:

  • Maintaining the safety and well-being of Wharton faculty, students, and staff above all else, no matter the changing global circumstances
  • Facilitating access to all coursework, no matter a student’s unique situation
  • Ensuring academic and co-curricular content is developed to be student-centric, no matter the delivery mode
  • Executing with operational excellence that aligns with the values of the Wharton School, no matter the executional complexity

These simple but important statements should be embraced by all as we work to welcome students, faculty, and staff back to campus. They will also be vital as we develop necessary contingency plans, should future restrictions or guidelines make such shifts necessary. Though at present our focus is on the fall, our principles also should acknowledge the possibility of the virus’ continued presence, and the need for any resulting approach to be sustainable through changes that may affect spring and beyond.

With these principles in place, faculty and staff are empowered to assess instruction options and elevate those that best showcase the exceptional quality of the Wharton experience. To offer options utilizing both in-person and virtual academic instruction, Wharton will employ a hybrid delivery model we are calling “Remote Plus.”

Remote Plus

Our instructional model must ensure that students who are unable to return to campus (for example, those affected by travel limitations, or those having health conditions) as well as students who prefer to remain off-campus for personal reasons, are able to remotely access their classes through online delivery. Further, in accordance with prevailing health and safety guidelines, Wharton anticipates the need to deliver all large courses virtually during the fall semester. This means Wharton classes with more than 48 students will be conducted online, while classes with 48 or fewer students may be offered in a hybrid format, with students alternating between in-person and virtual attendance and no more than 24 students in-person at any given time. For those classes under 48 students, Wharton faculty will evaluate each class on its viability for in-person instruction. Once determined, available in-person classes will be communicated to students through their program offices for registration. Delineating courses in this manner provides us needed flexibility to respond to social distancing and group gathering guidelines as they are dictated by government and University regulations. Conducting large courses remotely decreases density within our classrooms and hallways, and also allows us to reimagine the utilization of large classrooms to accommodate smaller group sessions. Overall, applying such considerations are imperative for maintaining the health and safety of the Wharton community.

Remote Plus also speaks to the way we will blend our remote and on-campus experiences, which will leverage the distinct opportunities our size, network, and community afford us. Across our degree programs, we will work to identify meaningful academic programming conducive to small group settings, in complement to remote coursework. Academic department chairs will work with faculty to develop, adapt, and structure coursework that adheres to this model, while program leadership is adjusting existing programming and creating new chances for personal and professional engagement. By finding the intersection of viable face-to-face instruction and impactful points of student/faculty connectivity, we commit to prioritizing both our community’s ongoing safety and our steadfast belief in the importance of the Wharton student experience. I have the utmost confidence in our faculty and staff’s ability to bring the Remote Plus model to fruition, and that it will represent an offering that wholly underscores Wharton’s global distinction.

Community Commitment

The above principles and proposed academic method constitute Wharton’s philosophical approach to the fall. Yet they require support across our entire community, and agreement on how we will bring this approach to life. I am encouraging faculty to design coursework that is engaging and edifying across all modes of delivery. I am inviting staff to creatively consider how to connect with students so the power of our incredible community is felt as we bring Wharton to the world. And lastly, I am asking students to continue extending patience to everyone working tirelessly to make this new model a reality. I know you understand that we want nothing more than to be able to provide concrete answers about the coming semester. Yet the evolving situation requires us to operate with fluidity, and even beyond that, with an eye towards extending grace to all involved.

Despite the uncertainty, I know Wharton is prepared for the challenge that lies ahead of us. Though I cannot guarantee the outcome, I can confidently say there is no business school better equipped to survive — and thrive — in these challenging times.