Fall 2020 COVID-19 Enrollment

Smart Restart

The University of Wisconsin­–Madison plans to begin fall classes as scheduled on September 2 and offer in-person instruction in many courses until the Thanksgiving recess, at which time the last nine days of instructions will occur virtually. To safeguard the health of the community, the university will enact the “Smart Restart” plan, which outlines the university’s approach to dealing with major issues such as instruction, health and safety, housing and dining and more.

To safeguard the health of the community, the university has modified many of its operations based on public health guidance. UW–Madison will be fully open this fall, with a full curriculum offered through a mix of in-person and virtual instruction. We know there are many questions and everything is new, different, and up in the air. The Office of the Registrar hopes to help students think through the important decisions that need to be made about fall courses. The university is working hard to make both a safe and good learning environment for students this fall. It is important to us that students are not delayed in their progress toward graduation because of the circumstances. The frequently asked questions outlined below provide a basis of information to explain some of the changes and how they affect our campus population.


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Other Resource Locations

The Office of the Registrar acts as a repository for academic and instructional FAQs, but is not necessarily the primary contact for all the subjects addressed on this page. If you can’t find what you need, please start by visiting the Smart Restart website. To make changes to your schedule visit the Course Search & Enroll app or start here walk through the entire process.


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How do I change from in-person to remote (or vice versa)

  • Students can find available options using the Course Search and Enrollment app where they find their course schedule. For each class they will be able to see the modality (classroom instruction, online with some in-person, or online only), along with meeting times and class notes.
  • If a student is not able to find the courses they need in the modality they want after going through the steps found at wisc.edu/fall2020, they should contact their advisor. Advisors are likely receiving many requests for help right now, so there might be a delay in their response and longer wait times for an appointment.

What if I begins taking a course(s) in-person, but then wish or need to switch to taking the course(s) remotely? Will I be allowed to make a late add/drop to switch sections?

We know it may be necessary for students to make a transition from in-person to remote sections. The university remains flexible to try support these changes as the enrollment space allows.

Will I be required to re-enroll if I am okay with the changes to my schedule?

No, students will not need to re-enroll.  We hope most students will be okay with the changes.

What percentage of classes are online versus in person?

45% of classes have an in-person component. Of those, 37% are fully in-person, and 8% are a hybrid of online and in-person.

When I make my class selections, will I know if the class is remote or in person?

The class schedule is updated and accurately reflects whether courses are remote or in-person.

Will instructors of courses change in addition to the modality (in-person or remote), day, time, and location of courses?

Yes, changes to instructors may occur. Check the Course Search & Enroll app for these changes.

Will online classes be synchronous or asynchronous in delivery?

Students can expect a variety of learning modalities for the fall. Check the Course Search & Enroll app, specifically the class notes section, to learn the expectations of their participation in class.

Synchronous – the students are all together at the same time in a virtual space, accessing the course material, listening to perhaps a lecture, or watching a lab demonstration – learning is happening together.

Asynchronous – the students engage in an independent experience where complete course materials at their own time. 

Will courses with less than 50 students be in-person?

In-person instruction may occur in courses with fewer than 50 students (until Thanksgiving). Large classes with more than 100 students – and most with 50 to 100 students – will be delivered via remote instruction. Not all courses will be offered remotely.

Why aren’t there more in-person classes available?

The university is working to balance learning and safety. We needed to reduce capacity in our classrooms because of the required six-foot radius around each student. The ability to offer the number of in-person classes that we usually offer was greatly reduced. Course-by-course evaluations of the learning objectives were completed to determine the modality that best met those objectives. We used the capacity that we had and offered as many in-person classes as possible. Students who are graduating or need particular sections in a particular modality to make progress toward their degree should contact their advisors and associate deans.

Why is my small class only being offered online

  • First, because of the limitations of our facilities. In many cases, a smaller class is online because we do not have a workable space in which to teach it.  Our smaller classrooms typically seat 25; with physical distancing in place, they will seat 8.
  • They may also be online because smaller classes are frequently requirements for capstones and for seniors to complete their majors, and knowing that some of these students will need, or want, to have a fully remote schedule, we want to offer the class in the modality that is most accessible for students who need it in order to graduate in December or May.

Why are there enrollment limits for online courses?

Enrollment caps are placed on online courses to ensure a high quality of instruction and engagement between the instructor and students.

Will all courses have a remote section?

No, some courses will only have in-person offerings. Some courses will only have remote sections. There is no requirement to have both modalities (in-person, remote) available for every course.

Will all undergraduate major be provided remotely, including general education requirements and breadth courses?

Many courses, but not all, will have remote options.  Students should work with their advisors if they need a fully remote schedule and courses that are needed for graduation and progression are not offered in a remote format.

What do I do if there is a course I need to graduate that is not offered in the modality (online or in-person) that I need?

Students in this situation should contact their advisor directly to discuss options.

Will all students have the option of choosing to be fully remote?

Many courses will have remote options.  All students, international and domestic, can choose a fully remote schedule.  Students should work with their advisors if they need a fully remote schedule and courses that are needed for graduation and progression are not offered in a remote format.

Will courses overlap because of the reassignment of in-person sections?

Students may have schedule conflicts after the reassignment of in-person sections. Attempts will be made to keep these rare. Students are encouraged to view the schedule and make edits in Course Search & Enroll, as needed. Consult your advisor, as needed.

What will happens if I sit out for 1-2 semesters? Can I re-enroll?

  • Students who are new to UW-Madison need to consult with The Office of Admissions and Recruitment.
  • Continuing students should consult with their academic advisor. There are many factors to consider before making the decision.


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Why is tuition not being lowered when all my classes are remote? Can I switch to in-person classes?

  • While many aspects of the fall semester look different than in the past, students at UW-Madison are still receiving a top-tier education with some of the most highly regarded instructors in their fields. Our faculty and instructors are spending the summer working to create courses that are engaging and will meet learning objectives, regardless of the course delivery mode.
  • The cost of educating our students has actually increased as a result of COVID-19. We are employing the same outstanding faculty and instructional staff, and working hard to put in place testing and other campus-safety measures while also making large investments in technology.
  • Over the summer, our faculty and instructional staff are working with curriculum designers and technology experts to develop engaging remote courses that meet learning objectives.
  • For students who prefer in-person courses, use the Course Search and Enrollment app to look for courses that are taught only online, only in-person, or as a hybrid.
  • Remember that the value of a UW-Madison degree has not changed. We are proud to be one of the top public universities in the country, and the degrees we confer are a signal of excellence, whether or not the student completed a portion their coursework remotely.

Will my remote courses be the same quality as those offered in-person?

The university is investing in additional technology and training to make sure that remote courses are delivered at a high level of quality. Remote courses award the same credit hours, and are taught by the same outstanding faculty and instructors who hold students to the same rigorous academic standards and expectations as students who attend in-person courses.

How has remote learning improved from last spring?

  • In spring, the quick pivot to remote learning made it difficult to invest the time and resources needed to create ideal learning environments.  To meet the challenge of enhancing the quality of instruction, we have made major investments to improve course design and remote learning experiences.
  • Our faculty and instructors are spending the summer working on curriculum design and consulting with technology experts to create courses that are engaging and will meet learning objectives, regardless of the course delivery mode. Additional resources and support are being provided to assist faculty and instructors with this work.
  • Significant redesign of our course offerings is occurring, with additional investment in high-quality professional development opportunities and technology.

What kind of opportunities will students have to interact with professors and teaching assistants?

Faculty, professors, and TAs will have virtual office hours. Students can still expect to have access to their instructors. Advising offices, career services office, and academic support programs also have online and virtual appointment capability, as well as hosting drop-in advising sessions, group sessions, and programming.

Will you help me make the decision to come to campus or or take all courses remotely?

Students should do what is best for them and consider the risks and benefits to each decision. There are some good reasons why students might want to be on campus to start making connections, even in a limited capacity. Or being at home may be the best decision for a health reason or access issues. A great deal of effort, time, and resources are being put into developing the online virtual spaces to be as quality and high touch as they can be. The university’s foremost concern is everyone’s safety and making students feel as safe as possible.

What is the best number of credits to take in a virtual environment, knowing remote learning can be more work for some students?

We advise that undergraduate students take a full 15-credit load. We also advise that students do what is best for them individually and work with their advisor to plan the best semester for their individual circumstances.

Can I live on campus, but still have all my courses be remote?

In the planning efforts, the goal is for all students who are living in Madison to have opportunities to enroll in in-person sections. The student makes the final decisions on which courses they select.

How will final exams work in courses where remote exams are not possible?

Final exams will be delivered remotely. Instructors may adjust their syllabi to have alternative assessments if an remote exam is not possible.

How do online science courses and labs work?

Science labs are well suited to move into more of a virtual lab space because of the work that’s already been invested to develop this area. Faculty and staff continue to work on creative solutions for instruction in a remote format and are still working on specific situations. Students likely can expect to see a combination of lab activities. Some experiments can be done online, some might be conducted by a professor or TA and the students will have homework assignments associated with the experiment, and others may be kits that students can buy and run the experiment at home. 

What opportunities will there be for practicums/internships for students?

  • These opportunities are being determined at the discretion of the deans of each school and college, in consultation with departments. A team of campus experts in field courses – including clinical, education, agricultural, and community based courses – is currently working on guidance and resources for schools and colleges on how to delivery these types of courses. The guidance will include specifics on travel considerations and safety, and will be shared at: https://instructionalcontinuity.wisc.edu/field-courses/.

Will the university maintain its religious observance policy, with the extended course schedule including increased evening and Saturday courses?

Yes, the university’s religious observance policy will continue to be in effect. Sections scheduled on Saturday will be limited to those for which an alternative section is available on another day.

How is the university helping students find jobs in a difficult job market?

Most units on campus have career services offices that have been working hard to stay in communication with potential employers and assess the job market. These offices are coming up with strategies, tips, and advice for students. Students should connect with the career services office within their school or college.

What should students do if they are unable to attend classes due to testing positive to COVID-19 and/or becoming quarantined?

Supporting students’ academic progress and success continues to be a top priority. Instructors will maintain high academic standards and expectations of all students – both for in-person and remote courses – while communicating additional flexibilities for students who may become ill or quarantined. These expectations and flexibilities will be outlined in course syllabi at the start of the semester.


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Will the disruptive grading, which was available in Spring, be in effect this upcoming Fall?

There will not be a disruptive grading option for Fall 2020. The university’s normal pass/fail option is available. Students may have individual situations and concerns regarding grading.  Even if a deadline has passed, students should work with their advisors and associate deans.

Will waivers be offered to students who cannot attend in person but have remaining required courses to graduate that are only offered in-person?

As always, students should work with their academic dean’s office for individual assistance. Academic deans will help resolve this type of situation.


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What safety measures will be in place for in-person classes?

  • We will have cleaning supplies for people to use in the classroom and will require all students to wear face coverings. Classroom setups will ensure 6 feet of space between work areas.
  • In addition, classes will be moved into classrooms that can accommodate appropriate physical distancing. This will mean that we will run some classes in the evenings and on Saturdays.

Will there be spaces for me to study, take breaks while I am on campus?

Yes. Safe and accessible study spaces are an important part of student success. Schools and colleges, as well as the Libraries and Unions, are working through the logistics of how to ensure the availability of study spaces. As a campus we’ve gotten very creative with classroom spaces as well as other learning spaces for students.

  • The University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries continue to support campus’ effort to reboot research, and have again expanded our Library by Appointment service. On-site access to our Libraries for research is limited to UW-Madison faculty, staff, and graduate students. There will be a limited number of patrons to reduce congestion and facilitate physical distancing. Interested in Library by Appointment access to our available spaces?


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Will any of the deadlines, like the pass/fail deadline or drop deadline, change like they did in the spring?

TBD. Student will be informed if there will be any changes to academic deadlines.

Will the date for new graduate students to enroll change?

Enrollment appointment times are not changing at this time.

Didn’t find what you were looking for? Visit the Smart Restart website to look through other resources and learn about the university’s approach to dealing with major issues such as instruction, health and safety, housing and dining and more.
COVID-19 is not specific to an ethnicity or race—disease does not discriminate. Racist behaviors or stereotyping are not tolerated at UW–Madison. If you experience harassment or discrimination, students are encouraged to file a bias incident report. Employees may file a complaint with the Office of Compliance.