How flexible will the Graduate School be if students need extra time to complete their academic milestones?

Date: April 2020


Dear Deans,

How flexible will the Graduate School be if students need extra time to complete their academic milestones? All of the graduate students I know are working hard to make progress towards their degree virtually, but many students absolutely need to do physical experiments or collect data in a certain location to finish their thesis and are unable to complete those in-person tasks due to COVID-19. For students who had planned to complete their graduate degree in the calendar year 2020 and are unable to do so due to COVID-19, will there be an extra semester or year of guaranteed funding (e.g. through TAships) available?




Dear Curious:

Thanks for your question. It’s heartening to learn your observations that graduate students are exhibiting resilience in making degree progress through these challenging times.

Yes, the Graduate School has signaled flexibility with how milestones will be met, depending on individual circumstances related to COVID-19 disruptions and transitions. As noted in prior communications, all exams (master’s, A exam, B exam) may be taken remotely. Petitions for time extensions associated with milestones (e.g., forming a special committee, A exam, etc.) should explain the reasons for the extension request and the amount of time extension requested related to those reasons. Reviewing and processing such extension requests occurs every semester, and we are monitoring whether more than the usual number of such extension requests are filed this semester. Most of the requests that have been filed in recent weeks have ranged from seeking two weeks to four months extension and have provided clear justification and plans for the extended time toward a milestone.

Research degree students and their special committee chairs should use the annual Student Progress Review to reflect on the past year’s achievements and progress, consider and document COVID-19-related disruptions and how the student’s scholarship has been affected, consider what reasonable pivots could be made in the focus of research directions and academic plans as a result of those disruptions, and identify realistic plans for the future to continue to make progress toward degree completion. As indicated in prior communications, including the March 30 communication to the Graduate School community, graduate students and graduate faculty should identify approaches for graduate students to remain productive remotely and continue to make academic progress. 

As you may know, offers of admission and the associated funding commitment letters are field-specific. Funding packages in graduate fields are built from a variety of resources, including: Graduate School Sage and Cornell fellowships, Graduate School fellowships in support of diversity (Dean’s Excellence, Sloan, etc.), external fellowships (e.g., NSF GRFP), assistantships (GAs, GRAs, RAs, TAs) funded through college/department resources and faculty PI grants, training grants, etc. Faculty and fields are working hard to identify appropriate future plans and funding streams to support graduate students’ academic progress and completion given the pivots that everyone will need to make given COVID-19 disruptions, and the Graduate School is supporting those efforts.

Best wishes, and stay well!


Barbara A. Knuth
Dean of the Graduate School