While Penn initially planned to open campus in the fall of 2020, administrators decided to close campus less than two weeks before many students planned to move in. As a result, classes were held online, campus buildings were closed, and campus activities were strictly limited.
However, many students returned to the Philadelphia area and lived in off-campus housing. Due to the influx of students returning to West Philadelphia, Penn offered weekly COVID-19 testing to those students who lived near campus during the fall semester.
The University-wide case count reached a semester high largely due to three individual households in late October, when 3.3% of undergraduates tested positive and a total of 107 Penn community members contracted COVID-19.
Penn reopened on-campus housing in the spring semester, but still held classes online. The University's COVID-19 case count hit its peak of the year between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6, when 239 undergraduate students tested positive.
The University warned that a campuswide self-quarantine may be imposed. No such quarantine was imposed, as the next week, the case count decreased by approximately 50%.
The University offered its first COVID-19 vaccines on April 14 and began vaccinating students just five days later. The entirety of the Penn community — including all students — became eligible to receive the vaccine on campus just five days later, when the City of Philadelphia began vaccinating all adults.
Penn required students to be vaccinated to return to campus in the fall of 2021 and returned to a nearly normal semester.
The 2020 presidential election was significant for the Penn community, as both candidates had strong connections to the University.
Penn had a record-high voter turnout and registration rates in this election. Many students turned out to vote in person in the 2020 election, with a total of 689 ballots cast on election day at Penn’s campus polling sites. Some students from outside of Pennsylvania traveled back to Pennsylvania to cast their votes.
Former Penn President Amy Gutmann and her husband were two of the 503 voters at Houston Hall on Nov. 3. Before she voted, she spoke with The Daily Pennsylvanian about the importance of voting, particularly in the current political and social climate.
"Every election is incredibly important, but this election, given the pandemic, given the fight against racism, given that Philadelphia is the birthplace of freedom and justice, all of our students, members of the Penn community, and everyone across America should be voting in this election," Gutmann said.
After a right-wing, insurrectionary mob stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, Gutmann and then-Provost and current President Wendell Pritchett condemned the assault in a written statement. Penn alumni called on the University to revoke former President Donald Trump’s degree. After being impeached less than a month later, Trump was acquitted again by the Senate.
On July 2, Gutmann was officially nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Germany.
Penn accepted the lowest amount of applicants to the Class of 2025 in its history, as only 5.68% of applicants were accepted. It also marked Penn's largest application pool in history, with 56,333 applicants — a 34% increase from the year before.
The acceptance rate dropped from 8.07% of applicants accepted to the Class of 2024. The admissions department experienced administrative turnover, as Dean of Admissions and 1987 College graduate Eric Furda left the admissions department at the end of 2020.
Vice Dean and Director of Admissions John McLaughlin assumed the role of interim dean of admissions and served in that capacity until July 1. He was replaced by Whitney Soule, who previously worked as the senior vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Bowdoin College.
Penn Admissions, along with the student-led Kite and Key Society, offered live, student-led, virtual tours to prospective students throughout the 2020-2021 academic year.