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. With this closure, classes were held online, campus buildings were closed, and campus activities were limited for the semester.
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 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 continued to hold 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.
In response to this peak, the University warned that a campuswide self-quarantine may be imposed. No such quarantine was imposed, as the case count decreased by approximately 50% the following week.
The University offered its first COVID-19 vaccines on April 14. 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 to offer vaccines to all adults.
Penn required students to be vaccinated to return to campus in the fall of 2021, returning to a nearly normal semester.
The 2020 presidential election was significant for the Penn community, with both candidates having strong connections to the University.
This election saw record-high voter turnout and registration rates on Penn’s campus. Many students turned out to vote in person, with a total of 689 ballots cast on Election Day at Penn’s on-campus polling sites. Some students from outside of Pennsylvania traveled back to their states 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 in America’s political and social climate.
"Every election is incredibly important,” Gutmann said. “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.”
After a right-wing insurrection stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, Gutmann and then-Provost and former President Wendell Pritchett condemned the assault in a written statement. Penn alumni also called on the University to revoke former President Donald Trump’s degree.
Trump was impeached less than a month later, but was acquitted 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 number of applicants to the Class of 2025 in its history, with only 5.68% of applicants accepted. It also marked Penn's largest application pool in history with 56,000 applicants — a 34% increase from the year before. The acceptance rate dropped from the 8.07% of applicants accepted to the Class of 2024.
The admissions department also experienced administrative turnover, as Dean of Admissions and 1987 College graduate Eric Furda left the department at the end of 2020.
Vice Dean and Director of Admissions John McLaughlin assumed the role of interim dean of admissions, serving in the position 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.