Ask a Professor: Should You Take a Leave of Absence?

Ask a Professor: Should You Take a Leave of Absence?

September 24, 2021

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In spring 2020, about 63% of Princeton undergrads said they were considering a leave of absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, most of the students who weighed a pandemic-related leave of absence remained enrolled.

Taking a leave of absence from college is a big decision. A leave of absence can affect your transcript and your financial aid. So should you take a leave of absence? And how does a leave of absence work?

What Is a Leave of Absence?

A leave of absence allows college students to temporarily suspend their studies. Most colleges let students take a leave of absence for up to one year.

During a leave of absence, students remain affiliated with the school. By filing for leave and receiving approval, students stay officially enrolled while not taking classes.

An approved leave of absence also protects a student's grades. Rather than withdrawing from classes after the drop date and ending up with failing grades on their transcripts, students can file for a leave of absence.

Alternatively, students might consider deferring their enrollment to take a gap year before college. However, those who want to take more than 1-2 semesters off from school may need to file withdrawal paperwork. In these cases, students who later return to school may need to reapply for admission.

Reasons to Take a Leave of Absence From College

Students take a leave of absence from school for a variety of reasons.

Medical leaves are among the most common reasons. If students experience a medical emergency, either for themselves or a family member, they may need to take a break from their studies. Students might also plan a leave of absence because of pregnancy or childcare responsibilities.

Colleges grant leaves of absence to allow students to manage mental health issues as well, including depression and anxiety. Students can seek outpatient or inpatient treatment before returning to school. Mental Health America provides resources on taking a leave of absence for mental health reasons.

Finally, students may take a leave of absence from college to pursue career opportunities. For example, a demanding internship may require a leave. So might military service. Some colleges require students to take a leave of absence to enroll in an external study abroad program.

The Process of Taking a Leave of Absence From School

Each school sets its own process for taking a leave of absence. At many colleges, students can apply for leave before the semester or after classes begin. For a planned leave of absence, colleges encourage students to file the paperwork as early as possible. It's usually easier to take a leave of absence before enrolling and before the start of the term.

During the term, students may need to provide additional forms to take leave. At some schools, students are asked to submit a leave of absence letter from a physician or mental health specialist.

The decision to take a leave of absence is a personal one. Those considering a leave of absence should reach out to their academic advisor to discuss their options and the process. They should also contact their school's financial aid office to learn whether taking leave will affect their eligibility for aid.

Lastly, it's a good idea to make a plan to return to school before leaving.

Frequently Asked Questions About Taking a Leave of Absence

How long is a leave of absence?

Most colleges grant leaves of absence for 1-2 semesters. Students who plan to leave for longer than a year may need to withdraw from school and then reapply when they want to return.

How does a leave of absence work?

Students apply for a leave of absence to temporarily suspend their studies. Before taking leave, students need to file paperwork with their school.

Do you need a leave of absence letter for school?

At most schools, students submit several forms if they want to take a leave of absence. In some cases, students may need to submit a letter or paperwork from a doctor or mental health professional explaining the reasons behind the leave of absence.

Do transcripts list a leave of absence?

Many schools list a leave of absence on student transcripts, particularly if the student withdrew from classes after the start of the term. For students who apply for leave before the semester, transcripts may or may not list the leave of absence. Students should reach out to an academic advisor for more information about their school's policies.

Feature Image: SimonSkafar / E+ / Getty Images

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