Taking a Leave of Absence or Hardship Withdrawal

What Is a Leave of Absence?

A leave of absence or hardship withdrawal may become necessary if you experience an emergency and you are unable to complete your classes. Refer to your institution’s website for specific policies and guidelines regarding how to qualify and how to initiate a leave of absence or hardship withdrawal.Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances (that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years) that may necessitate a leave of absence (sometimes called a hardship withdrawal) from the college or university. Reasons can include medical conditions, death in the family, or other emergencies. When students experience medical or mental health complications that significantly interfere with their academic and personal goals, they may request a medical temporary leave.

When to Consider Taking a Leave of Absence or Hardship Withdrawal

You may want to consider this kind of leave if:

  • You feel you are in crisis or that your level of distress is becoming intolerable.
  • You believe the stress and pressure of college is seriously disrupting your ability to focus on recovery.
  • You feel you need an increased level of care.
  • You are not able to access the services you need at your college or university.
  • You feel that time away from classes would be beneficial for your long-term well-being.

Your first steps for requesting a leave of absence include:

  • Becoming familiar with your institution’s policy and procedures should you think you need a leave of absence.
  • Contacting your academic advisor first to request the leave.
  • Contacting the Dean of Students Office for help (this office typically assists students requesting a leave of absence).
  • Obtain documentation from a care provider that supports the leave for medical or mental health reasons, as you will likely be asked for this.
  • Communicate with the financial aid office. They can provide advice for how to handle things like scholarships or student loans.

Often, students who are granted a temporary leave may not take courses at another college or university during the leave period unless they are granted permission.Your school may also have instructions for how to return after a leave of absence. For example, if you leave for medical or health reasons, your institution may want to see documentation from a health care provider saying that you are able to return to school.The involuntary leave process may be initiated when the institution feels a student is engaging in behaviors that may cause injury to others. This can include physical and psychological conditions.

Example School Sites

University of North Georgia: Hardship Withdrawal
American University: Taking a Medical Temporary Leave

Tuition Refund Insurance

Most colleges and universities do not provide tuition refunds if a leave of absence is requested after the typical refund period, so you may want to consider purchasing tuition refund insurance. This insurance must be purchased at the beginning of the school year and refunds the financial losses when a student can’t complete an academic term due to a serious covered injury or illness (such as mononucleosis or a severe head injury), a chronic illness, or a psychological disorder. Your school may offer a policy or you can seek out your own coverage. Refer to your institution’s website for specific information regarding tuition refund insurance.That said, you should check with your institution about their tuition refund policy. Some schools may provide a tuition refund after the typical refund period. Often a student will need to request this and the consideration will be made by the appropriate staff or administrator.

Using Time Effectively While on Leave

Students are expected to get medical care or mental health treatment while they are away from campus on a temporary medical leave. Getting the necessary care should be the priority of any student taking a leave of absence students. The Dean of Students Office and its affiliated offices can serve as resources to guide students to options for receiving care. Before returning to school, your institution may expect you to provide documentation of care received.

  • While on leave, you may be eligible to finish coursework if your condition resulted in your taking an “incomplete” for the courses in which you were enrolled.
  • You will want to contact your academic advisor and faculty members concerning options for finishing incomplete coursework.
  • Some students fill their time productively while on leave by getting a job, interning, or taking classes at another university (NOTE: your institution may or may not allow you to study at another institution while on temporary medical leave), but receiving medical care or mental health treatment should be the priority.