Campus Life: What Is a Leave of Absence?

Can Some Time Off Do Good For Your College Career?

Stressed out college student
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You may have known a student or two who took a leave of absence and some time off from college. You may also know that doing so is an option for yourself -- even if you don't know the specifics.

So just what is a leave of absence? What qualifies? What does it mean for your college career? And is it the right choice for you?

What Is a Leave of Absence?

Leaves of absence are available for college students because things can happen during your time in school that might take priority over working toward your degree.

Leaves of absence don't necessarily have to indicate that you've failed at something, messed up during your time in school, or otherwise dropped the ball. Instead, a leave of absence can often be a good tool to help you deal with other issues so that, when and if you do return to school, you're better able to focus on your studies.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Leave of Absence

There are usually two kinds of leaves of absence: voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary leaves of absence can be granted for a variety of reasons, like medical leave, military leave, or even personal leave. A voluntary leave of absence is just what it sounds like -- leaving the college voluntarily.

  • A family member might have a major illness and you need to help your family.
  • You might be suffering from depression and hope to improve your mental health before resuming classes. 
  • Finances might be too tight and you need to take a semester off to work and make extra money.

An involuntary leave of absence, in contrast, means you are not leaving the institution by choice. You may be required to take a leave of absence for any number of reasons.

  • As part of a judicial ruling because of your personal conduct, a negative action, or infraction of campus policy.
  • Your academic performance has not been at the level your college requires.
  • Failure to adhere to the school's requirements for registration, immunizations, or financial obligations.

What Happens During a Leave of Absence?

Whether your leave of absence is voluntary or involuntary, it's important to be clear about several things. Be sure to get the answers to all of these questions before you make a final decision or leave school.

What happens to your academic work/classes and financial aid for this term?

  • If you take a leave of absence right now, will you need to pay back your loans and scholarships right away? Are you given a grace period?
  • Will any of your tuition and fees be refunded?
  • What happens to your classes? Can you take an incomplete or will your transcript reflect a withdrawal?

What requirements, if any, are there for returning?

  • Do you need to complete some aspect of a judicial sanction, for example, or prove that you can once again perform academically at a college level?
  • Do you need to reapply for admission if you want to return to your college or university?
  • What other actions will you need to take if you are interested in enrolling again at a later date?

How long will your leave of absence be granted for? Leaves of absence don't continue indefinitely.

  • How long is your leave? What must you do during that time?
  • If you want to return to your institution after your leave has expired, what must you do?
  • What things do you need or want to accomplish within the time granted for your leave?
  • Do you need to update the institution on a regular basis -- at the start of every semester, for example -- about your status?

Seek Help With Your Decisions

While a leave of absence can be a great resource, it's important to make sure you are very clear about the requirements of taking such a leave. Speak with your academic advisor and other administrators (like the Dean of Students) responsible for coordinating and approving your leave.

After all, you want your leave to be an aid -- not an obstacle -- to making sure you return to your studies focused, refreshed, and remotivated.