Students

Leaves of Absence

 

A leave of absence allows a student who must interrupt his or her studies for a compelling reason—for example, a sustained medical condition that prevents attendance or a personal matter requiring absence from campus—to be exempt from the Continuous Registration requirement. Leaves will not be granted retroactively.

Students who intend to take a leave of absence must submit a Request for a Leave of Absence (PDF) to the Office of the Dean. Until students are notified by the Office of the Dean that the leave has been approved, they should assume that they are registered and will be expected to fulfill their academic and/or financial responsibilities, including completing course work.

Leaves of absence are granted for one or two semesters; under unusual circumstances students may apply for a third or fourth semester of leave. A student's total period of leave may not exceed two years (four semesters).

Medical Leaves of Absence

A student who must interrupt study temporarily because of illness or injury may be granted a Medical Leave of Absence, contingent upon the submission of documentation from a health care professional confirming that the student is unable to engage in graduate study. Such documentation must be submitted by the medical provider to gsas-studentaffairs@columbia.edu no later than one week after submitting the Request for a Leave of Absence form; it may include a statement as to when the student may be expected to resume studies.

A medical leave is granted only to students whose academic and administrative standing, as defined by the student's program and GSAS, permits them to continue in the degree program when they return from leave. While on leave, students must be actively engaged in a course of medical treatment for recovery. Medical leaves will not be granted retroactively.

In order to return to GSAS from a medical leave, students must submit a Return from Leave of Absence form six weeks before the start of the semester in which they wish to return. Students must also submit a letter of approval from the health care professional who provided treatment, confirming that the student is medically cleared to return to full-time graduate study, and proposing any recommended accommodations. The Medical Leave of Absence Readmission Committee, made up of representatives from Columbia University Health Services and the GSAS Office of Student Affairs, will review the letter of approval, and either approve the student’s request to return, or ask that the student meet with a relevant Columbia Health Services health care practitioner. See below for information regarding health insurance for students on approved medical leave.

Military Leaves of Absence

A student who must interrupt study temporarily to fulfill a compulsory military obligation for a specific length of time will be granted a military leave of absence to fulfill that obligation. The student seeking a military leave of absence must provide the Office of the Dean with written documentation from the appropriate military authorities (including dates of the period of obligation).

A military leave is granted only to students whose academic and administrative standing (as defined by the student's department or program and GSAS) permits them to continue in the degree program when they return from leave. See below for information regarding health insurance for students on approved military leave.

Personal Leaves of Absence

Students who must interrupt study temporarily for reasons other than those described above may request a personal leave of absence. Reasons may include, but are not limited to, financial status; child care; illness, bereavement, or other critical matters in one’s family; changes in one’s outside employment; and other situations as required by applicable law.

A student in a Master's program that does not lead to the Ph.D. is eligible for a personal leave of absence after satisfactory completion of at least one semester of study. Ph.D. students are eligible for a personal leave of absence after satisfactory completion of at least one year of study. Master’s students in their first semester and Ph.D. students in their first year who wish to leave the University should request a withdrawal instead.

A personal leave is granted only to students whose academic and administrative standing (as defined by the student's department or program and GSAS) permits them to continue in the degree program when they return from leave. See below for information regarding health insurance for students on approved personal leave.

Note: Personal leaves after the M.Phil. are granted only in exceptional circumstances in which students must temporarily suspend their studies to care for the serious medical condition of an immediate family member, or in other situations as required by applicable law.

Refund of Tuition and Fees

All students who withdraw or take a leave of absence during a semester in which they are registered are charged a $75 withdrawal fee. Tuition is refunded on a prorated basis, ordinarily calculated from the date on which the Office of the Dean receives the request for a withdrawal or leave of absence. No fees are refunded after the second week of the semester. The Registrar's office publishes a schedule of refunds for tuition and fees based on the week in the semester during which the withdrawal or leave is approved.

Transcript and Registration

Leaves of absence and withdrawals from the University during a semester are ordinarily allowed between semesters or at any time before the final examination period within a semester.  Courses and grades (if already recorded) for the semester in progress are expunged from the student's record, and the semester’s Residence Unit registration, if any, will not be counted toward degree requirements.

Students taking a leave of absence are not considered to be registered Columbia students. Approved leaves are entered on a student's permanent academic record. The period of the leave is not counted toward the time allowed for completion of the degree requirements. A student on leave may not be required to fulfill any degree requirement. The period of the leave will not be counted toward the time allowed for completion of an Incomplete (see Grading System for details).

Loans, Fellowships, and Other Financial Aid

Students should contact the GSAS Office of Financial Aid for information about the effect of taking a leave of absence on loans and fellowships. Most University and government loan programs do not permit the deferment of loan repayment while a student is on leave.

To be considered for fellowships—including reinstatement of multi-year Ph.D. fellowships held at the time of the request for leave—or for financial aid other than loans, students returning from leave should contact the Office of Financial Aid by the following deadlines:

  • February 1 if returning in the following fall semester
  • October 1 if returning in the following spring semester

When the student notifies the Office of Financial Aid of his or her intent to return, the decision to award financial aid, including reinstatement of previously awarded aid, will be based on satisfactory academic progress prior to the leave and departmental recommendation.

Use of Facilities and Services While on Leave

A student on leave may not use University facilities. Email accounts are normally suspended within six to nine months after approval of the leave.

Students on an approved leave of absence may request library access for specific short periods of time and specific reasons, by application (PDF) to the Office of the Dean. Please note that students on leave who have previously been awarded a Columbia degree may, as alumni, retain access to their LionMail email account and use facilities such as the libraries: see the Columbia Alumni Association website for more information.

University Housing

Students must be registered to remain in Columbia Housing. Students who plan to withdraw or take a leave of absence should contact University Apartment Housing regarding the date by which they will be expected to vacate.

Students who vacate a UAH apartment to take a leave of absence remain eligible for University housing, although they are not guaranteed housing upon return. Students returning from a leave who wish to apply for University housing for the fall semester should contact Kei Phillip (212-854-7892; kap2156@columbia.edu) by May 1; to apply for the spring semester, the deadline is December 1.

Health Insurance

A student whose personal or military leave of absence is approved during the first 30 days of the term will not be eligible for either the Columbia Student Medical Insurance or Health Services programs, and a full refund will be applied to a student’s account, unless the student has utilized the benefits of the insurance plan or made use of care provided by Health Services.

For medical leaves: Students enrolled in the Columbia insurance and Health Services programs may qualify to remain enrolled in those programs for a limited period of time. Students should read the "Withdrawal Due to Medical Leave" section of the Student Health Insurance Plan brochure and contact the Health Insurance Office for further important information.

Students enrolled in the Columbia insurance and Health Services programs whose leave of absence or withdrawal is approved after 30 days of the term have passed will remain enrolled in the Columbia Student Medical Insurance and Health Service programs for the remainder of that term; no refund will be granted.

Visa Issues

Students on a J1 or F1 visa who intend to take a leave of absence must contact the International Students and Scholars Office as soon as possible.

Returning from a Leave

See this page for information about returning from a leave.