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. Requests for leave for a given semester will not be accepted at any time after the final day of classes for that semester.

Students who intend to take a leave of absence must submit a Request for a Leave of Absence to gsas-studentaffairs [at] columbia.edu. Until students are notified by the Office of Student Affairs 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 by fax to (212) 854-2863 or by email to gsas-studentaffairs [at] 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.

Graduate students in the Arts and Sciences are eligible to apply for a medical leave at any time. Medical leaves, however, are 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. Requests for a medical leave for a given semester will not be accepted at any time after the final day of classes for that semester.

In order to return to GSAS from a medical leave, students must submit a Return from Leave of Absence form no later than July 15, if they plan to return for the fall semester, and no later than December 1, if they plan to return for the spring semester (see "Loans, Fellowships and Other Financial Aid" below regarding deadlines for reinstatement of multi-year PhD fellowships and for financial aid other than loans). 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 graduate study, and proposing any recommended accommodations. The letter should be submitted by email to gsas-studentaffairs [at] columbia.edu or by fax to 212-854-2863. 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 Student Affairs with written documentation from the appropriate military authorities (including dates of the period of obligation). Such documentation should be sent to gsas-studentaffairs [at] columbia.edu.

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.

Students enrolled in the MA programs in Anthropology, Museum Anthropology, or Biotechnology who have completed all degree requirements except the thesis should apply for a personal leave of absence. MA students on personal leaves of absence who are completing the thesis and require library access should see below for information on use of facilities and services while on leave.

A student in a master's program that does not lead to the PhD is eligible for a personal leave of absence after satisfactory completion of at least one semester of study. PhD 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 PhD students in their first year who wish to take a personal leave of absence 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 MPhil 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. Students who wish to apply for a personal leave of absence after the MPhil must submit documentation of exceptional circumstances along with the Request for a Leave of Absence form, to gsas-studentaffairs [at] columbia.edu.

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 Student Affairs 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 for a given semester are approved at any point prior to 5:00 p.m. on the final day of classes for that semester. (Please consult the GSAS Academic Calendar to determine the date of the final day of classes.) Once a leave is approved, courses and grades (if already recorded) for the semester in progress are expunged from the student’s record. Students who submit leave paperwork after 5:00 p.m. on the final day of classes will be placed on leave for the subsequent semester, and the courses and grades for the semester in progress will be preserved on the transcript.

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 shall not be required to fulfill any degree requirement during the period of leave. 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 PhD 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

Students on leave are not registered, and therefore 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 sending a Library Affiliation Request form to gsas-studentaffairs [at] columbia.edu. 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 upon their return, although it is not guaranteed. Students returning from a leave who wish to apply for University housing for the fall semester should contact Kei Phillip at (212) 854-7892 or %20kap2156 [at] columbia.edu by May 1; to apply for the spring semester, the deadline is December 1.

Health Insurance

Students enrolled in the Columbia Student Insurance and Health Services programs who intend to take a medical leave may qualify to remain enrolled in those programs for a limited period of time at the student’s expense. Students should read the "Medical Leave of Absence" section of the Student Health Insurance Plan website and contact the Health Insurance Office for further important information regarding eligibility.

Students on personal or military leaves are not eligible to remain on the Columbia Health Insurance plan nor do they retain access to Columbia Health Services. Enrollment in the Columbia Health Insurance plan for non-medical leaves will be terminated on the last day of the month in which the leave is issued. For questions regarding refunds, students should contact the Health Insurance Office.

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.