Leaves of Absence

A leave of absence allows students who must interrupt their 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. Leave for a given semester cannot be processed at any time after the final day of classes for that semester.

Students who intend to take a leave of absence must notify GSAS by submitting the Leave of Absence Form to gsas-studentaffairs [at] columbia.edu. Until students are informed by the Office of Student Affairs that the leave has been processed, they should assume that they are registered and will be expected to fulfill their academic and/or financial responsibilities, including completing coursework.

Leaves of absence may be taken 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).

Students taking a leave of absence are not considered to be registered Columbia students, and will not be able to fulfill requirements for the degree during the leave.

Students who have not registered for any classes or an enrollment category by the end of the change of program period will not be allowed to enroll that term and must file for a leave of absence or withdrawal.

Medical Leaves of Absence

A student who must interrupt study temporarily because of illness or injury may take 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. The medical provider must submit such documentation by fax (212-854-2863) or by email (gsas-studentaffairs [at] columbia.edu) no later than one week after the student submits the Leave of Absence Form; the documentation may include a statement as to when the student can be expected to resume studies.

Graduate students in the Arts and Sciences are eligible to take a medical leave at any time. Medical leaves, however, are available 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 the condition(s) that occasioned the leave. Medical leave for a given semester cannot be processed at any time after the final day of classes for that semester.

See below for information regarding health insurance for students on 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 may take 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 available 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 military leave.

Personal Leaves of Absence

Students who must interrupt study temporarily for reasons other than those described above may take 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 instead withdraw.

A personal leave is available 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 personal leave.

Note: Personal leaves after the MPhil may be taken 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 take a personal leave of absence after the MPhil must submit documentation of exceptional circumstances along with the Leave of Absence Form, to gsas-studentaffairs [at] columbia.edu.

Paid Family Leave

New York State’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) Law is a state-mandated program that provides job-protected family leave benefits. The university has opted to pay the cost of the premiums associated with this benefit on behalf of current appointed student officers. Please see this page for the full PFL policy.

Please note that PFL will run concurrently with other applicable GSAS policies, including leaves of absence and accommodation for parental responsibilities; that is, student officers on PFL will not collect additional benefits from New York State while receiving funding for a parental accommodation from GSAS.

Students with questions about PFL should contact Human Resources Leave Management at (212) 851-0698 or leavemanagement [at] columbia.edu. Students who are considering taking a leave that may qualify as PFL, or who have questions about how PFL may interact with GSAS policies, should contact the GSAS Office of Student Affairs at (212) 854-4932 or 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 processed.

Transcript and Registration

Leaves for a given semester are processed 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 processed, 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, and will not be able to fulfill requirements for the degree during the leave. Official 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. 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 the leave is processed.

Students on an official 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 kap2156 [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 processed. 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

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” regarding deadlines for reinstatement of multiyear PhD fellowships and for financial aid other than loans).

Students returning from a medical leave must also submit to Columbia Health (see below for specific addresses) a letter from the health-care professional who provided treatment for the condition that occasioned the leave. Such letters must contain the following information:

  • description of treatment the student received, including medications the student was prescribed for the condition that warranted the leave
  • the health-care professional’s impression regarding the student's readiness to return to his or her studies
  • any recommendations regarding continued treatment after the student has resumed his or her studies

Letters addressing psychiatric or psychological conditions should be sent directly to Dr. Allan Cassorla by fax (212-854-9473) or by email (aac4 [at] columbia.edu). Letters addressing medical conditions should be sent directly to Dr. Brenda Aiken by email (ba220 [at] columbia.edu). In cases where a student has received both medical and psychiatric/psychological treatment, or the diagnosis is unclear, the relevant health-care professional(s) should submit their letter(s) to both Dr. Cassorla and Dr. Aiken. Letters written in a language other than English must be accompanied by an English translation. All letters supporting a student’s return must be sent no later than July 29 for students planning to return in the fall semester, and no later than December 15 for students planning to return in the spring semester.

Dr. Cassorla and/or Dr. Aiken will review all letters and either approve the return or request additional information. In some cases, students will be asked to schedule an in-person consultation.

Once approved to return, students may register during their assigned registration appointment times.

Students who have decided not to return from a leave of absence should complete the Withdrawal Form. The complete policy regarding withdrawals is available here.

See this page for information about reinstatement after an unofficial leave of absence.