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Purpose

To define the conditions under which graduate students may request a Short-Term Absence, Extended Absence, or Leave of Absence from their program of study, and the process for resuming their studies.

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Academic Goal

Consistent with Penn State's commitment to support the personal and professional development of all members of our community, the goal of this policy is to reduce the various stresses that can develop when graduate students encounter extenuating circumstances that warrant a temporary absence from their studies.

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Scope

All degree-seeking graduate students who need to step away from their studies for a period of time.

Circumstances occasionally occur that prevent graduate students from meeting the obligations of their program of study. This policy describes how graduate programs will process requests for formal Short-Term Absences, Extended Absences, or Leaves of Absence for graduate students impacted by instances of personal and/or family illness, injury, childbirth or adoption, or other life events that have the potential to disrupt a student’s progress towards his or her degree.

The intent of this policy is to ensure that graduate students can return to their graduate degree program, in the event that they need to be absent for a period of time.

Child
A biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a person for whom the graduate student is standing in loco parentis and who is under 18, or over 18 and incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.
Enrolled
Formally registered for classes. To be considered enrolled in a given semester, courses must appear on the student's record for that term under "MY CLASS SCHEDULE" in LionPATH.
Extended Absence
An approved absence from studies that begins after the start of the semester, that is expected to last three weeks or longer.
Extended Absence with Course Drops
An approved absence from studies that begins after the start of the semester, is expected to last at least three weeks inclusive of the end of that semester, and in which the student in not expected to be able to complete their coursework. An Extended Absence with Course Drops is recorded in the student information system as a “Leave of Absence”.
Good Academic Standing for Continued Enrollment in the Graduate School
Successfully meeting all Graduate School academic standards: a) enrolled full-time or part-time; b) ? 3.0 GPA; and c) no missing or unresolved deferred grades.
Immediate family member
A spouse, parent, sibling, or child of a graduate student.
Leave of Absence
A formally approved absence from studies for an entire semester. Leaves of Absence are distinct from Withdrawal and are formally recognized in the student information system. Students may return to their studies after a Leave of Absence without re-applying to the Graduate School and graduate program.
Parent
The biological, step or adoptive parent of the graduate student, or an individual who stood in loco parentis to the graduate student when the graduate student was a child.
Short-Term Absence
An approved temporary absence from studies, typically less than three weeks duration; required due to recovery from a minor illness, illness of an immediate family member requiring care by the graduate student, bereavement for the death of an immediate family member, or other similar, time-limited event.
Withdrawal
Dropping of all courses for which a student is registered in the absence of a formally approved Extended Absence. To resume his or her studies, a withdrawn student must reapply for admission, and be approved by the graduate program and the Graduate School.

Policy Statement

  1. A graduate student may request a Short–Term Absence, Extended Absence or Leave of Absence as described below when he or she, or an immediate family member experiences a significant life event that has the potential to disrupt progress towards the student’s degree.
  2. Significant life events eligible for Short–Term Absence, Extended Absence, or a Leave of Absence include, but are not limited to:
    1. Illness/injury and recovery of the graduate student
    2. Illness/injury and recovery of an immediate family member requiring care by the graduate student.
    3. Birth or adoption of a child.
    4. Bereavement for the death of an immediate family member.
  3. The approval of a Short–Term Absence, Extended Absence or Leave of Absence is predicated on the expectation that the student will resume their studies at the end of the absence. If the period of approved absence expires and the student does not resume study or receive an extension, the student will be withdrawn.
  4. Short-Term Absence (within a semester)
    1. If a short-term absence (< 3 weeks) is needed, the graduate student should make the request known to their adviser and Graduate Program Head as promptly as possible. Reasonable requests for Short-Term Absences are typically approved by the Graduate Program Head after consultation with the adviser and committee chair (if applicable), and all individual course instructors so that arrangements can be made for completing any coursework or assignments.
    2. At the conclusion of the Short-Term Absence, students should resume their studies.
  5. Extended Absence (within a semester)
    If an extended absence (> 3 weeks) is needed, or when a Short-Term Absence unexpectedly extends longer than three weeks, the graduate student should make the request known to their adviser and Graduate Program Head as promptly as possible. In approving the absence, the student and Graduate Program Head will mutually agree to one of the following options:
    1. If the expectation is that the course work can be completed within the semester, the student will complete their courses within the semester as originally planned.
    2. If the expectation is that the course work cannot be completed within the semester, but can be completed within the standard deferred grade deadline, the student will receive deferred grades for current courses, with the expectation that the work will be completed by the deferred grade deadline.
    3. If the expectation is that the coursework for the semester cannot be completed by the deferred grade deadline, the student will drop all courses for the current semester and be approved for an Extended Absence with Course Drops.
    4. Graduate Program Heads should monitor the progress of a student approved for an Extended Absence. If it becomes clear that a student will be unable to complete the work prior to the deferred grade deadline, an Extended Absence with Course Drops is to be requested.
    5. Return to Studies
      1. At the conclusion of the Extended Absence, students should resume their studies.
      2. At the conclusion of an Extended Absence with Course Drops, if the student is ready to return to their studies, no other steps need to be completed.
    6. If the student is unable to return to studies in the next semester, the student should apply for a Leave of Absence.
  6. Leave of Absence (a full semester or longer)
    1. When a graduate student expects to be absent from their program for an entire semester or more, the student must request a Leave of Absence. To be eligible for a Leave of Absence, a graduate student must:
      1. Be a currently enrolled student.
      2. Be in good academic standing as required by their program and the Graduate School.
    2. If a Leave of Absence is granted, any time-to-degree limitations will be extended by the duration of the leave. Some other academic timelines also may need to be adjusted. Upon return, the student is expected to meet the program requirements in place when the student was originally admitted, unless upon mutual agreement of the student and the program the student will meet the current program requirements.
    3. A request for a Leave of Absence may be denied by the Graduate Program Head or the Graduate School for several reasons, including but not limited to inadequate documentation, repeated requests for Short-Term or Extended Absences or Leaves of Absence, or documented unsatisfactory scholarly performance.
    4. Students will notify their Graduate Program Head of their intent to resume their studies at least 30 days before the end of their Leave of Absence.
  7. Extensions
    1. Students who have received a one-semester Leave of Absence may, if necessary, request an additional semester(s) following the procedures described in this policy.
    2. In general, Leaves of Absence are limited to a maximum of three consecutive semesters (including the summer semester).
      1. Students requiring more than three consecutive semesters away from their studies will be considered Withdrawn, and would need to reapply to the Graduate School and the graduate program following the standard Resume Study procedure.
      2. In exceptional circumstances, students who have already received the maximum Leave of Absence may petition the Dean of the Graduate School through Graduate Enrollment Services to extend the Leave of Absence by one additional semester.
  8. Appeals
    1. If a request for a Short–Term Absence, Extended Absence or a Leave of Absence is denied by the Graduate Program Head, the graduate student has the right to appeal such a decision by submitting a request for an appeal in writing to the college/school administrator for graduate education (e.g., assistant, associate or senior associate dean or director of academic affairs) in their college/school.
    2. If the appeal is denied by the college administrator, the graduate student has the right to appeal such a decision by submitting a request for an appeal in writing to the Dean of the Graduate School (or their designee).
      1. The decision of the Dean of the Graduate School/designee is final.

Process

  1. General Process Information
    1. Timing of requests: In the case of foreseeable events (e.g., impending birth of a child), the student should inform their adviser and Graduate Program Head as soon as the circumstances and dates of needed leave are known. For unforeseeable events, notification should be made as soon as possible once the need arises.
    2. Return to Studies: At least thirty days prior to the date of return from a Leave of Absence, the student must notify their Graduate Program Head and adviser (if applicable) of their intent to return. Returning students will be required to meet any conditions of their Leave of Absence and pay any outstanding balance on their student account before re-enrolling. Students returning from an approved Leave of Absence do not need to complete the formal Resume Study process.
      1. A graduate student returning from an approved leave shall resume the academic responsibilities as outlined in the leave agreement.
      2. If the student decides not to return to their studies at the end of a Leave of Absence, the student must notify their Graduate Program Head and Graduate Enrollment Services, including whether they intend to resume their studies in the future. Should the student decide to return in the future, he/she will follow the standard Resume Study procedure.
    3. Extensions: Students needing to request an extension to an approved Short-Term Absence, Extended Absence, or Leave of Absence must notify their adviser and submit the request in writing to the Graduate Program head, prior to the deadline for the previously approved Absence. If the adviser and Graduate Program Head support the extension, the Graduate Program Head will initiate the extension request and submit it to Graduate Enrollment Services.
    4. Appeals: A student may appeal the denial of a Short-Term Absence, Extended Absence, or Leave of Absence as described in the policy.
  2. Requesting Short-Term Absences
    1. If a Short-Term Absence is needed, the graduate student should make the need known to their adviser, committee chair (if applicable), and Graduate Program Head as promptly as possible.
    2. Requests for Short-Term Absences may be granted by the Graduate Program Head.
    3. If the Short-Term Absence occurs near the end of the semester, standard deferred grade considerations will be employed and standard deadlines will apply.
  3. Requesting Extended Absences When Courses Will be Completed
    1. If an Extended Absence when courses will be completed is needed, the graduate student should make the need known to their adviser, committee chair (if applicable) and Graduate Program Head as promptly as possible.
    2. Requests for Extended Absences when courses will be completed may be granted by the Graduate Program Head.
    3. If the Extended Absences when courses will be completed occurs near the end of the semester, standard deferred grade considerations will be employed and standard deadlines will apply.
  4. Requesting an Extended Absence with Course Drops
    1. If an Extended Absence with Course Drops is needed, the graduate student should make the need known to their adviser and committee chair (if applicable) as promptly as possible.
    2. A request for Extended Absence with Course Drops must be made to Graduate Enrollment Services by the student’s Graduate Program Head after consultation with the student’s adviser and/or committee chair (if applicable). The Graduate Program Head will provide:
      1. The reason for the request.
      2. Begin and end dates for the Extended Absence.
      3. A written summary of the remaining requirements for the degree.
      4. A statement of whether or not they support the request, and if not, why.
    3. Graduate Enrollment Services will determine if the Extended Absence is approved or denied.
    4. Graduate Enrollment Services will notify the graduate student, the college/school administrator for graduate education, and the Graduate Program Head regarding the outcome of the request.
    5. Steps a student MUST take once an Extended Absence with Course Drops is approved:
      1. REGISTRATION. If the student is currently enrolled in courses (i.e., for the fall, spring or summer semesters, including 600 or 601) and the decision is made not to complete the semester, students MUST drop all courses.
        1. INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS. If the student is an international student studying in residence (not solely via the World Campus) and all courses are to be dropped, the student MUST contact their International Student adviser at the Penn State Office of Global Programs, Directorate of International Student and Scholar Advising (DISSA) prior to finalizing the drop.
      2. INSURANCE. If the student has purchased the Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) through the University, the student MUST contact the Student Insurance Office (uhs-insurance@psu.edu; 814-865-7467) to determine how the Extended Absence with Course Drops might affect their benefits.
      3. HOUSING. In general, students must be enrolled full-time to maintain eligibility for University housing. If the student requesting an Extended Absence with Course Drops is currently living in University housing, the student MUST contact their local housing office to learn how the Extended Absence with Course Drops will impact their housing contract.
      4. FINANCIAL AID. If the student is receiving any form of financial aid they MUST contact the Student Aid representative at his or her campus before dropping all courses due to an Extended Absence with Course Drops, to discuss any potential issues related to repayment of aid funds.
        1. Consequences to financial aid when a student drops all courses can be exceedingly complex. A Student Aid representative can help a student seeking an Extended Absence with Course Drops understand how their aid will be impacted.
        2. Students requesting an Extended Absence with Course Drops due to a medical condition may petition the Bursar for a waiver of tuition; note that not all requests are granted. See https://bursar.psu.edu/faq
      5. PENN STATE ACCESS ACCOUNT. Students with an Extended Absence with Course Drops may qualify to extend their Access Account for the duration of the absence or leave, for a nominal fee. See Access Account Deactivation and Extension.
      6. GRADUATE ASSISTANTSHIPS
        1. If the student is currently being supported on a graduate assistantship, fellowship, or traineeship, that assistantship, fellowship or traineeship may or may not continue to be provided during the Extended Absence with Course Drops. (See Management of Graduate Assistantships, Fellowships, and Traineeships for Graduate Students with an Approved Leave of Absence).
        2. While every effort will be made to identify funding upon the student's return, there is no guarantee that there will be funding available upon return.
      7. THIRD PARTY or EXTERNALLY FUNDED STUDENTS: Students whose graduate school tuition is paid for by third parties or external sources should contact those sources to determine how dropping all courses will impact their funding.
  5. Requesting a Leave of Absence
    1. If a Leave of Absence is needed, the graduate student should make the need known to their adviser and committee chair (if applicable) as promptly as possible before the first day of classes for the impacted semester(s).
    2. A request for a Leave of Absence must be made to Graduate Enrollment Services by the student’s Graduate Program Head after consultation with the student’s adviser and/or committee chair. The Graduate Program Head will provide:
      1. The reason for the request.
      2. Begin and end dates for the Leave of Absence.
      3. A written summary of the remaining requirements for the degree.
      4. A statement indicating whether or not they support the request and if not, why.
    3. Graduate Enrollment Services will determine if the Leave of Absence is approved or denied.
    4. Graduate Enrollment Services will notify the graduate student, the college/school administrator for graduate education, and the Graduate Program Head regarding the outcome of the request.
      1. When a Leave of Absence is approved, Graduate Enrollment Services will update the student’s record in the student information system to reflect this status.
    5. Steps a student MUST take once a Leave of Absence is approved:
      1. REGISTRATION. If the student is currently enrolled in courses (i.e., for the fall, spring or summer semesters, including 600 or 601) and the decision is made not to begin classes for that semester, students MUST drop all courses prior to the beginning of the semester.
        1. INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS. If the student is an international student studying in residence (not solely via the World Campus) and the decision is made not to begin the semester, the student MUST contact their International Student adviser at the Penn State Office of Global Programs Directorate of International Student and Scholar Advising (DISSA), prior to finalizing the course drops.
      2. INSURANCE. If the student has purchased the Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) through the University, the student MUST contact the Student Insurance Office (uhs-insurance@psu.edu; 814-865-7467) to determine how the Leave of Absence might affect their benefits.
      3. HOUSING. In general, students must be enrolled full-time to maintain eligibility for University housing. If the student requesting a Leave of Absence is currently living in University housing, the student MUST contact their local housing office to learn how the Leave of Absence will impact their housing contract.
      4. FINANCIAL AID. If the student is receiving any form of financial aid they MUST contact the Student Aid representative at their campus before dropping all courses due to a Leave of Absence to discuss any potential issues related to repayment of aid funds.
        1. Consequences to financial aid when a student drops all courses can be exceedingly complex. A Student Aid representative can help a student seeking a Leave of Absence understand how their aid will be impacted.
        2. Students requesting a Leave of Absence due to a medical condition may petition the Bursar for a waiver of tuition; note that not all requests are granted. See https://bursar.psu.edu/faq
      5. PENN STATE ACCESS ACCOUNT. Students with a Leave of Absence may qualify to extend their Access Account for the duration of the absence or leave, for a nominal fee. See Access Account Deactivation and Extension.
      6. GRADUATE ASSISTANTSHIPS
        1. Graduate Assistantships are not available for students on a Leave of Absence.
        2. While every effort will be made to identify funding upon the student's return, there is no guarantee that funding will be available upon return.
      7. THIRD PARTY or EXTERNALLY FUNDED STUDENTS: Students whose graduate school tuition is paid for by third parties or external sources should contact those sources to determine how dropping all courses will impact their funding.
    6. TIME LIMITS. The time limit for the degree will be extended by the duration of the Leave of Absence. Some other academic timelines may need to be adjusted. Graduate Enrollment Services will evaluate such requests and indicate any approved extension in the student information system.

Best Practices

  1. Common Reasons for Graduate Students to Request a Leave of Absence
    1. Illness/Injury. Personal illness or injury, or care of an immediate family member suffering from personal illness or injury.
    2. New Parent Accommodation. Penn State will reasonably accommodate the needs of its graduate students when they become parents as defined above. If extended medical treatment is required prior to the birth of a child, or a situation develops because of complications during or following the birth of a child, this leave policy is to be used for those situations as well.

Procedure

P1 - Leave of Absence (Full Semester or Longer) - Procedure

P2 - Extended Absence with Course Drops - Procedure

Forms

insert_drive_file Extended Absence with Course Drops Form

Further Information

FAQs: Leave of Absence

GUIDELINES: Management of Graduate Assistantships, Fellowships, and Traineeships for Graduate Students with an Approved Leave of Absence

Cross-References

list Requesting Tuition Reimbursement for Medical Extended Absence When Courses Will be Dropped

list Tuition Adjustment Policy

Revision History

Approved by Regina Vasilatos-Younken, Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School, November 26, 2019. Effective immediately.

  • November 26, 2019 – Minor clarifications to Return to Study.
  • December 04, 2018 – New Policy.