2.09 Leaves of Absence

A leave of absence (LOA) is a period of non-enrollment during which a student is not considered to be working toward the MD degree. A LOA is granted for up to one year with the possibility of a one-year extension, granted on a case-by-case basis after review by the Council of Academic Societies (CAS), if a student submits the request before the first year of leave is over. A maximum of two years for leave is permitted, after which a student is automatically considered withdrawn from the School. 

Students contemplating a leave of absence should meet with their Society Advisory Dean or Advisor, the HMS Registrar and, if applicable, their financial aid officer for guidance.

Any student who does not attend class in preclerkship phase for a period of 30 days and has not applied for a LOA will be absent without leave and will be considered to have withdrawn from Harvard Medical School. See Sections 1.03 and 2.02 for guidance about leaves during the PCE and Post-PCE Phases of the MD curriculum.

Voluntary Leaves of Absence

Students who wish to interrupt their studies at any time before graduation may request a leave of absence. Requests for a leave of absence may be granted by the Dean for Students in consultation with the Council of Academic Societies. With respect to a voluntary leave of absence for medical reasons, the Dean for Students ordinarily will consult with Harvard University Health Services (HUHS), which may consider information from the student’s current and/or former health care providers, if made available by the student.

Application for a Leave

Students applying for a leave of absence must follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Notify your Society and the Registrar in writing of your decision to take a leave. Include the last date you attended class, which must be no more than 30 days before your decision to take a leave. Indicate the anticipated start and end dates of the leave.
  2. The Registrar’s Office will confirm your leave in writing and will provide additional information regarding your official status, a reminder for a student on financial aid to meet with his/her Financial Aid Officer and other relevant matters. The Registrar will notify all courses in which you are registered and adjust tuition per the refund policy (See Section 6.03).
  3. If you are on financial aid, you are required to meet with your Financial Aid Officer and complete a loan exit interview.
  4. Your Society will follow up with you and describe any requirements you must complete before you return. You should update your Society periodically throughout your leave.
  5. Approximately 2 months before you plan to return, you should contact your Society and the Registrar for additional information regarding your proposed return to the MD program. You must meet all conditions set by your Society, the CAS, the Promotion and Review Board (PRB) and/or the Registrar in order to resume studies.

Involuntary Leaves of Absence

Under certain circumstances, a student may be placed on an involuntary leave of absence. An involuntary leave of absence is not a disciplinary sanction. However, an incident that gives rise to a leave of absence, whether voluntary or involuntary, may subsequently be the basis for disciplinary action. A student who prefers to take a voluntary leave of absence for medical reasons rather than to be placed on an involuntary leave of absence for medical reasons is ordinarily allowed to do so. Transcripts do not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary leaves of absence.

An involuntary leave of absence may be required for the following reasons:

  • Medical circumstances: (a) The student’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of any person, or has seriously disrupted others in the student’s residential community or academic environment; and (b) either the student’s threatening, self-destructive, or disruptive behavior is determined to be the result of a medical condition or the student has refused to cooperate with efforts by Harvard University Health Services to determine the cause of the behavior. The decision to place a student on an involuntary leave of absence for health-related reasons is made in consultation with HUHS (which may consider information from the student’s current and/or former health care providers, if made available by the student), after an individualized assessment of all of the pertinent factors, such as: the nature of the student’s conduct; the nature, duration and severity of the risk; the likelihood of potential injury; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices or procedures will mitigate the risk. However, reasonable modifications do not include changes that would fundamentally alter the academic program or unduly burden the School’s resources or staffing capabilities or, with respect to the required level of care or monitoring, that would exceed the standard of care that a university health service can be expected to provide.
  • Alleged criminal behavior: The student has been arrested on allegations of serious criminal behavior or has been charged with such behavior by law enforcement authorities.
  • Risk to the community: The student has been charged with a violation of a disciplinary rule of the School, and his or her presence on campus poses a significant risk to the safety of others or to the educational environment of the community.
  • Indebtedness: The student’s term bill is unpaid and the student has not made arrangements acceptable to the School to address the issue.
  • Failure to provide medical documentation of required immunizations.
  • Unfulfilled academic requirements: The student has not met an academic requirement and has not taken steps acceptable to the School to meet the requirement.
  • Failure to register: The student has not registered as required at the beginning of each term.

The decision to place a student on involuntary leave is made by the Dean for Students in consultation with the chairperson of the Promotion and Review Board (PRB). As noted above, in the case of an involuntary leave of absence for medical reasons, the School will consult with an appropriate person at Harvard University Health Services.

A student is notified in writing that he or she has been placed on involuntary leave. The student may petition the Dean for Students for reconsideration and may appeal a final decision to the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. 

While on Leave of Absence

Any student who goes on leave of absence during the academic year is charged tuition and any applicable fees, including rent, to the end of the period in which he or she leaves. Students receiving scholarship or other financial aid should consult the Financial Aid Office concerning the financial implications of going on leave. Foreign students should consult the International Office concerning their status.

The date a student goes on leave will affect the student's health insurance through Harvard. For details, review the Leave of Absence policy on the HUSHP website, or contact the Student Health Insurance Office, Member Services, at 617-495-2008 or mservices@huhs.harvard.edu.

Libraries and other facilities normally may be used only by students who are currently registered. Students on leave may not participate in extracurricular activities. Exceptions to this rule must be specifically approved in advance by the School. If so instructed by the Dean for Students, a student on leave must remain away from the University/Medical School campus.

Students going on leave are reminded that all degree candidates, whether currently registered or not, are expected to maintain a satisfactory standard of conduct.

Following an individualized assessment, the School may require students who are on leave for medical reasons to comply with a treatment plan during their time away.

Returning to School

A student in good standing on a voluntary leave of absence ordinarily may return by notifying the HMS Registrar twelve weeks in advance of the start of any term or previously designated return date, although it remains the student’s responsibility to ensure that they have adequate time to complete the degree within the time limits established by the School.

Students who were not in good standing at the time a voluntary leave of absence was granted and students who were placed on an involuntary leave of absence must petition the Dean for Students for permission to return to the School and must demonstrate that the circumstances that led to their leave have been satisfactorily addressed and that they are ready to resume their studies. The decision whether to allow a student to return is made by the Dean for Students, in consultation with the chairperson of the PRB or such other person as the Dean designates.

If the leave, whether voluntary or involuntary, was for medical reasons, the student must petition the Dean for Students for permission to return to the School and must demonstrate that the circumstances that led to their leave have been satisfactorily addressed and that they are ready to resume their studies. In addition, so that the School may conduct an individualized assessment of their circumstances, students on medical leave ordinarily will be required to consult with HUHS (and to grant permission to Harvard University Health Services to obtain their treatment records and communicate with their treatment providers) so that a professional assessment about the student’s stability and readiness to return can be shared with the School. Please also note that if the School learns of serious concerns about the health or well-being of a student who is away from School but not on a medical leave of absence, the School similarly may require the student to consult with HUHS (and to grant permission to HUHS to obtain their treatment records and communicate with their treatment providers) so that a professional assessment about the student’s stability and readiness to return can be shared with the School. In all such cases, the decision whether to allow a student to return is made by the Dean for Students, in consultation with the chairperson of the PRB or such other person as the Dean designates.

Any disciplinary matter must be resolved before a student on leave of absence will be allowed to return and, if the student has been required to withdraw while on leave of absence, any conditions for return after a required withdrawal also must be satisfied.

Students returning from a leave who wish to apply for financial aid must notify the Financial Aid Office and file the necessary application forms by April 30 for the following fall term, and by October 1 for the following spring term. Late applicants cannot be assured that their aid will be available in time for registration payment deadlines.

Student borrowers returning from their leave are required to follow up with their servicers to ensure loans are placed back into in-school deferment status. For information about loan deferment and to acquire a deferment form, please visit Student Financial Services. All forms must be completed and certified by the Registrar immediately following Registration. Failure to file a deferment form upon return will cause payments to be due on loans and could affect future borrowing eligibility.

A student will not be allowed to register in the University again until all previous term-bill charges have been paid and no loan is in default.

Contracts for Enrollment

The School may condition a student’s enrollment on certain terms or conditions, as set forth in a written contract between the School and the student, when the student’s conduct or circumstances have caused heightened concerns about the student’s safety and/or well-being and: (a) the appropriateness of the student’s continued enrollment; or (b) the student’s readiness to return to the Harvard community. The contract may include, among other things, compliance with a medical treatment plan; regular consultations with health care professionals; communication with administrators; and limited disclosure of relevant medical information, on a need to know basis, such as compliance with treatment and restrictions on certain activities. The decision to require such a contract is arrived at in consultation with Harvard University Health Services after an individualized assessment of the nature of the student’s conduct and circumstances and any other pertinent factors.

Important Information about Leaves of Absence

  • Financial Aid:  Students on a leave of absence are not eligible to receive financial aid.
  • Loan Repayment:  Because students on a leave of absence are not considered to be working toward their degree, the grace (deferral) period for loan repayment may lapse during the leave. For loans with the typical six or nine-month grace period, repayment will start after six or nine months of leave and continue through the rest of the leave. For such students, loan repayment will begin immediately after graduation, rather than six- or nine-months into the first postgraduate year. Students need to review this information during the financial aid exit interview.
  • Health Insurance:  Students on leave are eligible to purchase 4 months of coverage from the first day without coverage to assist with transition of care to a new provider. Please refer to the Health Services site for complete details on health insurance coverage for students on leave or contact Member Services for additional information.
  • Disability Insurance:  Students on leave are not eligible to buy disability insurance during their leave.
  • Malpractice Insurance:  Students on leave are not covered by HMS for malpractice insurance.
  • Scholars in Medicine funding: Students on leave of absence are not eligible for funding through the Scholars in Medicine Office; SIM funding is limited to students who are enrolled in the HMS MD program.

Resuming Student Status

Students who wish to apply for financial aid may contact the Financial Aid Office for application materials. Applications are available in March for the following academic year. These materials must be submitted to the Financial Aid Office by the middle of May. Students returning at a time other than the beginning of a semester may petition to have their financial aid budget revised to reflect actual tuition and expenses for the periods of their student status.

Special Situations

  • Medical Leave: Students needing disability insurance must state that they are taking a Medical Leave of Absence. The same steps described above are required. In addition, the student must have a HUHS physician’s note indicating that taking a leave is appropriate and, when the student is ready to return, a HUHS physician’s note of support.
  • Plan of action generated by the Promotion and Review Board (PRB): If the leave of absence is part of a plan generated by action of the Promotion and Review Board, requirements for reinstatement will be developed by the Board in consultation with a student’s society. The PRB will notify the student directly. See Section 4.03.
  • Pregnancy and childbirth during medical school: See Section 2.21.

Last updated 11/26/18