Students who take a leave of absence typically do so for a full academic year. Individual circumstances may require more or less time; the length of the leave is determined by the school. Students on leave should remain in contact with their advisor and update them about changes in plans. The return from leave process supports students in a successful re-entry to academic life at Penn. When preparing to return, students must consult their school advising office to develop a plan that includes connection with appropriate resources.

Why Students Take Leaves

Students take time away from their studies for a wide variety of reasons including to:

  • Work on a political campaign
  • Manage a medical concern
  • Fulfill a family obligation
  • Pursue career-related opportunities
  • Complete military service
  • Take a break.

While interrupting one's studies to take time away may seem intimidating, a leave is a means to the successful completion of a degree, not a barrier to graduating. Approximately five percent of each graduating class spends at least one semester on leave from Penn during their undergraduate studies and more than three quarters of students who take a leave return within two years to complete their degree.

The Process

Students considering a leave should take time to think carefully about their goals for the time away and for when they return. Speaking with an advisor in the College Office is an important first step. Students should also consult others important to their decision-making process, such as family members, or if they intend to address health concerns during the time away, their healthcare provider(s). The College Office will help students connect with other resources as they prepare to take a leave of absence, such as Student Financial Services, Housing, and International Student and Scholar Services. See the Checklists below.

  • Students are encouraged to request a leave of absence before the beginning of the semester in question. Leaves requested after the beginning of the semester may be denied. If a student is granted a leave after the beginning of the semester in question, the normal drop and withdrawal deadlines apply.
  • Students begin their request for a leave of absence by meeting with an advisor in the College Office to discuss their reason for taking the leave and their plans for the time away from Penn.
  • The student then submits a written request for the leave to the College. After review, the College will notify the student of their decision to approve or deny the request. The decision of the College is final.
  • If approved, the College will outline any specific conditions that must be met by the student before returning from leave.
  • Students on leave may not be enrolled in Penn classes and will not receive credit for classes taken elsewhere during the leave unless special approval by the College is given. Students on leave may not live in University-owned housing during the term of their leave or participate in and/or hold a leadership position in a registered University organization.
  • Discontinuance of study without permission from the University does not constitute a leave of absence. Students who have requested a leave of absence for a given semester may still be dropped from the University rolls if their previous term's grades qualify them for this action.
  • Students who are granted a leave of absence after the first five weeks of the semester will receive the notation of W (withdrawal) after each course on their transcript. After the withdrawal deadline (10th week) a leave of absence will be granted only under extremely extenuating circumstances and with proper documentation.
  • The standard length of a College leave of absence is one full calendar year. Students may request an early return from leave after one full semester on leave, but should bear in mind that this request may be denied. 
  • Students who remain on leave longer than two years and who do not respond to the University's attempts to contact them will be withdrawn from active status.
  • Once a leave of absence has been approved, the action will be posted to the student's transcript. The PennCard will be deactivated as soon as the leave has been processed.