Taking a Leave of Absence

Whatever your reasons for taking a break, Stanford encourages you to take the time you need. The university will still be here for you when you return.

For Academic Year 2020-21, the university has announced a new policy about "Flex Terms," which are a different category of time away from Stanford. They have also announced an exception to the total quarters of Leave of Absence that undergraduates are permitted to take. Please refer to the Re-Approaching Stanford site and the Registrar's websites linked below for the latest news and policies on Flex Term and Leaves of Absence.

In case of any accidental discrepancies between this page and the Registrar's websites, the Registrar's sites take precedence.

Re-Approaching Stanford site
Undergraduate Enrollment Framework for 2020-21 (Registrar site)
Leave of Absence policy for 2020-21 (Registrar site)

Taking a Leave of Absence

There are many reasons you may want to take a Leave of Absence. Perhaps there’s a professional opportunity you want to pursue. Or maybe you’ve been given the chance to volunteer for a cause that matters to you. In other cases you may need time to deal with a family situation, or attend to your health. And still other times you may be feeling burned out and need to recharge. Whatever your reason, Stanford has a simple process for taking a Leave and returning to your studies at a later date.

For official information on Stanford’s Leave of Absence policy and procedure, consult the Stanford Bulletin and Academic Advising's Leave of Absence website, linked below. Academic Advising also publishes a useful Leaving and Returning to Stanford booklet that outlines the steps you will need to take and addresses many common student questions.

A note on terminology: Stanford uses the term "Leave of Absence" to refer to time off from the university. If you are looking for more information on any of Stanford's websites, be sure to search using the keyword "Leave of Absence," and not unofficial terms like "gap year."

Your Academic Advisors understand that taking a Leave can sometimes be a confusing and difficult decision, so read on for our explanation of the process and some considerations to keep in mind.

Stanford Bulletin information on Leaves and Reinstatement
Leave of Absence eForm instructions

Leave of Absence Facts

  • Generally, for first-year students, a Leave of Absence lasts the rest of the current academic year. You can return to Stanford in Autumn of the following academic year. For Academic Year 2020-2021 only, this additional requirement has been waived, and first year students may take leaves just like continuing students (see below), and will not be required to delay their return until the following Autumn.
  • After your first year, you can take a Leave of Absence for just one or two quarters, or up to one year at a time, which can then be extended to a second year if you desire.
  • You’re normally allowed 8 quarters of Leave total during your Stanford career. These can either be taken continuously or spread out over a period of time. For academic year 2020-21, a leave of absence taken in Autumn, Winter, Spring or Summer quarter will not count towards the eight-quarter maximum for undergraduates. See the Registrar's website for more details.
  • If you have Cardinal Care for your health insurance, you can use your insurance while on Leave. You will be covered through August 31 of the current academic year; see Vaden's Cardinal Care website for more details.
  • Your Stanford email will keep working during the duration of your Leave of Absence, as reported on this Stanford IT site.
  • So long as you return on the date indicated on your Leave of Absence form, there's no special process you have to go through to register for courses. Once Axess opens for enrollment for your return quarter, you should be able to enroll as normal. But keep in mind that you'll still have to apply for housing and for financial aid (if applicable), and that these processes have their own deadlines.
  • Need to take more time? If you are away from Stanford for more than 8 total quarters, technically your student status becomes Discontinued. But don’t be intimidated! Discontinued students are still welcome to return to the university after submitting a Request to Return and Register.

The Process

The Leave of Absence form is now an online Stanford eForm! To find it, log in to Axess, click on the Student tab, and choose “Student eForms” from the Quick Links menu. Click on “Available Forms” to find the Leave of Absence form.

Note that submitting the form online is not enough! You will still need to arrange a meeting with your Academic Advisor to discuss your situation before they can endorse your eForm. The eForm also requires several other electronic signatures, so make sure to leave yourself enough time to reach out to each relevant office.

In general, students who wish to take a Leave of Absence should:

  • Review the terms of a Leave of Absence and submit the eForm through Axess
  • Contact their Academic Advisor and Residence Dean to discuss their situation and get their endorsement on the Leave of Absence eForm
  • International students must also contact their Bechtel International Center advisor and get their endorsement on the eForm
  • Coterm students must also contact their graduate major department and obtain a departmental endorsement on the eForm
  • Follow up with Student Housing and Financial Aid and clear any related obligations

The Leave of Absence eForm is just one page, and does not require you to write lengthy personal statement. We strongly encourage you to talk with your Academic Advisor about your personal situation and how a Leave of Absence might fit into your Stanford career.

Keep in mind that even after you submit your Leave of Absence form, you must cancel your housing contract through a separate process. If you are on Financial Aid, you should also inform the Financial Aid Office of your intent to leave. Consult with them about any potential considerations, especially if you are leaving mid-quarter or have student loans to repay.

Cancelling Your Student Housing
Financial Aid and Leaves of Absence

Timing Your Leave of Absence

Depending on when you take your Leave of Absence, different things happen with your tuition and with the classes recorded on your transcript. Here are some scenarios depending on when you submit the completed Leave of Absence form:

On or before the first day of classes

You receive a full tuition refund for the quarter. No classes appear on your transcript for that quarter.

After the first day of classes, but before the Add/Drop Deadline (end of week 3)

You receive a pro-rated tuition refund. All courses you may have enrolled in are dropped, and no classes appear on your transcript that quarter.

After the Add/Drop deadline (end of week 3) but before the Withdrawal deadline (end of week 8)

You receive a pro-rated refund. You will be Withdrawn from any classes you are enrolled in, and these courses will appear on your transcript with a “W” notation.

After the Withdrawal deadline (end of week 8)

Leaves of Absence can sometimes be taken after the Withdrawal deadline in exceptional circumstances. Be sure to check in with your Academic Advisor to discuss your situation. If your Leave is approved, no tuition refund can be given. You will be Withdrawn from any classes you are enrolled in, and these courses will appear on your transcript with a “W” notation.

While this list may make it seem like filing for a Leave of Absence early in the quarter is the “best” scenario, we understand that life takes unexpected twists and turns. If you need to take a Leave late in the quarter, your Academic Advisors are here to help you. We can talk you through these options, and explain what certain consequences (like W’s on your transcript) really mean or don’t mean.

Extending Your Leave of Absence

What if you need more time after your original Leave of Absence? To extend your Leave, just submit another Leave of Absence eForm. Remember that you will still need to get the required signatures on your form, and the same timeline outlined above applies to your tuition refund. If you are away from campus, you can sign up for a phone or video meeting with your Academic Advisor. There is also a specific Residence Dean assigned for off-campus students.

Keep in mind that you are allowed to take up to 8 quarters of Leave before becoming Discontinued. This should not necessarily stop you from taking more time if you need it, but we strongly recommend you contact an Academic Advisor to talk through all potential considerations.

Returning to Stanford

Ready to return to the university, or looking ahead and curious about what you’ll need to do? Head on over to our Returning to Stanford page to get our breakdown of the process!