College Leave of Absence

Welcome to The Sophie Fund’s resource page on college Leave of Absence. This page is designed for college students in the greater Ithaca area who may be considering taking a medical Leave of Absence for mental health reasons, are currently on a Leave of Absence, or are returning from a Leave of Absence.

(Our effort to assist students on matters related to Leave of Absence is a work in progress. Please help us by emailing any suggestions to:


The Sophie Fund

A Proposal to Support Students on Health Leaves of Absence

On August 21, 2017, The Sophie Fund released a proposal aimed at supporting students taking leaves of absence for mental health reasons from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. The proposal is based on consultations with college administrators, counselors, students, healthcare providers, and others.

The proposal calls for an Ithaca community-based program featuring a “leave of absence coach,” a community outreach worker providing practical guidance and moral support for students in transition. It also proposes a website hosting useful information about college leave policies, strategies for fruitful time off from school, local housing options, and employment opportunities.

Click here to download a copy of the proposal.


Mental Health America

From the Life on Campus program of Mental Health America:

Taking a Leave of Absence: What You Need to Know

When a person is in the midst of dealing with a serious mental health problem, sometimes going to school and caring for themselves can be too much to handle. It’s important to know what options are available to make becoming mentally healthy again a top priority—this may mean needing to leave school for a while, or taking a Leave of Absence.

Where do I start?

Reach out for help. Let those around you know you are struggling. While talking about your mental health can feel scary, a trusted friend, family member, or advisor can support you and help you determine the best course of action moving forward, including aiding you in searching for providers, discussing your best options, and simply being there to listen.

Reach out to your university. Reach out to those who can help you on campus. This typically includes academic advisors, Deans of students, professors, counseling centers, and disability support services. You can search your school’s website or call your academic advisor to find the best people to talk to. Find out what services are available to you, like on-campus counseling and class schedule modifications.

Discuss your options. Ask those involved about different options for your recovery plan. This can include family members, friends, trusted advisors, school officials, and treatment providers. Review any potential changes to your current and future enrollment status. This could be extensions of assignments, taking an Incomplete for certain classes so that you may finish the work after the semester ends, dropping classes, going part-time, or taking some time away from school completely. Only you, with the help and guidance of those around you, know what is best when it comes to your recovery.

Make and formalize a plan. After deciding on a treatment plan and any changes in your roles at school, you should make a formal plan for moving forward. Some colleges and universities have specific dates and policies regarding Leaves of Absence and disability accommodations. They might require you to provide certain documentation or satisfy certain requirements before you can return as a full-time student. These can be found by searching your school’s website, but you should also get written confirmation from school officials so that you can have the documentation when you are ready to return.

Focus on recovery. College can be an amazing time for personal growth, learning, and building relationships. For many students, it can also be a time of high-stress and increased mental health struggles. In order for you to have the best experience possible, it is important to take the time you need to focus on yourself and your mental health.

Click here to find out more about:

What is a Leave of Absence?

When should I consider a Leave of Absence?

How will taking a Leave of Absence affect me?

What are my rights?


Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law—Campus Mental Health Issues

The Bazelon Center has developed resources to support students with mental health needs and to ensure that schools’ actions toward students are nondiscriminatory. The center believes that colleges and universities should be committed to the success of all their students and should encourage students to seek counseling when they feel depressed or overwhelmed or otherwise have mental health needs.

Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights (Download PDF)

Supporting Students: A Model Policy for Colleges and Universities (Download PDF)


Cornell University

“Cornell students may apply for a voluntary leave of absence (a separation of the student from the university) for health reasons. A Health Leave of Absence (HLOA) is recommended when a student’s health condition is judged to significantly impair his or her ability to function successfully or safely as a student. HLOAs are coordinated through Gannett Health Services. It is expected that the time a student takes away from the university for the HLOA is used for treatment and recovery. Gannett provides each student with specific expectations for treatment while away on leave. Compliance with the treatment expectations is a primary factor in Gannett’s eventual decision of whether to clear a student to return to Cornell. Not all situations are similar. The amount of time students take for a HLOA will vary depending on circumstances (such as treatment recommendations, and time needed to assure recovery of health and re-establish the ability to sustain health). A Gannett clinician or counselor will provide treatment recommendations as part of the HLOA agreement.”

Click here for more information on Cornell University’s medical leave of absence policy.


Ithaca College

“Students who must leave the College because of medical or psychological conditions that necessitate their extended absence may request a medical leave of absence for up to two semesters. Application forms for medical leaves of absence are available at Hammond Health Center. Applications for medical leave for the current semester must be submitted no later than the last day of classes as published in the academic calendar. Students with significant medical/psychological issues that arise during the final exam period should contact the dean’s office in which their major resides, and may also wish to apply for a medical leave for the following semester. Documentation of the serious nature of the medical/psychological condition must be provided, by a certified medical or mental health professional, to Hammond Health Center in order for the application to be complete. Approval must be given by the Director of Health Services, who may consult with the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services and other relevant professionals and/or campus administrators.”

Click here for more information on Ithaca College’s medical leave of absence policy.


Tompkins Cortland Community College

“Students needing a documented leave of absence must petition the Associate Dean for Curriculum and Academic Records for such a leave. A leave of absence may be granted only in extenuating circumstances, such as illness or other unusual personal hardship and requires detailed documentation. A leave of absence may not exceed two consecutive semesters (not including the semester in which the leave is granted or summers). Students granted a leave of absence before the end of a semester shall receive a grade of W, WP, or WF according to the current withdrawal policy.”

Click here for more information on Tompkins Cortland Community College’s medical leave of absence policy.