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 Close-up of gingko leaves at the Windhover contemplative center. Credit: Linda Cicero

Taking a Leave of Absence

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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.

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.

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.

For official information on Stanford’s Leave of Absence policy and procedure, consult the Student Services Policy pages and the Registrar's pages linked below. In case of any accidental discrepancies between this page and those resources, the Student Services and Registrar's sites take precedence.

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."

Stanford Bulletin: Voluntary Leaves of Absence for Undergraduate Students
Stanford Bulletin: Voluntary Leaves of Absence for Coterminal Students
Student Services: Leaves of Absence
Student Services: Military Leaves of Absence

Leaving, and Returning to Stanford

Not sure where to begin?  Academic Advising has published a booklet to help you prepare for your time away.  In these pages you will find information about the University's leave and reinstatement policy, commonly asked questions, a checklist of things to address as you prepare for your time away, and resources available to you during that time as well as during your transition back to the University. Remember that life takes many different paths and that you are not alone.

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Click on the full screen icon to see a larger view, or read the Leaving, and Returning to Stanford booklet here.

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. 
  • 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. 
  • Are you a student on active duty taking a Leave of Absence for military reasons?  In this case, your Leave can exceed one year, and any Leave quarters related to your military service will not subtract from your 8 total allowed quarters of Leave.  
  • If you currently 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, go to the "My Academics" dropdown menu, and navigate to “Student eForms.” Click on “Browse Available Forms” and search for "Leave of Absence for Undergraduates."

Note that submitting the form online is not enough! You will still need to meet with your Academic Advisor to discuss your situation before they can endorse your eForm. The eForm also requires other electronic signatures, so make sure to leave yourself enough time to connect with each office and for each relevant office to review your situation.

As you consider your Leave of Absence, you may want to consult the following people and offices:

  • Meet with your Academic Advisor to discuss your situation and any relevant academic ramifications.
  • If you are requesting a military Leave of Absence, contact the VA Certification Officer at to provide documentation confirming your service requirement, including the start and end dates. (For international military service, your documentation must be in English.) The VA Certification Officer will provide you with a certification letter, which you will need to attach to your LOA eForm. 
  • Connect with your Resident Director to seek guidance through the process and determine if there are any residential impacts.
  • If you would like to talk through your plan but you aren’t sure where to start, you can reach out to the Dean of Students office at

Once you have decided to take a Leave of Absence you should:

  • Review the terms of a Leave of Absence and submit the eForm through Axess.
  • Meet with your Academic Advisor to discuss your situation and get their endorsement on the Leave of Absence eForm.
  • The Dean of Students office will also review your situation and may reach out to you regarding any support that may be helpful to your specific circumstances.
  • If you are requesting a military Leave of Absence, be sure to attach the certification letter you receive from the VA Certification Officer to your eForm.
  • If you are an international student, you must also contact a Bechtel International Center advisor and get their endorsement on the eForm.  This signature must be received before your Academic Advisor can sign off on your Leave of Absence request.
  • If you are a Coterm student with your undergraduate career still open, you must also contact your graduate major department and obtain a departmental endorsement on the eForm. If you have closed your undergraduate career, any leaves will be processed by your graduate department.
  • 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 Term Withdrawal deadline (usually end of week 6)*

*Please check the Academic Calendar for this quarter's Term Withdrawal deadline
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 Term Withdrawal deadline (usually end of week 6)*

*Please check the Academic Calendar for this quarter's Term Withdrawal deadline
Leaves of Absence can sometimes be taken after the Term 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

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.

Help, I've Been Discontinued!

If your Leave of Absence has expired, or you left the university without ever filing for a Leave of Absence, your student status becomes Discontinued.  If you just became Discontinued this quarter, you may still request a Leave of Absence for Discontinued Students before the current quarter ends.  This will change your student status from Discontinued to an active Leave of Absence.  The form and process are very similar to the standard LOA process described above, and will require a meeting with your Academic Advisor and other relevant offices.

Please note that if you became Discontinued in a previous quarter, you can no longer request a Leave of Absence.  When you wish to re-enroll in the university, you must instead go through a special return process called the Request to Return and Register.

Special exceptions for Academic Year 2020-21

Special exceptions to Leave of Absence policy that were in place for the past Academic Year 2020-2021 are no longer active. If you took a leave in 2020-2021 and have questions, reach out to your Academic Advisor.

For the Academic Year 2020-21 only, a Leave of Absence taken in Autumn, Winter, Spring or Summer quarter did not count towards the eight-quarter maximum for undergraduates. 

For the Academic Year 2020-2021 only, first-year students were allowed to take Leaves just like continuing students, and were not required to delay their return until the following Autumn.

For the Academic Year 2020-21 only, the university announced a new policy about "Flex Terms," which were a different category of time away from Stanford only available during that year.

For more details on these past special exceptions, please refer to the 2020-21 Bulletin:

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 After a Leave of Absence page to get our breakdown of the process!

See Also

Return to the Advising Student Handbook