Health Leave of Absence FAQ

  1. What are my options when my health is negatively affecting my academic performance? 
  2. Can I take a reduced load or enroll part-time instead of a health leave of absence? 
  3. Should I tell my academic program/faculty mentors about my health status?
  4. If I have a health issue, do I have to take a health leave of absence (HLOA)?
  5. What is the role of the Graduate School with health leaves?
  6. When would a graduate student need to take a health leave?
  7. How many students take a health leave? 
  8. How many students return to complete their academic programs?
  9. Where can I go for help in talking about a health leave?

What are my options when my health is negatively affecting my academic performance? 

You should not ignore your health concerns. You have two options:

  1. Use personal support networks and Cornell’s support services and resources. Many students find the best place to start is by talking to friends and family, and sometimes your faculty mentor or DGS. Take advantage of campus resources that can help, such as Cornell Health, Student Disability Services, and other offices.
  2. You may want to consider taking a health leave of absence (HLOA) to let you focus solely on your health. The HLOA gives you time to step away and take care of your health while “stopping the clock” on your academic responsibilities. In addition, a HLOA preserves your financial aid (fellowships, assistantship) for when you return..

Can I take a reduced load or enroll part-time instead of a health leave of absence? 

If your health is limiting your ability to be a full-time student, seek additional support through Student Disability Services to determine what accommodations are available to you. A health leave may be your best option to enable you to focus on regaining your health.


Should I tell my academic program/faculty mentors about my health status?

Only Cornell Health care providers need to know the specifics of your health situation. Many faculty appreciate knowing when a student is experiencing health concerns so that they can provide assistance. Deciding what health information to share with whom is a personal choice. 


If I have a health issue, do I have to take a health leave of absence (HLOA)?

Absolutely not! You are the only person who can request a HLOA for yourself. However, Cornell Health may in certain circumstances recommend a HLOA if in their judgment you would benefit from time away from your graduate studies to focus on your health. It is up to you to consider their recommendation, your health needs, and your options. 


What is the role of the Graduate School with health leaves?

The Graduate School serves as a facilitator supporting the student in the process of obtaining a health leave. Our goal is to help make this as smooth as possible for you.

  1. After a student requests a health leave, Cornell Health makes the recommendation to the Graduate School. 
  2. The Graduate School then contacts you and your academic field (including Special Committee Chair and DGS) to discuss the HLOA and to make plans for the health leave and the anticipated return from leave.
  3. Later, when a student is ready to return from health leave, Cornell Health makes the medical health assessment and  then provides their recommendation to the Graduate School. 
  4. In turn, the Graduate School reaches out to all involved to discuss plans to reenroll, including you, your Special Committee Chair, and your DGS. 

When would a graduate student need to take a health leave?

This is a personal decision, but here is some advice about the timing of a HLOA:

  • Take a health leave whenever you feel that this is the best course of action for you.
  • Take a health leave before support from your academic resources dwindles. Typically, faculty members are very helpful and supportive when health is a concern; however, there can be limits to how long they are able to be supportive if your lack of academic progress due to health issues continues for an extended period of time. Aim to time a health leave to occur when you, your Special Committee Chair, and your DGS are in productive communications about your future academic plans.
  • Take a health leave when you are fully informed about support and resources available to you while being on a health leave.  

 How many students take a health leave? 

In the course of a year, on average about 35 graduate students take a health leave, out of an enrolled population of over 5,000.  


How many students return to complete their academic programs?

About 35% of graduate students who take a health leave have returned to complete their academic program within four years. Others return later after taking a personal leave after the maximum four-year health leave or elect to pursue other options. A common thread we hear from students who take a health leave is that it has provided them with some time and relief to sort out what their future would look like, either in graduate studies or choosing a different path. Not returning to graduate studies is not a failure, but reflects changing personal priorities and future goals. Sometimes time away is needed to put your future goals into appropriate perspective and shape a productive path forward.       


Where can I go for help in talking about a health leave?

If you are interested in talking about your individual situation as it relates to the health leave option, please contact Assistant Dean Janna Lamey (janna.lamey@cornell.edu) or Associate Dean Jan Allen (jan.allen@cornell.edu) for a private discussion.