Cornell recognizes that medical and mental health conditions can interfere with a student’s ability to be academically successful. Taking a health leave of absence (HLOA) provides students with a break from their studies to attend to treatment or management of a health condition. Any Cornell student can request to take an HLOA. The university’s goal is to enable students to address their health needs and return to complete their academic program.
In essence, a health leave of absence is a voluntary separation from the university for health reasons and allows the student to “stop the clock” on academic responsibilities while prioritizing health needs.
In some cases, reasonable accommodations may enable a student to complete academic coursework and remain on campus rather than taking an HLOA. A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities is considered a disability and may warrant accommodations. A person who has a history of such an impairment or who is perceived by others as having such an impairment may also be eligible for accommodations (ADA). All students who are considering an HLOA are encouraged to consult with Student Disability Services to discuss eligibility for accommodations before requesting an HLOA.
Only the student can initiate the voluntary process. Graduate and professional students should be informed of the health leave of absence status, especially if health is negatively impacting academic performance.
Any student who may be interested in initiating a health leave of absence should seek guidance from their health care provider, the Health Leaves Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org), or the Graduate School to help determine when this course of action is appropriate. Some common signs that a health leave might be beneficial include:
- Your medical condition has made it difficult for you to focus or concentrate.
- Your medical condition has left you lacking the motivation needed to successfully pursue graduate studies.
- Your medical condition has made it difficult to complete your academic or research requirements.
Often graduate and professional students will take a health leave of absence when:
- The individual students believe this is the best course of action for them.
- There has been a medical assessment from a provider who has recommended that the student take a break from their academic pursuits.
- Before the quality of their academic responsibilities suffer and becomes noticeable by the faculty. 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.
Length of leave
The duration of the leave will depend upon the time you need for treatment and/or recovery, along with the resolution of any academic conditions determined by your graduate program.
The Graduate School allows health leave of absence status at increments of 12 months with a possible annual renewal for up to four years total. Depending on your academic program will determine the flexibility of when you will be able to return. You may not return from a leave within the semester that the leave was taken and you must return at the start of the Fall, Spring or Summer semesters.
For F-1 and J-1 International Students – Please note that if you choose to remain in the U.S. during your leave, you will need to maintain your student visa status. A reduced course load (i.e. health leave) is permitted for up to 12 months. For each semester of medical leave, you must provide medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist to substantiate the illness or medical condition. Please consult with the Office of Global Learning if you have more questions about the impact health leave of absence will have on your immigration status.
Time to degree
Time away does not count toward time to degree.
Financial support is not available to a student on a health leave. By policy, “Students returning from approved health leave of absence within the four-year window are guaranteed any financial support remaining from their original offer of admission modified by any written changes to the financial commitment made prior to the health leave of absence, although the specific duties associated with that support may be adjusted and the return shall be timed to coincide with normal funding cycles.” Note: For U.S. citizens with educational loans, the repayment grace period starts the date the loans become active.
While you are on an HLOA, you will not be a registered student. This will have an impact on your access to university services, but there are some resources, particularly on the Ithaca campus, that students on HLOA can continue to use.
In brief, if you are on a health leave, you will no longer have access to campus facilities and services that you would normally access with your NetID. However, your Cornell email will remain for the duration of your health leave of absence. You may request library privileges with support from your academic advisor and director of graduate studies, and pay any applicable fees.
Review your health insurance coverage to find out how it might be impacted by an HLOA.
- Students who take HLOA mid-plan year may retain their Student Health Plan (SHP) coverage through the end of the plan year (through June 30). Visit the Student Health Benefits website or contact the Office of Student Health Benefits at email@example.com for detailed guidance about options for extending coverage.
- If you have another health insurance plan, contact the plan provider to clarify coverage using the phone number on your insurance card. In some cases, you may need to apply for continuation of coverage.
Access at Cornell Health
Students who are on a health leave of absence are not eligible to use Cornell Health services (including both medical and mental health services), except for pharmacy. If you elect to go on a health leave of absence, Cornell Health will be able to aid in transferring care from Cornell Health to other providers in the community and beyond. This is true for all students on a health leave regardless of individual health insurance plan.
Taking a leave of absence may have implications for an international student’s visa status. If you are on an F-1 or J-1 student visa, you will need written documentation from a health care provider recommending a leave of absence or reduced course load for medical or mental health reasons. Immigration rules for a health leave of absence or reduced course load may not coincide with Cornell’s health leave requirements and limitations. Please contact the Office of Global Learning to discuss the impact of an HLOA on your visa status.
An important part of the process in taking a health leave of absence is that each graduate and professional degree student will receive an academic plan that is expected to be completed prior to returning to registered student status. The purpose of the academic plan is to:
- Determine if you have any outstanding academic work that should be addressed prior to returning from a health leave. It is not meant to be punitive or represent additional work, but instead should address delays or poor academic performance to any academic milestones that likely could not be addressed due to your health while here. Examples include incomplete coursework, drafts of outstanding papers, etc.
- Reiterate any future academic expectations to allow you to fully understand what would be expected upon return. Examples include timing of exams, additional required coursework, etc.
- Any specific needs that supports a smooth transition back into the program. Examples include informing program with plans to return (i.e. needing x months of lead time to secure funding), when a student can return (i.e. only x semester because of course sequencing), etc.
The plan may state that there is nothing academically for you to do during a health leave of absence but take care of health.
Initiating the health leave of absence process
The complete steps to initiate the process are outlined on the Student Disability Services (SDS) Health Leave of Absence webpage.
If you don’t know where to start or whom to contact, please email the Health Leaves Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org, who will work with you to facilitate consultations between you, your health care provider, SDS, and your college/school before granting a health leave of absence. If you would like to discuss your situation confidentially and evaluate all options in managing health with your academics and are not sure where to start, please contact Janna Lamey (email@example.com).
Return from the health leave of absence
When you are ready to return from an HLOA, you will need to complete a series of administrative processes that is outlined on the SDS HLOA webpage. You will need to make the request through the Health Leaves Coordinator, submit documentations that indicates your fitness to resume your education at Cornell, confirmation that your academic plan has been successfully completed, and consult with the Health Leaves Coordinator, SDS, Graduate School, and a health care provider. While requests to return from a health leave of absence will be accepted on a rolling basis to offer flexibility and accommodate each student’s individual health situation and academic program, please note the deadlines outlined.
Learn more about health leaves
- Read Student Disability Services Health Leave of Absence page
- Read University Policy 7.1 on voluntary leaves of absence for students
- Contact Cornell Health Leaves Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Contact Janna Lamey (email@example.com), senior assistant dean for graduate student life
See the complete FAQ.
- Graduate and Professional Student Parental Accommodation, Policy 1.6
- Graduate Student Assistantships, Policy 1.3
- Cornell Student Disability Services Office
Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life