Below are the Harvard Graduate School of Design's policies for students on Leave of Absence (LOA). To obtain the Leave of Absence petition please contact the Registrar.
Voluntary Leaves of Absence
The deadline to petition for a leave of absence during the spring 2021 semester is November 2.
Students who wish to halt their studies at any time prior to graduation may request a leave of absence. Requests for a leave of absence are approved by a student's Program Director. With respect to a voluntary leave of absence for medical reasons, the Dean of Students may consult with Harvard University Health Services (which may consider information from the student’s current and/or former health care providers, if made available by the student).
Leaves of Absence for Master's Degree Students
A student may take a voluntary Leave of Absence for not more than one year, or two academic terms. A student must have been enrolled for at least one semester prior to taking a leave. Occasionally, a Program Director might approve the extension of a Leave of Absence beyond one academic year, or two terms, for medical reasons, in consultation with the Dean of Students. Absences beyond four consecutive semesters for any reason are not allowed. The deadline for application for a leave of absence is June 15th for fall semester or full year leaves, and November 2 for spring semester leaves. Leaves for personal emergencies or medical issues will be accepted at any time. Students interested in pursuing a leave should contact the Registrar and, after receiving the leave petition, have their Program Director sign it, in addition to the Financial Aid Office, if on aid or a have a loan. International students will also need to fill out and complete an HIO-specific form.
Note that depending on the number of leave petitions received, and the timing of your planned return to the GSD, due to possible space constraints, a lottery may need to be held to determine if you will be able to return during the semester you have indicated. You will be informed if there will be a need for such a lottery approximately one week after you submit the petition to the registrar. You will have one week to rescind your leave after you have been informed about this.
The deadline for taking a LOA without becoming liable for payment of tuition is listed in the Academic Calendar and under the section on Tuition and Expenses. After that date, tuition is charged to the end of the tuition period in which a student takes a LOA.
If students wish to continue their health insurance while on leave, they must contact the Member Services Office at 617-495-2008. A student who fails to register for the next regular academic term following a leave of absence will be withdrawn automatically as of the end of the term in which the Leave of Absence expired. A student who is withdrawn must reapply for admission.
Financial aid recipients must reapply for financial aid, generally by mid-February of the previous academic year, for the term in which they return.
If approved, an MDE student may take a full-year leave of absence (LOA). Due to the sequential nature of the program, students may not take a single-semester LOA.
MArch and MDES students who plan on taking a leave of absence for any length of time must speak with the Registrar about the ramifications this will have on their ability to “split” during their last semester at the GSD. In order to be eligible to “split,” MArch and MDES students' final semesters must be slated to be a Fall semester. That is, “splits” may only begin with a Fall semester and end with a Spring semester. “Splits” can never start in a Spring semester.
Leaves of Absence for International Students
International students who plan on taking a leave of absence may want to speak with the GSD's contact at the Harvard International Office (HIO), Ivana Hrga-Griggs, about the immigration-related ramifications of taking a leave, particularly potential ramifications on optional practical training (OPT) and curricular practical training (CPT) eligibility. International students who take a leave of absence must be aware of how this might affect his or her visa status and practical training eligibility. Please go to the HIO web site to to make an appointment in order to speak with Ivana about this. The HIO is located on the eighth floor of the Smith Student Center in Harvard Square.
Leaves of Absence for Doctoral Students
A Doctor of Design student may apply to the Advanced Studies Programs (ASP) committee for a leave of absence of up to two semesters after the first year of study, provided the general examination has been passed. Such a leave of absence may be used for collection of data, related field research, or for personal reasons. Students with health or medical issues requiring a leave of absence should likely meet with the Dean of Students, who will help the student make appropriate arrangements for the duration of the leave as well as plans to return, and will ensure compliance with all academic rules. Regardless of a leave of absence, the residency requirement for the Doctor of Design program is four academic semesters, and the maximum length of time for the program is four academic years since matriculation. A student must be registered for the semester in which the thesis is submitted for approval.
Involuntary Leaves of Absence
Under certain circumstances, a student may be placed on an involuntary leave of absence. An involuntary leave of absence is not a disciplinary sanction. However, an incident that gives rise to a leave of absence, whether voluntary or involuntary, may subsequently be the basis for disciplinary action. A student who prefers to take a voluntary leave of absence for medical reasons rather than to be placed on an involuntary leave of absence for medical reasons is ordinarily allowed to do so. Transcripts do not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary leaves of absence.
An involuntary leave of absence may be required for the following reasons:
- Medical circumstances: (a) The student’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of any person, or has seriously disrupted others in the student’s residential community or academic environment; and (b) either the student’s threatening, self-destructive, or disruptive behavior is determined to be the result of a medical condition or the student has refused to cooperate with efforts by Harvard University Health Services to determine the cause of the behavior. The decision to place a student on an involuntary leave of absence for health related reasons is made in consultation with Harvard University Health Services (which may consider information from the student’s current and/or former health care providers, if made available by the student), after an individualized assessment of all of the pertinent factors, such as: the nature of the student’s conduct; the nature, duration and severity of the risk; the likelihood of potential injury; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices or procedures will mitigate the risk. However, reasonable modifications do not include changes that would fundamentally alter the academic program or unduly burden the School’s resources or staffing capabilities or, with respect to the required level of care or monitoring, that would exceed the standard of care that a university health service can be expected to provide.
- Alleged criminal behavior: The student has been arrested on allegations of serious criminal behavior or has been charged with such behavior by law enforcement authorities.
- Risk to the community. The student has been charged with a violation of a disciplinary rule of the School, and his or her presence on campus poses a significant risk to the safety of others or to the educational environment of the community.
- The student’s term bill is unpaid and the student has not made arrangements acceptable to the School to address the issue.
- Failure to provide medical documentation of required immunizations.
- Unfulfilled academic requirements. The student has not met an academic requirement and has not taken steps acceptable to the School to meet the requirement.
- Failure to register. The student has not registered as required at the beginning of each term.
The decision to place a student on involuntary leave is made by the Dean of Students in consultation with the executive dean and the student’s program director. As noted above, in the case of an involuntary leave of absence for medical reasons, the School will consult with an appropriate person at Harvard University Health Services.
A student is notified in writing that he or she has been placed on involuntary leave. The student may petition the Dean of Students for reconsideration and may appeal a final decision to the Dean of the School.
Leaves of Absence/Withdrawals and Financial Aid
In cases where the student has been the recipient of financial assistance in the form of loans or scholarships, withdrawal may result in a refund of all or part of the aid to the lender or granting agency. The net amount of refund which is payable to the student shall be paid directly to the student after disbursements to lenders or scholarship funds have been made. A special refund rule applies to Title IV student aid which includes Stafford Unsubsidized Loans and GradPLUS loans. This may necessitate repayment of a portion of the student’s Stafford loan to the federal government or to his/her lending institution. Students who are taking a leave of absence and have received federal or alternative loans will enter their grace period and/or possibly repayment depending on prior enrollment history. It is the student’s responsibility to contact the Financial Aid office before taking their leave, in order to understand loan implications. For federal aid borrowers who leave during the semester, a calculation will be performed to determine how much federal loan money the student is entitled to keep. The number of days in the semester is compared to the number of days completed before the leave. For example, a student who has completed 17% of the days in a semester can maintain 17% of the federal loans disbursed (or set to disburse) for that semester. The Financial Aid Office will perform a calculation and advise the student. The student always has the option to cancel all of their loans. For the purposes of the federal aid calculation, the date of the leave/withdrawal is the date the student signed the Petition for Leave/Withdrawal (petitions will only be accepted if all required signatures are provided). The official end of the enrollment date may be different from the federal calculation date. If a student does not complete the Leave petition, then we will use the date of any written correspondence or communications related to the leave.
While on Leave of Absence
Any student who goes on leave of absence during the academic year is charged tuition and any applicable fees, including rent, to the end of the period in which he or she leaves. Students receiving scholarship or other financial aid should consult the Financial Aid Office concerning the financial implications of going on leave. Foreign students should consult the International Office concerning their status.
Libraries and other facilities normally may be used only by students who are currently registered (see below). Students on leave may not participate in extracurricular activities. Exceptions to this rule must be specifically approved in advance by the School. If so instructed by the Dean of Students, a student on leave must remain away from the University campus.
Students going on leave are reminded that all degree candidates, whether currently registered or not, are expected to maintain a satisfactory standard of conduct.
Following an individualized assessment, the School may require students who are on leave for medical reasons to comply with a treatment plan during their time away.
Students do not have active ID cards while they are on Leave of Absence.
Access to GSD Computing Resources
Students' GSD email accounts remain active for the duration of their Leave of Absence; however, GSD computer accounts are disabled. Students on leave do not have any access to Design School computing facilities or technical support. Special circumstances, such as required computer course work to be completed, must be arranged with the Dean of Students and Director of Computer Resources.
For policies regarding library access while on a leave of absence, please consult the Loeb Library's information here.
The date a student goes on leave will affect the student's health insurance through Harvard. For details, review the leave of absence policy on the HUHSP website, or contact the Student Health Insurance Office, Member Services, at 617-495-2008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students cannot maintain leases on Harvard housing while on leave, or reside in Harvard dormitories.
Letter of Certification
Students on a Leave of Absence may request a Letter of Certification via the Document Request Form. The Letter of Certification will state the date that you began your course of study at the GSD, the fact that you are on an approved Leave of Absence, as well as the date you are expected to receive your degree.
Returning to School
A student in good standing on a voluntary leave of absence is expected to return to the school after the term(s) of the leave noted on the student's leave petition. It remains the student’s responsibility to ensure that he or she has adequate time to complete the degree within the time limits established by the School.
Students who were not in good standing at the time a voluntary leave of absence was granted, or students who were placed on an involuntary leave of absence for non-medical reasons, need to petition the Dean of Students for permission to return to the School and must demonstrate that the circumstances that led to their leave have been satisfactorily addressed and that they are ready to resume their studies. The decision whether to allow a student to return is made by the Dean of Students, in consultation with the chairperson of the Administrative Board or such other person as the Dean designates.
If the leave was involuntary for medical reasons, the student must petition the Dean of Students for permission to return to the School and must demonstrate that the circumstances that led to their leave have been satisfactorily addressed and that they are ready to resume their studies, among other measures. In addition, so that the School may conduct an individualized assessment of their circumstances, students on involuntary medical leave ordinarily will be required to consult with Harvard University Health Services (and to grant permission to Harvard University Health Services to obtain their treatment records and communicate with their treatment providers) so that a professional assessment about the student’s stability and readiness to return can be shared with the School. The decision whether to allow a student to return is made by the Dean of Students in consultation with the executive dean and the student’s program director.
Please also note that if the School learns of serious concerns about the health or well-being of a student who is away from School for any reason, the School may require the student to consult with Harvard University Health Services (and to grant permission to Harvard University Health Services to obtain their treatment records and communicate with their treatment providers) so that a professional assessment about the student’s stability and readiness to return can be shared with the School. In all such cases, the decision whether to allow a student to return is made by the Dean of Students in consultation with the executive dean and the student’s program director.
Any disciplinary matter must be resolved before a student on leave of absence will be allowed to return and, if the student has been required to withdraw while on leave of absence, then any conditions for return after a required withdrawal also must be satisfied.
Students returning from a leave who wish to apply for financial aid must notify the Financial Aid Office and file the necessary application forms by mid-April for the following fall term, and by October 1 for the following spring term. Late applicants cannot be assured that their aid will be available in time for registration payment deadlines.
Students who have been granted a leave and who have borrowed money through Harvard must submit an annual loan deferment form to the Student Loan Office upon their return to Harvard. Deferment forms may be obtained through either the Student Loan Office or the Financial Aid Office and must be completed and certified by the Registrar immediately following Registration. Failure to file a deferment form upon return will cause payments to be due on loans and could affect future borrowing eligibility.
A student will not be allowed to register in the University again until all previous term-bill charges have been paid and no loan is in default.
Contracts for Enrollment
The School may condition a student’s enrollment on certain terms or conditions, as set forth in a written contract between the School and the student, when the student’s conduct or circumstances have caused heightened concerns about the student’s safety and/or well-being and: (a) the appropriateness of the student’s continued enrollment; or (b) the student’s readiness to return to the Harvard community. The contract may include, among other things, compliance with a medical treatment plan, regular consultations with health care professionals, communication with administrators, and limited disclosure of relevant medical information, on a need to know basis, such as compliance with treatment and restrictions on certain activities. The decision to require such a contract is arrived at in consultation with Harvard University Health Services after an individualized assessment of the nature of the student’s conduct and circumstances and any other pertinent factors.
A student who wishes to withdraw from the GSD should discuss the matter with his or her assigned faculty advisor or program director and the registrar or the Dean of Students. A letter indicating reasons for withdrawal should then be filed with the registrar. The deadline for withdrawing without becoming liable for payment of tuition is listed in the Academic Calendar and on the registrar's website. After that date, tuition is charged to the end of the tuition period in which a student withdraws. A student who fails to register by the deadline for late registration in a given term will be withdrawn automatically as of that date, unless a leave of absence has been approved. Students who withdraw must reapply for admission.
Leave of Absence/Withdrawals Tuition Charges
The deadline to petition for a leave of absence during the spring semester is November 2.
Go here for general information regarding your student account.
Any student who is granted an exceptional leave or withdraws from the university after the semester begins will be held responsible for tuition charges according to the following schedule:
Fall 2020 Term
- Leaves on or before September 16: no tuition charge
- Leaves on or before October 8: one-fourth tuition charge
- Leaves on or before November 6: one-half tuition charge
- Leaves on or before December 4: three-fourths tuition charge
- After December 4: full tuition charge
Spring 2021 Term
- Leaves on or before February 8: no tuition charge
- Leaves on or before February 26: one-fourth tuition charge
- Leaves on or before March 18: one-half tuition charge
- Leaves on or before April 26: three-fourths tuition charge
- After April 26: full tuition charge
Leave of Absence (LOA) FAQs:
Why are you imposing a November 2 deadline for LOA applications? What happens if a lot of students want to take leaves?
- Each single leave of absence decision, if compounded by large numbers, will have an enormous repercussion on the entirety of our GSD community.
- We need to know enrollment numbers to plan for the number of studios, courses and visiting faculty in order to provide the resources needed for students who will be enrolled in the fall.
- If LOAs occur in large numbers, we may not have enough capacity to accommodate everyone returning in fall 2021 or spring 2022, so we cannot guarantee an immediate return to a chosen semester; we need to know numbers in order to know if we have the capacity to accommodate returning students.
- One option, if request numbers are large, is that we would create a lottery system to ensure equity. Another option we are considering is that LOAs may need to be extended until enrollment normalizes and space is available.
If my situation changes over the fall, can I apply to take a LOA after the deadline?
Late petitions will be considered, but only for extenuating circumstances, i.e. medical issues.
If I take a LOA for the spring semester, can I extend it?
A student can petition for one semester or full year by November 2, and if the original petition is for the spring only, a student can petition to extend to the fall, by the fall petition deadline of June 15.
If my LOA is approved for the spring semester, can I change my mind and enroll?
If a leave petition is approved, a student can request to rescind the petition prior to January 1. All requests will be considered shortly after that date, and granted based on the number of students asking to cancel their planned LOA and the impact on the program(s). Thus the ability to rescind cannot be guaranteed.
Can I extend my health insurance while on a LOA?
The last date of health coverage will be January 31. A Student can pay to extend Harvard-based coverage for four months while on leave. Consult the Member Services web site for more information here.
How do I stay connected to the GSD while on a LOA?
- Students’ GSD email addresses remain active while on leave.
- Students continue to be enrolled in student-announce and gsd-fellow-student but can unsubscribe to gsd-fellow-student at any time.
What are the implications for a LOA for international students?
- Will need to depart the U.S. no later than February 8.
- Will not be eligible for CPT in summer 2021.
- When returning from leave, if students only have one semester of study remaining, they will not be eligible for OPT. Students must be enrolled for two consecutive semesters to be eligible to apply for OPT.
What are the OPT/CPT implications if an international student takes a LOA?
- As an international student, if I take a leave for the spring, can I utilize CPT in summer of 2021?
No, you will not be eligible for CPT in summer 2021.
- As an international student who would be graduating in May, if I take a leave for the spring, would I be eligible for OPT once I return and complete my studies?
To be eligible for OPT, students must maintain their student visa status for two consecutive semesters. If this spring would be your last semester and you take a leave, you will not be eligible for OPT when you return and complete your studies.
Are there specific program restrictions if I take a LOA?
Please speak with your Program Director if you are considering taking a LOA to get the relevant information about your specific program requirements and the impact of a LOA on your progress toward degree completion.