Academic Leave for Graduate Students

Graduate students are expected to maintain active status through continuous registration from the time they matriculate until they graduate. However, the Office of Graduate Studies recognizes that sometimes life events may make it impossible to continue active participation in a degree program. An Academic Leave of Absence makes it possible for a student to temporarily suspend his or her graduate studies and the pursuit of a degree.  Providing a process for students to request—and take—an approved leave of absence from their studies for a specified period of time ensures that students have an opportunity to return to the University under the rules and policies in effect when they left and without affecting their time to degree.

Academic Leave of Absence Policy

An Academic Leave of Absence may be granted to students for illness or injury, to provide care or assistance for family and dependents, to meet military service obligations, or for other personal reasons.

Under this policy, active study can be suspended for one semester or more (up to a full academic year) during which the student would not be expected to make progress toward their degree. Students granted an approved Academic Leave of Absence are not required to register for any credit hours for the period covered by the approved Academic Leave of Absence. For Ph.D. students in candidacy, an Approved Academic Leave of Absence substitutes for the continuous enrollment requirement.

Students are expected to return from an Academic Leave of Absence. Students with an approved Academic Leave of Absence do not need to be readmitted.

Students considering an Academic Leave of Absence are strongly encouraged to discuss the impact of a leave on their plan of study with the graduate chair and their faculty advisor and develop a strategy for completing the degree program. When possible, students and faculty are encouraged to explore alternatives to an Academic Leave of Absence, so that students can remain registered and make progress toward the degree, even if at a slower pace.  In some cases, there may be better alternatives to taking an official Academic Leave of Absence, for example: modifying program expectations; reducing coursework, research, teaching or other educational responsibilities; working at a slower pace; delaying milestone deadlines; or taking incompletes in the current semester with a plan to address them at a later time. Such within-semester alternatives allow a student to maintain eligibility for student services.

Students on leave are entitled to:

  • Return as a graduate student to the graduate program without reapplying
  • Maintain access to their UNL email account

Students on leave are not entitled to:

  • Hold graduate student assistantships or other student work titles
  • Faculty and staff counsel/resources (very limited counsel/resources are permitted)
  • Examinations of any type (except for language competency)
  • Thesis/dissertation filing
  • Library services (only currently enrolled UNL students are allowed to use the Library; however, you may apply for a library card as a “community member”) 
  • UNL Healthy Option Plan
  • UNL Rec Center
  • UNL fellowship support
  • UNL graduate awards
  • Receive most forms of University financial support.

Students must remain registered if making extensive use of University resources or faculty time.



  • Be a graduate student in good standing (3.0 or above).
  • Satisfy any graduate program policies pertaining to an approved Academic Leave of Absence.
  • Get approval from their graduate program.
  • Have sufficient prior enrollment:
    • US citizens and US permanent residents must have registered for at least one semester of graduate study at UNL.
    • International students must have registered full time (9 or more credits) for three consecutive semesters.
  • Have no course enrollments for the duration of the leave.
    • If already enrolled in courses during the leave term(s), students must officially withdraw from those courses via MyRED or the Office of the Registrar.
  • If international, get approval from the International Student and Scholars Office (ISSO).
    • US immigration regulations may restrict the eligibility of an international student for a leave of absence, so international students must consult with the ISSO. The ISSO can update the student’s SEVIS record if needed, or, if the proposed leave is not permitted by immigration regulations, assist the student and faculty advisor on other possible courses of action.

Caveats and limitations

  • An Academic Leave of Absence can be granted for current and/or future semesters only. An Academic Leave of Absence cannot be approved for prior semesters.
  • The time limit for reaching candidacy or for completing the Ph.D. degree would be extended only by the number of semesters the student is on leave.
  • With the exception of a leave for military service, a student may be on leave for no more than one full academic year (fall, spring, and summer) without approval of the Dean of Graduate Studies.
  • A student who has been suspended for academic or non-academic reasons would not be eligible to apply for a leave of absence. A student on an approved leave of absence who subsequently is suspended will have the leave rescinded.

Implications for Students

No tuition and fees would be charged for the period during which a student is on an Academic Leave of Absence. An Academic Leave of Absence may have implications for a student’s federal financial aid and loans. Students should consult with the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid to determine how a leave status might affect their aid and eligibility to defer loan repayment. It is the responsibility of the student to contact their loan agency to verify their loan status before applying for an Academic Leave of Absence.

Other impacts on students taking an approved Academic Leave of Absence may include:

  • Limited access to University services that allow them to remain current in their field of study and connected to their program;
  • Loss of benefits that accompany registered status (i.e., tuition remission, student insurance)
  • Significantly reduced access to University facilities or services normally available to registered students, including the use of laboratories, equipment, and other research facilities;
  • Significantly reduced access to faculty or administrative staff except for planning the transition back to registered status; and
  • Loss of eligibility for University fellowship support, University research grants, or other financial aid.

A student on an approved Academic Leave of Absence cannot take qualifying examinations for advancement to candidacy or final examinations for the degree, nor pursue their graduate studies on the campus in any other manner. A student may not receive academic credit for work done at another institution during the leave period unless an exception is approved in advance by the faculty advisor and the Dean of Graduate Studies.

A student on leave may not hold a graduate assistantship appointment.

Doctoral students in candidacy who do not have an approved Academic Leave of Absence and who are not continuously enrolled for at least one credit hour during each fall and spring semester until receiving the doctoral degree (even if they have met the total dissertation hours on their approved Program of Study) will be dismissed from their graduate program.


Requesting a Leave

Graduate students who wish to apply for an Academic Leave of Absence should consult with their graduate program chair and their faculty advisor to determine whether requesting an academic leave of absence is the most appropriate course of action. The student and the graduate program chair or director should discuss possible alternatives to a leave of absence.

Once a student decides that he or she needs to take a leave and has discussed the leave with his or her faculty advisor/supervisor, the student should complete an Academic Leave of Absence form and submit it to the Office of Graduate Studies with the required signatures. Requests for an Academic Leave of Absence must be approved by the student’s Supervisory Chair and the graduate program chair with concurrence of the UNL Dean of Graduate Studies. The student, the graduate chair, and the faculty supervisor will receive an email confirming that the request has been made, along with a copy of the signed Academic Leave of Absence form.

Extending a Leave

The Office of Graduate Studies recognizes there may be extenuating circumstances that could cause a student to request an extended Academic Leave of Absence. To extend an approved leave of absence, a student must notify the graduate program chair and his/her advisor at least four weeks prior to the end of the semester in which the leave terminates. An extension requires approval of the department. The International Student and Scholar Office (ISSO) must approve an Academic Leave of Absence for all international students.

Returning from Leave

Students on academic leave are required to notify the Office of Graduate Studies and their graduate program, in writing, of their intention to return.  To return from an approved Academic Leave of Absence, a student sends an email to at least four weeks prior to the end of the Academic Leave of Absence (Subject: Returning from Academic Leave).  The Masters or Doctoral Specialist will notify the graduate chair and the faculty advisor of the student’s intent to return.