What You Need to Know Before You Take Time Off

It’s hard to have any idea what a fall semester on campus will look like right now. Even with a few more concrete outlines from the college, there is still much uncertainty: What will campus life look like beyond the classroom? What if there is a worse second spike of the coronavirus as the nation begins to ease restrictions? Is it safe to travel back to campus? What if my family can’t afford another semester of school right now? Do my future plans make it so I can’t afford not to? 

With all the uncertainty looming ahead, one question looms most prominently overhead: what if I just wait it out? 

Two weeks ago, Matthew McGann, the dean of admissions and financial aid and the sponsor of the college’s recent enrollment task force for the upcoming fall semester, sent out a pulse survey to students asking about their plans for the fall semester. The poll asked students to identify if they’re likely to a) return to campus, b) participate in remote learning from home or c) request temporary leave. A June 25 email from President Biddy Martin confirmed that nearly 85 percent of the 1,000 respondents hoped to return to campus, while roughly half of the remaining 15 percent would seek a voluntary leave. 

We all await a clearer picture of what a return to taking classes on campus may look like; remote learning from home is perhaps the most familiar of these options, after we’ve all spent half a semester doing so; but the last option, to take time off, offers perhaps the most certainty for students to control what their fall will look like for themselves. 

The process of requesting time off is tricky to navigate, so The Student has compiled a guide of what might be helpful to know in making this decision.

The college offers an online guide on taking time off here. It outlines three main types of leave: involuntary withdrawals and academic dismissals, educational leave (i.e. semesters abroad/ away) and voluntary withdrawal and medical leaves (which would be the case here). 

Unlike study abroad, there’s no prescribed checklist of preparations to make sure that all the right pieces are in place for departure. However, a good first step is to talk with your advisor about the possibility of taking time off and what that would mean for their academic trajectory of overall well being. Students who want to move forward in the process should consult with your class dean. They can offer some more perspective on taking the time off, and they will ultimately be the ones with whom you need to confirm your intent to take time off. 

There’s no set deadline for when students need to make this decision for leave by — in fact, most semesters, students are still qualified to go on voluntary or medical leave up to seven weeks into a semester —  but the college advises giving your dean and advisor “as much advance notice as possible.” After the college makes its definitive announcement for its fall planning, students have two weeks to notify the college that they intend to take a leave, according to an FAQ concerning the recent modification to the academic schedule.

If you’re considering leave, you should also consult with financial aid officers, the Office of Student Affairs, your department advisor, the career center, resource center staff and those who may be able to offer perspective on how other facets of your college experience may be shaped by leave. 

Before making the decision to leave, it’s also helpful to know what returning entails; this process has a much clearer trajectory. The college gives a clear guide here. The first step is to submit the readmission form, which you must turn in by October 15 if you hope to return for the spring semester and by March 1 if you hope to return the following fall semester (so, in this case, fall 2021). From there, you must submit a personal statement to the Office of Student Affairs about why you chose to leave and what you hope to accomplish upon your return. Lastly, you may also need to have a conversation with your dean about returning. 

Still, so much remains up in the air, as we charge into some of the coronavirus’s darkest and most deadly days as people flock to restaurants and shops around the country. The college is expected to make an announcement on July 1 on its decision and details for a fall campus return. The leave process is one piece of the intricate puzzle that may shift with those new guidelines, and The Student will update this information as it is available.