Health Leave of Absence
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Health Leave of Absence
The purpose of the Voluntary Health Leave of Absence (VHLA) is to provide students time away from school for treatment of a physical or mental health condition that impairs a student’s ability to function safely and successfully as a member of our community. The authority to grant a health leave and permission to return from a health leave resides with the university’s Health Leave Team, in consultation with the student’s academic unit, treatment providers, and relevant campus partners. The Health Leave Coordinator aims to support the student through the process, providing information about the tasks associated with a health leave and helping the student to develop and implement a plan to facilitate their recovery and return to school.
How to Request a Voluntary Health Leave of Absence
- Complete the Voluntary Health Leave of Absence Request Form
- Submit a Provider Recommendation Form, completed by your healthcare provider
- Schedule an appointment with a member of the Health Leave Team:
- Complete the Undergraduate Leave of Absence Form (undergraduate students only)
Please submit these forms to your Health Leave Coordinator if you elect to move forward with the health leave. Please keep in mind that the health leave process can occur through phone, Zoom, and email if you need to leave campus to begin treatment and recovery.
Visit USC’s Leave of Absence website to review different departments you may need to check in with when setting up a leave. When exploring the possibility of a health leave, we recommend that students check in with their academic advisors and any other offices that are relevant to their enrollment (e.g. OIS, financial aid, registrar, housing) to determine what kind of impact a health leave might have.
Disability Services and Programs – If you have not already done so, we encourage you to reach out to Disability Services and Program to explore academic accommodations.
Academic Advisor – Your advisor can help you understand how a leave will affect your academics.
Financial Aid– Reach out to Financial Aid or other funding sources to explore the impact of a health leave.
Office of International Services – International students must connect with the Office of International Services (OIS) to discuss any leave.
USC Housing – If you live in USC Housing, contact them to learn more about the cancellation process.
Tuition Refund Insurance – Visit the One Stop website to learn how to file a tuition refund claim.
Student Health Insurance – Contact the Student Health Insurance Office to enroll in LOA insurance or address questions about your student health insurance.
Petition Services – You can initiate petition processes (i.e., late withdrawal) through Petition Services.
PhD Health Leaves
PhD health leave requests are complex, so details will be determined in collaboration with the Health Leave Team and the academic unit. Necessary forms will be determined after meeting with the Health Leave Team. Health leaves are more difficult to implement at advanced stages of PhD studies. Students are encouraged to address their health concerns as early as possible. Please note that extensions of health leave become increasingly difficult to grant the longer a PhD student is away from their program of study.
Request to Return from a Voluntary Health Leave of Absence
When you are ready to return from your health leave, you will need to do the following to request return:
- Complete the Reflective Statement
- Submit the Readiness to Return Form, completed by your healthcare provider
- Schedule a return appointment with your health leave coordinator
The timelines to complete these three steps are below. You can begin the return process no earlier than the first date listed and must complete all three steps above by the final deadline listed for your desired term of return.
- For spring semester return – October 1st-31st (final deadline October 31st)
- For summer semester return – March 1st-31st (final deadline March 31st)
- For fall semester return – June 1st-30th (final deadline June 30th)
If you need to register for classes prior to the deadlines above, you may request a provisional lift of your hold through the Provisional Hold Lift Request Form.
Please note that requests for additional time to complete any component of the return process must be made prior to the final deadline in order to be considered.
Frequently Asked Questions
How would a health leave help me?
Students are encouraged to use health leave time to engage in treatment and other forms of support to address their health concerns. Many students engage in intensive forms of medical or mental health treatment that would not be possible to do while engaging in classwork. In addition to treatment, many students will engage in other activities that increase their sense of well-being and self-knowledge, such as: exercise, yoga, artistic pursuits, and activities with support network.
Can I work or take classes while on health leave?
Students are welcome to engage in forms of employment as needed or that would support their health recovery. USC Leave policy indicates that “It is expected that students will not enroll in courses elsewhere during a leave of absence. However, students who wish to enroll in courses outside USC during a leave of absence may consult with an academic advisor to determine if they are eligible for an Exception to Residence.”
Where do I start if I want to explore a health leave?
Students seeking a health leave of absence will be referred to the Campus Support and Intervention office (213-740-0411, TCC 421) and will be assigned to a Health Leave Coordinator (HLC.) The Coordinator will meet with the student to determine reasons for the leave. The student will complete the Voluntary Health Leave of Absence form and will be required to submit a Provider Recommendation form completed by their health care provider.
If the student is unable to meet with the Health Leave Coordinator or complete the form due to an emergency situation such as hospitalization or inability to function independently, please contact the health leave team to explore options.
What do I do once I decide to request a VHLA?
There may be a number of offices that are involved in assisting a student with departing the university for a health leave such as USC Housing, Parking or Cashier’s Office. Please see the checklist for suggested interaction and notification.
Will I get my tuition back if I am approved for a health leave?
Students are automatically enrolled in for tuition refund insurance each semester, but can elect to opt out of it. To confirm if you have tuition refund insurance, you can contact the Registrar’s Office. If you do have tuition refund insurance and have withdrawn from all of your courses for a health reason, you may be eligible for a tuition refund. This is a separate process from the health leave. The steps for filing a tuition refund insurance can be found here.
When do I drop my courses?
Students do not need to be on a health leave to drop classes and do not need approval from the Health Leave Team to drop classes. It is generally recommended that students check in with the Office of International Services (if applicable), their academic advisor, their Academic Review counselor (if applicable), Financial Aid, support systems, and explore alternatives such as reducing course load prior to making the decision to drop all courses. Students who drop after the seventh week of a semester will receive marks of ‘W’ on their transcript – these marks have no impact on GPA. Students need to drop classes prior to the last day to withdraw for a semester. For information on important deadlines, please check the Schedule of Classes.
How is a health leave different from other leaves of absence?
Students who withdraw from all courses will be directed to choose a type of leave. If the student chooses a health leave, they will be directed to Campus Support and Intervention (CSI) to engage in the health leave process.
Unlike other types of leave, a health leave involves assistance, incentives, and a process through the Health Leave Team. A health leave coordinator offers emotional and logistical support throughout the process. A health leave coordinator will often serve as an advocate for the student to ensure that they are given an optimal opportunity for recovery and a successful return.
What is the difference between a health deferral and a health leave?
When a student in their first semester at USC needs to take time away for health reasons, it is considered a deferral rather than a leave of absence. While the deferral form and process are slightly different, a student requesting a health deferral will still be referred to the Health Leave Team to engage in the health leave process. They will also be expected to engage in the readiness to return process when they wish to return to USC.
What happens to my financial aid?
Each student’s financial aid package is unique. It is recommended that each student speaks to Financial Aid directly as a part of exploring a health leave.
What is the last day I can apply for a health leave?
Students may apply for a health leave up to the last day of classes, as specified in the Schedule of Classes. Health leaves cannot be granted retroactively after a semester has been completed.
Who has access to information about my health leave?
The Health Leave Team will consult with the academic unit and other relevant campus partners who may be involved in the student’s request (i.e. Financial Aid, Residential Education, Housing, Student Judicial Affairs) to determine recommendations for the student’s departure from and return to the university. The Health Leave Team and other university personnel will exercise discretion in only sharing the minimum details about the student’s medical condition as necessary to facilitate the student’s health leave or to protect the university community’s health, safety, and educational interests. In some situations, the student may be asked to sign a release to permit their health leave coordinator to communicate with the student’s healthcare providers during the student’s leave or to facilitate internal discussions regarding the implementation of the student’s health leave.
What does a health leave look like for a PhD student?
Due to the unique nature of each PhD program at the university, PhD students interested in a health leave will need to meet with a health leave coordinator to develop an individualized health plan and an individualized academic plan designed to address the specifics of their situation and academic program. These plans are developed through an interactive process involving the Health Leave Coordinator, the student, the academic unit, and the Graduate School. Health leaves are more difficult to implement at the advanced stages of PhD studies. Students are encouraged to address their health concerns as early as possible.
What will be required for me to return?
The student and their health leave coordinator will create an individualized health leave plan to be completed by the student while on leave. The health leave plan may reference medical treatment recommended by the student’s health care provider and other requirements to return to the university. Completion of this plan is a factor the university considers when students seek to return to the university after their leave. Upon approval of their health leave, students are provided with all the information necessary to request to return from their health leave.
Depending on the student’s individual circumstances, the student and their health leave coordinator may work together to develop a Supportive Return Plan. The Health Leave Coordinator will exercise discretion in disclosing only the minimum information necessary and typically will not need to disclose details about the student’s condition.
Readiness to Return documentation submitted after the deadline may be reviewed on a case by case basis at the discretion of HLC. To return from leave, the student must submit a Readiness to Return form completed by their treating provider to their health leave coordinator. The student may be asked to undergo an evaluation by a healthcare provider designated by the university at the university’s expense. In addition, the student must write a personal statement documenting why they wish to return and for what semester. The personal statement should describe what the student did while on leave; what the student perceives were the reasons for the leave; and what changes, if any, the student plans to implement that will allow the student to safely and effectively meet the requirements of his/her program.
Based on an individualized assessment of the student’s situation, the Health Leave Coordinator will determine whether the student is ready to return. This may be done in consultation with the Health Leave Committee, a group comprised of representatives from departments such as Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, Student Counseling Services, Disability Services, Student Judicial Affairs, and others as appropriate.
The student may be asked to sign an Authorization for Disclosure of Information form as part of the university’s process of obtaining adequate information to facilitate the student’s return. Depending on the student’s individual circumstances, the student and the Health Leave Coordinator may work together to develop a supportive return plan. The Health Leave Coordinator will exercise discretion in disclosing only the minimum information necessary and typically will not need to disclose details about the student’s condition.
Once the return from the VHLA is approved, the HLC would lift the hold and inform relevant campus partners (i.e. academic unit, program, the Graduate School) that the student is returning. Students returning from leave may need to work with several campus departments, including Housing, Financial Aid, Disability Services and Programs, the Registrar, etc. To help coordinate among these units in facilitating the return, returning students are encouraged to contact the USC Support and Advocacy Team.
Can international students take a health leave?
Yes, international students are eligible to request a health leave. International students must meet with an advisor in the Office of International Services (OIS) before finalizing plans for their leave. Students can either return to their home country or remain in the U.S. to receive medical treatment if recommended by a doctor. The student may request the health leave through a health leave coordinator, who would collaborate with the student, their healthcare provider, and the Office of International Services (OIS) to determine the necessary steps for approval of the leave request.
What if I have an SJACS case?
A student involved in a potential disciplinary process or in poor academic standing may still request a health leave. An individualized determination will be made by the university in consultation with the student about whether the discipline or academic process should proceed or wait for the student’s return.
How long is a typical health leave?
A health leave is on average 1-2 semesters, but the goal is that they are long enough for the recommended treatment or care to take place. A health leave resolves or ends when a student is able to demonstrate that they are capable of meeting the rigors of their academic program.
Can I apply for a health leave for a semester that has passed?
A health leave cannot be granted retroactively.
How would health leave affect my GPA or my transcript?
If a student withdraws during the add/drop period, there will not be any notation on the transcript and they will receive a full tuition refund. If a student withdraws between the third and seventh week of the semester, the student will not have any marks of “W” on their transcript but can only pursue a tuition refund through tuition refund insurance. If a student withdraws between the seventh and twelfth weeks, a mark of “W” will appear on their official transcript. In all cases, a mark of “W” does not affect a student’s GPA, so a health leave will not affect the student’s grade point average. While a student may have a mark of “W” on their transcript, a health leave is not denoted on an official transcript.
How would a health leave impact my financial aid or the money that has been paid for my tuition?
Students electing to take a health leave may be eligible to apply for tuition refund if they have tuition refund insurance. This is a separate process from the health leave. If a student opted out of tuition refund insurance, they should contact their health leave coordinator to explore other options. Students should contact Financial Aid directly to learn about any impact a health leave might have on their aid.
Can I extend my health insurance?
Students may be eligible for one semester of Leave of Absence Health Insurance and will need to contact the Student Health Insurance Office to learn if they might be eligible.
What offices do I need to contact as a part of my health leave?
Students will be provided a checklist to help them navigate key university processes. The student is responsible for contacting any office or resources that may be relevant. This may include processes through OIS, Housing, Financial Aid, Academic Review and Retention, the Registrar, the Student Health Insurance Office, relevant scholarship offices, USCard, USC Transportation, and others.
What if my request for return for a particular semester is denied?
If the student’s request to return from health leave is denied, the student may appeal the decision to the Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention. The appeal must be submitted in writing within 10 business days of the decision. The appeal will be reviewed by the Health Leave of Absence Appeals Committee (HLAAC), which will make a recommendation to the Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, with the Vice Provost affording significant weight to the committee’s recommendation. The Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention will respond to the student’s appeal within three business days of the HLAAC’s recommendation. This decision constitutes the final decision of the university.