Understanding Leaves of Absence

We know that there are times when you may want – or need – to temporarily step away from your academic studies. We understand that certain life events – such as becoming a new parent, managing health problems, dealing with family issues, or other life changes make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to make academic progress. A leave of absence enables you to take time to focus on these events, when needed.

What is the leave of absence policy?

The leave of absence policy allows you to take time away from your studies when needed while preserving your place in your academic program. The leave pauses your progress toward completing your degree requirements. You may apply for a one- to three-session leave of absence.

What are the types of leaves of absence?

  1. Medical or Other/Personal leave – You may apply for a one-session to three-session leave of absence if you are facing serious health or personal problems (including mental health-related distress). If you are applying for a medical leave it will be necessary to provide medical documentation. No documentation is required to apply for a leave on personal grounds.
  2. Parental leave – You can take parental leave at the time of your or your partner’s pregnancy, or following the birth or adoption of your children, and/or to provide full-time care during the child’s first year. Parental leave must be completed within 12 months of the date of birth or custody. Where both parents are graduate students taking leave, the combined total number of sessions may not exceed four. Learn about the SGS Parental ​Grant program.
  3. Temporary stop-out – If you are enrolled in a coursework-only program, you have the option to temporarily stop-out and re-register within 12 months, with the approval of your graduate unit, without re-applying to the program. However, unlike a leave of absence, the “stop-out” period is included in the time period for completion of your degree. (If you have questions about the stop-out, please contact Student Academic Services: graduate.information@utoronto.ca.)

Who do I talk to about a leave of absence?

If you feel it would be beneficial, or necessary, to take a leave, you can discuss this option with the graduate coordinator or graduate administrator in your graduate unit, or your supervisor/academic advisor. If you are registered with Accessibility Services or Health and Wellness services at the University, you may also wish to consult with your support person about the option of a leave of absence. If you are an international student, please ensure you meet with an immigration advisor to understand the impact of your potential leave of absence on your status in Canada and post-graduation opportunities, as well as how to best manage your leave. You can reach immigration advisors at isa.cie@utoronto.ca or book an appointment online (remote or in person) via CLNx.

What should I consider if I am contemplating a leave of absence?

Here are a few things to remember if you are considering some time away from your studies:

  • Registration – U of T requires that you be registered for a minimum of one session prior to requesting a leave of absence (i.e. you cannot take a leave in your first session of registration). If you are still in the first session of registration, you may wish to consider a request to defer the start of your program to a future session.
  • Timing – Whenever possible, a leave of absence should coincide with the start and end of a session. If you are able to plan ahead, your leave should begin on the first day of the term, for a period of 4, 8, or 12 months, depending on your needs. Since personal circumstances can change quickly – and unpredictably – SGS does recognize the need for flexibility in this area. If you do require a leave to begin mid-session, you can contact your graduate administrator to discuss arrangements, and they will work with SGS Student Academic Services to arrange the procedural details. Partial refunds of sessional tuition fees are not possible, but funding may be discussed with your graduate unit.
  • Academic/research progress – You should work with your supervisor(s) or graduate coordinator(s) to plan for your leave of absence. While you are on leave, research and other activities may need to move forward. It is important to discuss how the leave of absence will affect your academic progress and the anticipated conditions for resuming your academic progress when your leave ends. We encourage you to schedule meetings to review these issues with your supervisor or graduate coordinator prior to the start of your leave and close to the time of your return, if possible.
  • Degree completion – Every degree has a specified time limit for completion. Your progress towards the completion of your degree is paused for the duration of a leave of absence. That means your degree time limit will be extended by the number of sessions you were on leave to enable you to have time to complete your program.
  • Completion of academic tasks – The leave of absence allows you to take time away from your studies, which includes pausing your engagement in academic work. It is important to remember that your supervisory meetings, committee meetings, and coursework will be suspended until you are registered again.
  • Defending a thesis after a leave – As the leave of absence includes pausing your engagement in academic work, if you return from leave and are ready to defend your doctoral thesis immediately, you will be charged fees for the session(s) in which you were on leave unless special consideration is sought in advance.

What do I need to know about registration, fees, and services?

It’s important to know that you are temporarily withdrawn from your program while on leave, which means you will not be registered as a student or required to pay fees.

In general, unless students on leave opt-in to access services, they will not be able to make full use of university resources – like using the libraries, attending courses, accessing career services, or working/meeting regularly with their supervisor – during this time. This policy is meant to reflect your temporary withdrawal from the program and give you adequate space to focus on personal concerns. (The exception is Health and Wellness services, which we explain below.) 

You can still make individual arrangements with faculty and supervisors to keep in touch during this time in ways that work for all parties. We encourage you to have a conversation with your supervisor about how frequently you will communicate during your leave of absence.

Depending on your needs, you may wish to get Research Reader privileges at the library (this comes with a fee). If you would like to request continued access to U of T library services, please send an email to graduate.information@utoronto.ca. The School of Graduate Studies will review the request and contact the library to allow access if the request is approved.

If you opt-in to paying compulsory non-academic incidental fees, you will receive continued access to campus services offered by Student Life (First Nations House, Academic Success, Accessibility Services, Career Exploration & Education, Centre for International Experience, Centre for Community Partnerships, Health and Wellness*, Housing Services**, Multi-Faith Centre for Spiritual Study & Practice, Clubs & Leadership Development, etc.), Hart House, and Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education during the leave of absence.

*If you are a student on leave who accessed physician care from Health and Wellness prior to your absence, you will have access to Health and Wellness services for the duration of your leave. You do not need to opt in to pay compulsory non-academic incidental fees if this is the only service that you plan on accessing during your leave, you accessed the service in the past year, and you are receiving ongoing treatment for a condition.

**Continued access to Housing Services includes housing resources and advice, but does not include permission to continue to live in residence. Please contact your residence to discuss your leave.

Fees are based on the current academic year. Please refer to the Leave of Absence form for the charges for the current academic year.

What will happen to my award payments?

You will not be eligible to receive award payments from the university during your leave of absence. (Please note that external award-granting agencies, such as SSHRC and NSERC, have their own policies on leaves for award holders.)

Be sure to list all awards, stipends, and/or funding when you complete your Leave of Absence form. This will help us administer your funding accurately before and after your leave. The School of Graduate Studies can also provide information about award-specific policies for leaves of absence.

How do I apply?

You should complete the leave of absence form and submit it to your graduate unit for consideration.