Considering a Leave of Absence

Sometimes we all need a break to be able to return and perform our best. Sometimes the approach that worked so well before does not work any longer. This is not about admitting weakness but rather acknowledging that demands and stressors have overwhelmed your typical coping capacity.  It can be very hard to interrupt the rhythm and momentum of the college experience in order to take care of ourselves, but for some people, at some times, it can be the best way to heal and reboot. USC is committed to helping students reach their goals, and Counseling and Mental Health Services in particular will work with you to develop a plan to support a successful return.

If you are wondering about whether a leave of absence might be right for you, we have included information on considerations and the process of taking a leave.  We would be happy to help you think through it as well – give us a call (213) 740-7711.

There may be some alternatives to consider as well, for example:

  • Reducing  your course load or adjusting how many demanding classes you have;
  • Reducing your other responsibilities such as organizations or work hours;
  • Enlisting additional forms of support such as social or academic coachingOccupational Therapy – a great resource to learn time management or organization skills – the Center for Academic Support, physical health (routine sleep and meal practices; and mental support (counseling or medication);
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment. Students will sometimes choose to change their class schedule in order participate in 3-week treatment program that helps them gain support, learn skills to manage their mood, and still take classes. Some programs even provide transportation. Although it requires a time commitment, it allows students to prioritize their health and also continue with their academic goals.

Sometimes, the resources above are not enough to overcome the number of stressors a student is facing. In those times, a leave is needed to allow you to focus on your health. This is often a very difficult option to consider for our high-achieving students. Taking a leave is a very courageous option to consider. Parents may also be confused as they want to support their student, but also recognize the stress they are under. When is it time to consider this option?

  • Impact on well-being and ability to ensure one’s safety
  • Negative impact on grades
  • Not seeing desired change in treatment, despite being engaged in weekly therapy over time
  • Consistently hoping ‘this semester’ will be different, but finding yourself in recurring patterns
  • Chronic suicidal thoughts, inability to control thoughts, low mood, inability to normalize sleep or appetite

How To:

  • All leaves of absence should begin with speaking with your academic advisor. They will have information relevant to your program/degree and will be able to assist you in taking a leave. They may also offer ideas on courses to take based on how demanding they are.
  • The undergraduate handbook for taking a leave of absence contains important information about the steps of taking a leave.
  • Contact Counseling and Mental Health Services for help making an active plan before or during your leave so that you can come back and continue progressing towards your academic goals. We have worked with many students over the years to create plans for their well-being and academic success.
  • Consider how you are going to use your leave to address your concerns/challenges. Develop a plan that includes your advisor, Student Support and Advocacy, and any medical or mental health treatment providers that might be helpful for you to take the best possible care of yourself while on leave and when you return to school.
  • Consult with Student Support and Advocacy for support in this process. This office helps students with personal, academic, or financial concerns. They can clarify options available to students and facilitate communication and connections with university departments.

Returning to USC and continuing with your academic goals: If you have seen a medical or mental health provider during your leave, particularly for leaves where health or mental health concerns were relevant, please call our office to request the Return from Leave form which you can request from our office, (213) 740-7711.  The form should be returned to Counseling and Mental Health Services prior to returning to USC (Fax 213-740-6815). This form allows the medical or mental health providers to inform USC about treatment options or supports that are most likely to aid you in a successful return to school.


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