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Academic Year 2020-2021 Leave of Absence Information

Academic Year 2021-2022 information will be posted soon

General Considerations

General Considerations

What factors should I consider in deciding whether or not to take a leave?

Whether you decide to take a leave of absence, and for how long, depends upon your personal situation. Because there is no one-size-fits-all answer, we encourage you to identify relevant considerations, think through the alternatives, and make the best decision you can with the information you have. For some of you, the answer will be obvious. For those who would like to talk through the various considerations, we encourage you to reach out to the relevant student services offices.

Some important general factors to consider include how taking a leave or continuing in a remote learning environment will affect your sense of personal well-being: whether you feel able to continue to succeed in a remote learning environment, whether a leave would change your financial aid package, how a leave might affect when any loans would become due, how your leave might impact your LIPP eligibility or your ability to sit for the bar exam, how a leave might affect your health insurance, when you would lose access to HLS services and resources if you took a leave, and how a leave would affect your visa status. For guidance on these questions, please contact the Dean of Students Office, Student Financial Services, the Graduate Program and/or the Harvard International Office.

From a career perspective, you also need to consider how a leave would impact private sector, public sector, and clerkship recruitment processes; what you plan to do during your time off and how you will relay what you did to potential employers; and whether any existing offer of employment for 2L summer or post-graduation would remain open. These questions are addressed in the FAQs below, but if you still have questions about how a LOA might impact your job search, we encourage you to make an appointment to speak to an OCS or OPIA advisor.

What forms do I need to fill out to initiate a leave?

The Leave of Absence form can be found on the Registrar’s Office Leave Policies and Forms page. The form will be reviewed by the Dean of Students Office and forwarded to Student Financial Services (for JDs) or Graduate Program Financial Aid Office (for LL.M.s), and Harvard International Office (for international students). If your leave of absence request is approved by DOS, SFS, GP, and, if applicable, HIO, your form will be sent to the Registrar’s Office for processing.  All forms can be submitted electronically.  For more information, please see the HLS procedures for taking a leave of absence.

If I take a leave of absence for the winter and/or spring term 2021, will my access to Harvard Law School email and other resources continue?

Student email, Helios, and Amicus accounts will remain active during the time for which the leave has been confirmed. With the exception of joint, coordinated, and concurrent degree students currently enrolled at another Harvard school and as provided in the “Access to OCS and OPIA Services and Resources” section below, due to our licensing agreement, students on leave will not have access to Westlaw and Lexis until the student returns from leave. HLS and University facilities normally may be used only by students who are currently registered. Per the HLS Handbook of Academic Policies, students on leave may not participate in extracurricular activities. Exceptions to this rule must be specifically approved in advance by the School. For more information, please see the Handbook of Academic Policies Leave of Absence page.

Will my HUID stay active?

Students who are on a leave of absence are not considered to be “active” students. While the HUID will remain active and assigned to the individual, some physical and electronic access across the University may be limited.

If I take a leave for the Spring Term 2021, will I be able to participate in registration with other students for the Fall Term 2021?

JD students who elect to take a leave for the winter and/or spring term 2021 will be able to participate in Fall Term 2021 registration that takes place in Spring 2021. LL.M. students who elect to take a leave for the winter and/or spring term 2021 will be able to participate in 2021-2022 registration taking place in Summer 2021. The Registrar’s Office will notify students once the registration schedule is posted. It is the responsibility of the student to pay attention to all notices sent from the Registrar’s Office, including course registration dates.

I currently live in Harvard University Housing (HUH). Can I stay in HUH during my leave?

Yes, you may stay in your HUH unit until the end of your lease term. Please note that if you live in HUH and wish to vacate the unit, you are obligated for the lease term, including rent through the end of the lease. However, you may work with HUH to list your unit to be assumed by another Harvard affiliate.

I am a student enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan and am considering taking a leave of absence. Can I purchase an extension of my health coverage?

Current students enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan (which is separate and different from the services provided through Harvard University Health Services in exchange for the mandatory student fee), and who decide to take a leave may purchase up to six months of extended coverage. This represents an extension from the four months students have previously been permitted to purchase. For more information, please contact Member Services.

How will the leave be noted on my transcript?

There will be a notation on your transcript during the academic year of your leave that states “Leave of Absence, [term and year of leave]” (e.g., “Leave of Absence, Spring 2021”).

How will taking a leave of absence impact my graduation date?

Any leave of absence will change the expected graduation date. For example, if a student who was expected to graduate in May 2021 decided to take leave for the fall 2020 term, they would complete their course work in the fall 2021 term and their new expected graduation date would be February 2022. Should this same student decide to take a full year of leave, their new expected graduation date would be May 2022.

I am a JD student – when will I take the bar exam?

The date you take the bar exam will depend on your graduation date.

I am an LL.M. student interested in taking a U.S. bar exam; when might I be able to do so?

If you are hoping to seek eligibility to sit for a bar exam through your Harvard LL.M. degree, then the date you may be eligible to sit for that bar exam will depend in part on your graduation date.

May I work as a Harvard Law School research assistant or teaching fellow during a personal leave?  

Students on leave may not work as HLS research assistants or teaching fellows or otherwise receive compensation from HLS.

May I serve as a research assistant for academic credit during a leave?

Students on leave may not work as research assistants for academic credit during their leave.

Financial Considerations for Taking a Leave of Absence

Financial Considerations for Taking a Leave of Absence

What are the financial implications of taking a leave of absence?

Before taking a leave of absence, students should carefully consider how doing so will impact their financial position, both this year and after graduation. Leaves of absence may trigger obligations to repay student loans, including loans for college or other graduate studies prior to law school, as well as loans taken to fund the HLS degree. Students considering a leave of absence should read below for more information about how a leave might impact their private or federal loans, as well as implications for the Low Income Protection Plan and Summer Public Interest Funding.

What will happen to my undergraduate or prior graduate degree loans if I take a leave of absence

Students with private student loans that were in repayment prior to law school (for their undergraduate or other graduate studies) should be aware that those loans may immediately enter repayment status if they take a leave of absence. If these loans were not in repayment prior to starting at HLS, they will enter repayment at the end of their grace period, which ranges in length from six to nine months, depending on the loan. As a result, students who take a leave of absence likely will need to begin repayment of their preexisting student loans either this summer or fall.

If these loans were not in repayment prior to starting at HLS, they will typically enter repayment at the end of their grace period, which ranges in length from six to nine months, depending on the loan.

What will happen to my HLS loans if I take a leave of absence?

Most loans for HLS students have a six- to nine-month grace period before repayment must begin. Students taking a leave of absence likely will trigger that grace period, depending on the length of the leave and of the grace period. Any student who exhausts the grace period during the leave of absence will find that their loans will immediately enter repayment status – and they will need to begin making payments or obtain a forbearance – the month they graduate, before they have taken the bar exam and likely before they have begun working.

If I take a leave of absence, what other options do I have to prevent my HLS student loans from coming due immediately after graduation?

Students can utilize forbearance during their leave of absence. This is a borrower benefit that does not negatively affect their credit and allows them to suspend payments. Interest will continue to accrue during this period. This is a finite benefit of anywhere between 12 to 36 months, so using it during the leave of absence will limit many students’ flexibility after graduation. For instance, some graduates use forbearance during a clerkship if they are not working in a JD LIPP-eligible position afterwards.

I am a JD student who hopes to take a Low Income Protection Plan-eligible position after graduation. How will this impact my decision whether to take a leave of absence?

JD students who will be working in a LIPP-eligible position will become eligible for assistance with HLS loan payments when they begin working, as long as their contribution from income and assets is lower than their required payment. However, as noted above, students who use up the grace period during a leave of absence may be required to begin repaying their HLS loans before they take the bar exam or begin working, when LIPP begins to apply. Therefore, students would either need to manage their loan payments on their own or utilize forbearance until they become eligible for LIPP.

Can HLS intervene to help change the terms of my loans?

HLS does not have the ability to modify loan terms or influence lenders to do so. We have communicated with the private lenders who participate in our Preferred Lender List and they have indicated students who experience a financial hardship should reach out to them directly.

If I take a leave of absence, what happens to the 2021 JD summer work requirement?

JD students will be expected to work the summer before returning to HLS and for this reason will be eligible to participate in the Summer Public Interest Funding program. Financial aid will be based on their earnings for the summer before they return to HLS.

If I take a leave of absence, will I be eligible for JD SPIF for the summer of 2021?

 Yes.

What impact will taking a leave have on my financial aid package for the 2021-22 year?

Student Financial Services will use your earnings for the summer of 2021 when calculating your eligibility. If you are applying for need-based aid, your parents will need to provide their 2020 taxes.

General Employment Considerations

General Employment Considerations

How will employers view a leave?

This is an unprecedented time for both law students and legal employers. We expect that employers will understand that more students than usual may be taking leaves of absence because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic. In more typical times, we have advised that leaves are more successful when students are able to secure employment or other work-related experience during the leave. Of course, your ability to do so may depend in large part on the reason for your leave. If you are taking a leave to care for family through the pandemic, or if you have been ill yourself, we expect that few employers will hold it against you if you are unable also to gain relevant experience.

What should I plan to do during my leave?

We know that even before the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many students chose to take leaves due to challenging personal circumstances. If you are facing challenging personal circumstances at this time, it is essential that you address these issues and take care of yourself and your loved ones while on leave. If you are able to do so, we encourage you to consider the possibility of volunteer or paid work that could help in a future job search and make your leave as productive as possible. The combination of great need triggered by the pandemic, along with the transition among many organizations to remote work, may offer many opportunities for meaningful engagement during a leave of absence. You may want to consider a law-related position or other positions that enable you to build relevant skills (such as problem-solving, strategic planning, and research and writing). Possible options include grassroots community or governmental positions, legal assistant or analyst roles, and research positions. The work need not be full time, especially if other challenges prevent you from taking on full-time work.

Are there conflict of interest considerations I should be mindful of while working during a leave?

Conflicts of interest are a fact of life in legal practice. Different employers have different mechanisms for managing them. Pay attention to such potential conflicts of interest as you consider how employment during a leave might fit into your future career plans.

Public Interest Interview Program (PIIP) and Public Sector Recruiting for JD Students

Public Interest Interview Program (PIIP) and Public Sector Recruiting for JD Students

Will OPIA offer the Public Interest Interview Program in fall 2021?

Yes. PIIP is for 2L and 3L students seeking summer or post-graduate employment with nonprofit organizations, public defender and prosecutors’ offices, legal services organizations, government agencies, and private public interest law firms.

If I take a leave for the spring 2021 semester, may I participate in PIIP during the fall of 2021?

2L and 3L students who take a leave of absence for the spring 2021 semester may participate in PIIP during the fall of 2021.

If I go on leave during the spring 2021 and have not yet secured employment for the summer of 2021, how will I get a job for the summer of 2021?

There are public interest employers within the U.S. and across the globe interested in hiring Harvard Law School students for summer work, and your search for summer employment can continue as planned even while on a leave of absence. If you take a leave during the spring of 2021, you are still eligible for HLS Summer Public Interest Funding in the summer of 2021. Note, however, that it may not be possible for you to volunteer for a federal government entity during either the spring or summer of 2021, as the student exception to the federal government’s prohibition against using volunteers may not be available to students who are not attending classes for a stretch of 5 or more months. If you are interested in federal government internships, please seek additional guidance from OPIA.

I am a 3L. If I take a leave of absence during the spring of 2021, when would I apply for post-graduate public interest jobs and fellowships?

You would re-start your job/fellowship search in the fall of 2021, with applications continuing through the spring of 2022. Note, however, that many fellowships, government honors programs, public defender offices, and prosecutors’ offices have set hiring and onboarding cycles and that, as a result, you may not begin your fellowship or job until the fall of 2022, even if you graduate in late 2021 or early 2022. Make sure you understand the implications of any potential gap period between your graduation and the start of your job or fellowship for your loan repayment schedule and LIPP eligibility. Also note that some fellowship selection committees’ timelines may vary; individual fellowship directors welcome the opportunity to keep lines of communication open, so do not hesitate to reach out to them and to OPIA’s fellowship director to further discuss your plans.

I am a 2L. If I take a leave of absence during the spring of 2021, when would I apply for post-graduate public interest jobs and fellowships?

You would begin your job/fellowship search in the spring of 2022, with applications continuing through the fall of 2022 and the spring of 2023. Note, however, that many fellowships, government honors programs, public defender offices, and prosecutors’ offices have set hiring and onboarding cycles and that, as a result, you may not begin your fellowship or job until the fall of 2023, even if you graduate in late 2022 or early 2023. Make sure you understand the implications of any potential gap period between your graduation and the start of your job or fellowship for your loan repayment schedule and LIPP eligibility. Also note that some fellowship selection committees’ timelines may vary; individual fellowship directors welcome the opportunity to keep lines of communication open, so do not hesitate to reach out to them and to OPIA’s fellowship director to further discuss your plans.

If I take a leave of absence, will I still be eligible and competitive for post-graduate fellowships?

Yes. Consider how you may use that gap time to demonstrate your continuing interest in the issue areas or clients whom you hope to serve; these opportunities may be volunteer and remote. You will want to explain how you used your leave of absence to enrich your insights and skills and underline your readiness for post-graduate service.

Can I do an internship during a leave? Will my internship satisfy the HLS pro bono requirements?

You can certainly do volunteer work during a leave, subject to relevant visa guidelines, and this is one way to make sure that your leave time is productive. Note, however, that it may not be possible for you to volunteer for a federal government entity while on leave or during the adjacent summer; the student exception to the federal government’s prohibition against using volunteers may not be available to those who are not active students for stretches of 5 months or more. JD students who take a leave during the academic year 2020-2021, you are eligible for HLS Summer Public Interest Funding in the summer of 2021 and so you would be able to earn HLS pro bono credit for work done in the summer of 2021 provided it meets the HLS pro bono criteria.

I know that clinical work is an important way to demonstrate my commitment to public interest work, and to develop skills needed for public interest employment. How will employers view a remote spring clinic?

OPIA has had many conversations with employers to understand how they will assess remote learning and clinical work in their hiring decisions. The overwhelming majority recognize that the challenges of this unique moment provide an opportunity to design new ways to reach client communities and innovate advocacy strategies, and that the skills a student would develop in a remote clinical setting are essential to the future of law practice. For this reason, employers will likely view remote spring clinics favorably, and OPIA continues to encourage students to participate in them.

Early Interview Program (EIP) for JD Students

Early Interview Program (EIP) for JD Students

Participation in EIP

Please refer to the Office of Career Services for a detailed explanation of the EIP policies as they relate to taking a leave of absence.

JD Students Pursuing Law Firm Employment

JD Students Pursuing Law Firm Employment

How would taking a one-semester leave affect my start date at a large law firm?

Large law firms prefer all incoming associates to start at the same time, typically in the fall. If you are a 2L and take one semester off and graduate in December of 2022 or March of 2023, you might have several months (until the fall of 2023) before your job at a large firm would start. It is important to talk to SFS about how this affects loan repayment plans and consider how this would impact other things like the bar exam, bar admission and dues, and your health insurance. If you are a 3L, you should discuss with your employer before deciding to take a leave.

I spent my 1L or 2L summer at a firm and received or expect to receive an offer to return. How will a leave impact my offer?

Any delay in graduation will change how the firm evaluates your candidacy and may result in a rescission of your offer (or anticipated offer). Even if they rescind an offer, however, many firms will encourage you to reach out to them after your leave, anticipating that they may re-extend the offer if possible. Keep in mind that all employment decisions are business decisions based on need, and if the economy further contracts, there is a risk that the firm will decide to not re-extend your offer, change the terms of your original offer, or require you to reapply formally.

Should I communicate with my employer about an actual or possible leave and, if so, how and when?

If you are working at a firm with the expectation that you will return – either for a touchback if you are a 2L or post-graduation if you are a 3L – we recommend that you consult with the firm’s hiring partner or recruiting contact before making your decision about whether to take a leave. Such conversations are best conducted by phone or Zoom rather than over email (although you can set up a time to talk via email). Once your decision is made, you should communicate your decision to take a leave to the firm as soon as you can. Firms know that, barring special circumstances, you would have had to inform the law school in advance of your decision, so waiting to notify the firm could raise questions.
Keep in mind that as the world is and will be relying heavily on remote work platforms at least in the near future and quite possibly for longer, and that all your communications with your potential employer should be positive and demonstrate your willingness, ability, and flexibility to work in a remote environment.

For more guidance on how to approach a conversation with your employer, please see the following sample communications.

JD Students Pursuing Clerkships

JD Students Pursuing Clerkships

Will there be volunteer clerkship opportunities during a leave of absence?

Yes, but we expect only in fairly limited numbers and only on a volunteer rather than paid basis. You might look especially at judges who have advertised for internships in the past and consult our webpage with guidance about judicial internships.

How will judges view a leave when I apply for clerkships?

Like other employers, judges will be interested in what you do during a leave, so please consider how you would frame the decision and how you would describe the professional or life experiences you would gain during the leave. Otherwise, a leave would impact mainly when you graduate and thus when you would be available to begin a clerkship.

I have accepted a clerkship. Should I take a leave?

Except in cases of extraordinary personal circumstances (e.g., hospitalization), we strongly advise against taking a leave that would impact your ability to be available on-time for the clerkship to which you already committed. For most judges, hiring is very term-specific.

Additional Information Specific to International Students

Additional Information Specific to International Students

As an international JD student, will it hurt me if I spend my leave in my home country?

As with students who are residing in the United States, it depends on how you make use of your time off. A lot will depend on your personal situation and the economic and public health situation in your home country. Employers will understand if your options are somewhat limited but will nevertheless want to know how you spent your time away from HLS. It is advisable to find something to do during your leave, regardless of where you will be living. Some options to consider are research positions or independent research projects, work for governmental bodies or public interest organizations, or positions for non-legal employers where you can build skills that will help you in your career (for example, business or marketing skills, client service skills, and the like). Be sure to consider both paid and unpaid positions, as well as full- and part-time positions. Finally, remember that even though you are living outside of the U.S., you can still use the time to research potential career paths and employers, and to network with HLS alumni at home or in the U.S. We recommend you consult with the Harvard International Office (HIO) to explore whether there are any visa status implications of taking a leave and, if you are currently in the U.S., returning to your home country.

I am an international student. How will a leave affect my visa status?

It is important to consult with the Harvard International Office (HIO) to determine how a leave may affect your visa status. Additional information can be found on the HIO leave of absence page.  Please contact Peter O’Meara at peter_omeara@harvard.edu, Advisor to International HLS Students and Scholars, for additional guidance.

What else should I be thinking about as an international student?

If you are a student considering a leave, be sure that you have read the HIO letter addressing visa implications of the online nature of the spring semester.

Work Abroad

Work Abroad

If I’m interested in working abroad, should I take a leave because travel restrictions might be lessened when conditions improve?

It’s difficult to predict how travel conditions will change, or in which regions conditions will improve before others. Some countries are “reopening” ahead of the U.S. You should carefully research the current condition of your destination market as you consider whether to take a leave, and also understand that volatile and uncertain travel, public health, and economic conditions could be the norm for some time to come. There is no guarantee that restrictions will be lessened after your leave.

Access to OCS and OPIA Services and Resources

Access to OCS and OPIA Services and Resources

If I take a leave of absence, what access will I have to OCS and OPIA?

Normally, students do not have access to OCS and OPIA appointments or services while on leave. We have modified that policy for this academic year. For students taking a leave during the 2020-2021 academic year, OCS and OPIA will make some advising available each term so that students on leave can appropriately prepare for recruiting and for summer and post-graduate job searches. Students on leave this academic year will also have continued access to CSM, the Helios Public Interest Organizations Database, and to publicly-available and password-protected sections of the OPIA and OCS websites. Additionally, students will continue to receive access to Hire Ground emails and the OPIA weekly newsletter.

I am planning to take a leave of absence. Will OCS or OPIA help me find a job that I can perform during my semester or year-long leave?

>OCS and OPIA advisors are available to help you think through how you may want to use a leave of absence to develop additional work experience or skills. While OCS and OPIA advisors will not be able to assist you with identifying paid or unpaid employment for your leave period, they will be able to offer limited career advising each term to help students prepare for Law School-related recruiting for summer and post-graduate positions.

Can I participate in the JD Virtual Public Interest Interview Program or other recruitment programs hosted by OPIA while on leave?

No. You will, however, be able to participate in any such programs available for your degree program once you re-enroll at the Law School.

When I return from leave, can I participate in private sector employer recruiting events?

Your ability to participate in employer events when you return will depend on the purpose of the event. For example, events that are introductory in nature and geared towards 1Ls would likely not be open to 2L students returning from a leave of absence. OCS career programs that are not employer networking events are typically open to all HLS students

When I return from leave, can I participate in public sector employer recruiting events?

Yes.