Leave of Absence

From Academic Rules for PhDs and Research Master’s Degrees
(Updated February 2011: Click link to see most up to date information). 

Leaves of absence are only granted under extenuating circumstances to students who are in good standing. Leaves are usually allowed for a period of one semester to one calendar year. Personal leave for other reasons may be granted for up to one year with the approval of the Graduate Dean, but it does not automatically change the time limit. Additional requirements for return may be imposed by the Graduate Dean. Leaves of absence will not be granted for a total of more than three years. A leave of absence can only be considered for students who have completed at least one semester of the Program.

Categories of leaves:

Personal – students deciding to leave the University for Military Service or to pursue other personal goals and matters.

Medical – students with a medical situation that will temporarily interfere with their studies.  Students requesting a leave of absence for medical reasons must provide documentation by their treating clinician at the time of the leave request.  The supporting documentation should not reveal any details regarding the student’s condition.

To request such a leave, the student must complete a Request for Leave of Absence and submit it to the Wharton Doctoral Programs office. It should include the reason for requesting the leave, the time period sought, and the student’s plans for returning to the University to complete the requirements for the degree. Before a leave is granted, it must be approved by the Department Coordinator in the student’s concentration or program as well as by the Vice Dean. Time spent on an officially approved leave of absence is not counted in the eight-year time limit on degree completion.

Once approved for a leave of absence, the student will receive a leave of absence approval letter from the Department PhD Coordinator outlining the required conditions to return from leave.  These conditions include identifying the date of return, providing supporting documentation from physician if on a medical or family leave to be sent to Student Health Services, acknowledgement of future academic requirement deadlines to meet, and other conditions placed by the Department Coordinator.

While on a leave of absence, students may not register for courses, submit assignments to faculty, request a change of grade, hold dissertation hearings, sit for exams or graduate.  Additionally, students on a leave of absence do not have access to Penn. Students on an approved leave of absence who wish to retain access to Penn’s facilities (in particular, the library) must pay a fee per term of absence.  Access to Wharton specific resources is at the discretion of each department.

Students returning from leave must inform the Wharton Doctoral Office and their Department Coordinator of their return within 30 days of the start of the semester in which they will be returning. Students will not be permitted to return from leave unless the conditions in the leave of absence approval letter have been met prior to their return.  Once written permission has been granted by the Vice Dean for the semester(s) in question, the Wharton Doctoral Office will reactivate the student and the department administrator will register the student.

For information on Family Leave Policies, click here.

Continuous Registration

Continuous registration as a graduate student is required unless a formal leave of absence is granted by the dean of the student’s school.


A leave of absence will be granted for military duty, medical reasons, or family leave; this leave is typically for up to one year and “stops the clock” on time to completion. Personal leave for other reasons may be granted for up to one year with the approval of the Graduate Dean, but it does not automatically change the time limit. Additional requirements for return may be imposed by the Graduate Dean. No language or other degree examinations may be taken while a student is on leave of absence. A student without an approved leave of absence who fails to register each semester will be considered to have withdrawn from candidacy for the degree; approval by the Graduate Dean and recertification are required for reinstatement.

Dissertation registration takes place in the fall and spring semesters. Dissertation students who are candidates for August degree remain full-time students through August 31st without summer registration.

Time Limits

As of 2010-11, the University’s maximum time limit for completion is ten years after matriculation; some graduate groups and schools have established more stringent criteria (Wharton PhD Program is a maximum of eight years for completion).


Graduate students who have been dropped due to time limit may petition the graduate group to return as a student for a maximum of one year in order to achieve recertification and defend the dissertation. (See sections below on Petition for Readmission and Recertification.)

Combined degree students (e.g., M.D.-Ph.D.s) typically enroll full-time in medical school during the first two years of study and do not begin full time Ph.D. course work until the third year; for these students, the ten-year time limit begins at the start of full-time Ph.D. study.

Petition for Readmission after Reaching the Maximum Time to Degree

A student who has been dropped after reaching the maximum time limit may petition the graduate group to return as a student for a maximum of one further year in order to achieve recertification and complete and defend the dissertation.


Faculty members have no obligation to continue working with a student who has been dropped, nor is there any presumption that a graduate group will respond favorably to a petition for re-admission. If a graduate group wishes to recommend re-admission, it must present to the graduate dean a list of faculty members willing to serve as a dissertation committee and a detailed, realistic plan of how the student will, within one year of reenrollment, achieve recertification, pass the dissertation examination, and submit the final copy of the dissertation. If re-admission is approved by the graduate dean, the student must pay Reduced Tuition for two semesters, unless all requirements are completed within one semester. A student may petition for readmission at the time s/he is dropped from the program, or at a later date. The student should be fully ready and committed to completing within a one-year timeframe; enrollment will not be extended beyond that final year, and no further petition for readmission will be considered by the University.


If the graduate group and graduate dean approve the petition for readmission, the student must immediately be recertified. In order to ensure that a student’s dissertation research remains at the frontier of current research in the field, the student must retake and pass the Candidacy Examination, or satisfy alternative recertification criteria designed by their graduate group and approved by the Graduate Council of the Faculties. The new deadline for completion of all requirements for the Ph.D., including recertification, shall be within one year.