How to Take Medical Leave From College for Rehab

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

How to Take Medical Leave From College for Rehab

Table of Contents

Mental health problems are common among college students, with traditional and non-traditional undergraduates facing unique challenges. In a 2014 study, it was found that 88% of young people who may have had minor mental health issues experience exacerbated effects within the next five years.

Fresh out of high school, traditional students may grapple with newfound responsibilities, such as work and relationships, often for the first time. On the other hand, non-traditional students, usually older and with additional family obligations, must juggle work, family, and academics. This stress can lead to the onset or worsening of mental health and substance use issues. This staggering number made obvious a need for specific medical leaves for students wanting to work on their mental health and, in many cases, go to rehab. However, students may be confused about how to take this leave of absence and how it works.

We will guide you through the whole process so that you’ll know exactly what to do if the need arises.

What Is a Medical Leave of Absence for College?

A medical leave of absence for college is a temporary break from one’s academic studies granted to students for health-related reasons. This leave allows students to take time off from their college or university to get mental health help without jeopardizing their academic standing or enrollment status. Traditionally, this leave of absence policy didn’t exist, meaning that students had to pause their enrollment to get enough time off to get the help they needed, and once they felt like they had it, they had to go through a very long process for re-enrollment.

How Does FMLA Apply to College Medical Leaves?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law in the United States that guarantees job-protected leave for qualifying family and medical reasons. FMLA does not apply to college students who need to take medical leave. Here are some reasons why:

  • Eligibility: FMLA eligibility is restricted to employees who meet specific criteria, including a minimum length of service and hours worked. College students are not considered employees of their educational institutions and, therefore, do not meet these eligibility requirements.
  • Covered Employers: FMLA applies to certain employers based on the number of employees they have. While colleges and universities may be considered covered employers, the law’s protections and benefits under FMLA are extended exclusively to eligible employees, not students.
  • Medical Certification: One of the requirements for FMLA is providing medical certification to support the need for leave due to a serious mental health condition. Since college students are not employees, they are not subject to this requirement.

When and Why Should You Consider a Medical Leave for Treatment?

Considering a medical leave for treatment is a significant decision, and it should be based on careful consideration of your health and well-being. Here are some key factors to consider and situations in which you might contemplate taking a medical leave for treatment:

Considering a medical leave for treatment as a college student is a significant decision that should be based on careful consideration of your health and academic circumstances. Here are some situations in which you might contemplate taking a medical leave as a college student:

Serious Health Condition:

If you are diagnosed with serious physical health conditions or mental illnesses that require intensive treatment or hospitalization, it may be necessary to take a medical leave to focus on your health and recovery.

Mental Health Concerns:

If you are experiencing severe anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue that significantly impacts your ability to function academically and personally, a medical leave can provide the necessary time to address the mental health concern.

Physical Injury or Illness:

In cases of a significant physical injury or illness (e.g., surgery, accident, chronic illness), a medical leave can allow you to heal, undergo rehabilitation, or manage treatment without the added stress of academic responsibilities.

Doctor’s Recommendation:

If a healthcare professional recommends that you take a leave of absence to address your health concerns, it’s important to consider their advice seriously.

Inability to Keep Up:

If your health prevents you from attending classes, completing coursework, or meeting academic expectations, taking a leave can help you avoid academic setbacks and ensure you return to your studies in a better state.

Safety Concerns:

If your health condition poses a risk to your safety or the safety of others (e.g., due to medication side effects), a leave of absence may be necessary to ensure safety.

How Do You Request a Medical Leave for Treatment From College?

How Do You Request a Medical Leave for Treatment From College

If you are a college student and need to take a medical leave for treatment, here are the steps you can take to request a medical leave:

These steps ensure a smooth and well-documented leave process while maintaining communication with professors and college administrators.

Check College Policy:

Understand your college’s policy regarding medical leaves, which can usually be found on the college’s website or by contacting the administration.

Inform Professors:

Please inform your professors about your situation and intention to take a medical leave. Inquire about missed assignments or exams and discuss how to make them up.

Contact College Administration:

Reach out to the college administration to formally request a medical leave from school officials. You may be required to complete a leave of absence request form, providing essential details such as the nature and duration of your condition. This is also important just in case it affects your financial aid status.

Provide Medical Documentation:

Depending on the college’s policy, you may need to submit medical documentation, such as a doctor’s note or medical records supporting the need for leave for a mental illness or distress.

Follow Up:

Stay in touch with your professors and the college administration to ensure your medical leave request is processed and granted as needed.

These steps ensure that your medical leave is documented correctly and that you follow the college’s procedures. This can help protect your academic standing and facilitate a smoother return to your studies after completing your treatment.

How Can You Communicate Your Decision to the College Administration?

How Can You Communicate Your Decision to the College Administration

You should follow a formal and respectful process to communicate your decision to take a medical leave to the college administration. Here are the steps to effectively convey your decision:

Prepare a Written Request: Write a formal letter or email to the appropriate office. Your communication should include the following elements:

  • Your full name and student ID number.
  • The reason for your medical leave (briefly describe your health condition).
  • The anticipated start date and expected duration of your leave.
  • Any supporting documentation, such as a doctor’s note or medical records (if required by your college’s policy).
  • This is a request to confirm receipt and acknowledge your leave request.
  • Contact information where you can be reached during your leave (email or phone number).

Attach Supporting Documentation: If your college’s policy requires medical documentation, attach it to your letter or email. Ensure that the documentation is clear, legible, and contains the necessary details regarding your health condition and the need for a leave, and apply.

Maintain Communication: Stay in touch with the college administration as necessary during your leave, especially if there are updates regarding your condition or the expected duration of your mental health break.

This formal communication process helps ensure that your leave is documented correctly and that you receive the necessary support and accommodations during your absence.

How Do You Address Potential Concerns From Professors and Peers?

When taking a medical leave, addressing potential concerns from professors and peers requires open and respectful communication. Here are some steps to help you navigate these conversations:

Choose Your Comfort Level: You control how much information you share with peers. Decide what you are comfortable discussing, and don’t feel obligated to reveal personal details.

Be Honest and Direct: When explaining your medical leave to peers, be honest about the need for treatment or recovery. You can simply say you’re taking time off for personal health reasons.

Set Boundaries: It’s okay to set boundaries about what you’re comfortable discussing. Let peers know if you prefer not to go into specific details about your condition or treatment.

Focus on the Future: When discussing your medical leave, emphasize that you are taking this step to improve your health and well-being so that you can return to college in a better state.

Are There Legal Considerations When Planning a Medical Leave for Rehab?

Yes, there are legal considerations when planning a medical leave from college for rehab and understanding your rights and responsibilities is crucial. These considerations vary by country, state, and specific college or university policies. Here are some legal references to keep in mind:

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): FERPA is a federal law in the United States that protects the privacy of student education records. While FERPA generally allows colleges to share information with parents under certain conditions, it’s important to understand how your college interprets and applies FERPA regulations regarding medical leaves and communication with parents or guardians.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires colleges and universities to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. If your rehab is related to a disability covered by the ADA, you may have the right to request accommodations to support your successful return to college.

Reentry Rights: Be aware of your college’s policies regarding reentry after a medical leave. Understand any academic, financial, or procedural requirements for returning to your studies. Your college may require medical documentation or a reentry plan outlining how you will manage your academic workload upon your return.

Advocacy and Legal Support: If you encounter challenges with your voluntary medical leave or reentry, consider seeking legal advice or advocacy from organizations specializing in education law or disability rights.

How Can You Handle Academic Responsibilities and Coursework While in Rehab?


  1. Pedrelli, P., Nyer, M., Yeung, A., Zulauf, C., & Wilens, T. (2015). College Students: Mental Health Problems and Treatment Considerations. Academic psychiatry : the journal of the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training and the Association for Academic Psychiatry, 39(5), 503–511.

  2. Feitosa, C. D. A., & Fernandes, M. A. (2020). Leave of absence due to depression. Revista latino-americana de enfermagem, 28, e3274.

  3. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

  4. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Student Privacy

  5. Wasserbauer L. I. (1997). Mental illness and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Understanding the fundamentals. Journal of psychosocial nursing and mental health services, 35(1), 22–26.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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