Leaves and Withdrawals

To be eligible for financial aid, students must meet minimum enrollment requirements.  A change of enrollment status at any point during a term could result in a revision of the financial aid award.  As the policies vary from college to college, students need to work closely with their college when considering taking a leave of absence or withdrawing from the university. A student seeking a Personal Leave of Absence (PLOA) is responsible for initiating the request by submitting a PLOA Request: undergraduate and professional students via withdrawal.cornell.edu; graduate research degree students via gradschool.cornell.edu/forms.

Understanding how a change in enrollment status will impact your financial aid can be a challenging topic. We encourage students to review the information on this page and contact our office with questions.

Impact on Federal Financial Aid 

Students receiving federal student aid should be aware that U.S. Department of Education regulations govern the refund and repayment of federal student aid when a student withdraws or otherwise fails to complete the semester for which federal student aid has been received.  This requirement applies to students who work with their college or school and officially take a leave of absence or withdraw from Cornell as well as those students who simply stop attending and do not otherwise provide notification.  In the latter case, this is considered an unofficial withdrawal.

Federal Regulations require Cornell to calculate a return of federal student aid funds for students who withdraw (officially or unofficially) from all classes on or before the 60 percent attendance point in the enrollment period (e.g. semester) and for students who withdraw from any module-based courses.  The return of funds does not apply to any student who has completed more than 60 percent of the enrollment period.  At that point, you earn all federal aid that you were scheduled to receive for that period. 

The date of the withdrawal is determined by the date the student began their college's withdrawal process.  In the case of students who stop attending without providing official notification, a student’s unofficial withdrawal date is defined as the midpoint (50%) of the semester, unless the financial aid office is able to document attendance beyond the midpoint of the semester. The time frame for midpoint may differ for students enrolled in shortened sessions and/or summer courses.

Federal financial aid is earned for each day until the date of withdrawal. The total days in the term are the calendar days that begin on the first day of class and end on the last day of finals. Any breaks of five days or more (including weekends) are subtracted from the total number of days in the term. To arrive at a percentage, the days prior to withdrawal are divided into the total number of days in the term that the student was scheduled to complete. This percentage determines the amount of federal aid that is earned. The remainder is the amount of federal aid that is unearned and must be repaid. For example, if a student withdraws after attending 22 days of their scheduled 110 day term, their percentage of earned aid is 22/110 = 20.0%. The student in this scenario earned 20.0% of their aid, 80.0% of their federal aid is unearned and returned to the federal programs. If a student withdraws after 60% of the term, they have fully earned all federal aid.

Unearned federal financial aid is returned to the program from which it was disbursed in the following order: unsubsidized federal Direct loan, subsidized federal Direct loan, federal PLUS, federal Pell grant, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) funds, and other Title IV aid programs. Funds must be returned to the Department of Education within 45 days after it has been determined that the student is withdrawn. When funds are returned, students are notified via an updated award notification that outlines remaining eligibility. The return of these funds might result in charges to the student account that must be repaid.  Students withdrawing from classes are responsible for paying any balance due after the required return of federal student aid funds.

If a student earned more aid than was paid at the time of withdrawal, they might be eligible for a post-withdrawal disbursement (PWD). If eligible for a PWD, students are notified through university email and will have fourteen days to respond and accept or decline any loan funds. PWD grant funds are paid automatically to the student account.

Impact on Institutional Funds 

Cornell follows the tuition proration schedule when adjusting institutional aid in the case of a withdrawal or leave of absence. View the tuition proration schedule to determine the impact on institutional funds. Please note that this does not follow the same schedule as federal aid and that the tuition proration also applies to students who are not federal aid recipients. Students who have the Cornell Elective Tuition Refund Plan may have additional adjustments.

When institutional aid is required to be reduced, it will be done in the following order: Cornell Grant, endowed/restricted scholarships, and other institutional aid programs.

Students who have their financial aid adjusted as a result of a leave of absence or withdrawal will receive a revised financial aid award notification. More detailed information is available by contacting the Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment.

Special Considerations

Students receiving New York state Excelsior, ETA, or STEM awards should contact HESC at scholarships@hesc.ny.gov to learn how their awards will be affected by a leave of absence or withdrawal.

Students who take a leave of absence, withdraw, or are on a continuation leave and are also Title IV aid recipients should be aware of the following:

  • Students must have completed promissory notes and entrance counseling in order to be eligible for any late payments of federal loan funds after the last date of attendance.
  • Once Cornell determines that a student has withdrawn or taken a leave of absence, the student is no longer eligible for an in-school status or in-school loan deferment. Any student who had a loan during their career at Cornell will be required to complete a loan exit interview where information regarding loan repayment will be provided.
  • If your school is not required to return all of the excess funds, you may be required to return the remaining amount. For any loan funds that you must return, you (or your parent for a Direct PLUS Loan) will repay the loan funds in accordance with the terms of the promissory note. That is, you will not be required to repay any loan funds immediately, but instead, you will make scheduled payments to the holder of the loan over a period of time.

Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans have a 6-month grace period, which begins after you leave school or drop below half-time attendance. These loans enter repayment when your grace period ends, and you will start making payments not more than 60 days after your grace period ends. If you resume enrollment on at least a half-time basis before the end of the 6-month grace period or deferment, your federal student loan will return to an "in-school" status or deferment, and you will be eligible for a full 6-month grace period or deferment when you leave school or drop below half-time enrollment again.

Federal Perkins Loans have a 9-month grace period, which begins after you leave school or drop below half-time attendance. Your first payment is due one month after the grace period ends. If you re-enroll at least half-time during this grace period (and you file for deferment), you get another nine-month grace period the next time you drop below half-time. If you re-enroll after the grace period, however, your next grace period will only be six months.

Additional Resources

It is important to note that Cornell does not have a Leave of Absence policy as defined by the Department of Education for purposes of awarding and receiving Title IV financial aid.  While students can request a leave of absence from Cornell, these are considered to be withdrawals for Title IV aid purposes and the return of funds requirement applies.