Voluntary Leaves of Absence from Harvard, 1963-1971

The Harvard and Radcliffe administrations traditionally encouraged students to take a break during their four-year stints in college, this fall. President Bok, in his greeting to the incoming freshman class, pointed out the value of taking a leave of absence at some point in the college career. As a counselor at the Office of Career Services and Off-Campus Learning says, he would prefer to work with a confused student looking for direction at age 19, with two years of school still to come, than a college graduate who still has no idea of what's ahead.

Recent studies of leave-takers have found that they resemble the rest of their classmates in grades, honors. House affiliation and virtually every statistical index. One exception is that a slightly greater percentage of leave-takers plan to find jobs after graduation, rather than to go on to graduate schools.

Profiles of students who did take voluntary leaves show the vast majority left for personal reasons such as "personal growth" or time to think and relax. Over 80 per cent worked for some of their leave, while almost three-quarters traveled for part of the time. About 60 per cent had specific plans before they left school.

Students' reactions to their leaves were over whelmingly positive: 87 per cent of the student contacted for these surveys said their leaves had been invaluable.

This study includes students who did not graduate from Harvard, as well as those who took voluntary leaves only to avoid being asked to withdraw for academic or disciplinary reasons. It did not survey Radcliffe students, but a later study of the Radcliffe and Harvard classes of 1974 found that approximately equal percentages of men and women take leaves.


The number of leave-takers may have declined around 1968 because of a fear of losing student deferments from the draft.

Statistics come from studies by the Office of Career Services and Off-Campus Learning and the Office of Instructional Research and Evaluation.   '63  '65  '68  '70  '71 per cent of class that took leaves  24  25  14  20  23 per cent of leave-takers who returned to graduate from Harvard  72  78  68  81  not available

Recommended Articles