Professional Leave for Music Majors – How Will Your School Respond?

If you’re a music major who gets an offer to perform that requires you to take a professional leave from school for a semester or longer, what do you do? How does the music school you worked so hard to get in to respond? What happens to your financial aid, including scholarship(s)?

You may not be concerned about this now. But as a strong performer, you may be faced with this situation when you least expect it, and when you have to make decisions quickly. Ask these questions to the schools you’re considering. This is not information they’re likely to offer…unless YOU bring it up. Also check school catalogues, the most likely place where the leave policy exists in writing.

Requesting a Leave of Absence from Music School

MajoringInMusic.com queried several music schools about their leave policies. All of them said that in the ideal world, students would discuss a leave of absence with their academic advisor or the chair of their department. They would have their plans in place before the new semester begins or at least before the drop/add deadline.

Phillip Placenti, Assistant Dean for Admission and Student Affairs at USC’s Thornton School of Music, says that this “prevents having to withdraw from classes and ending up with multiple marks of ‘W’ on your transcript. It cancels the burden of tuition for the semester in question.” But knowing that students can’t always anticipate opportunities that are too good to pass up, he adds, “Our commitment is to work through all possible options with students individually as specific opportunities arise.”

At Berklee College of Music, in order to leave school mid-semester for a professional opportunity with the option to return, students must get approval from each of their professors. “It is up to the professors whether an absence can be tolerated. That’s usually based on the length of absence and how well the student is doing in class,” says Lawrence Bethune, vice-president for student affairs and dean of students. He adds that students who leave for any length of time before they graduate but after the semester ends are now required to reapply.

What Happens to Tuition and Scholarships?

This is where it gets tricky. If you withdraw from classes after the drop/add deadline, you’re likely to lose your tuition for that semester. At Duquesne University’s Mary Pappert School of Music, any merit -based awards would likely be held for as much as a year. At USC Thornton School of Music, if students leave for professional reasons for a single semester, arrangements are typically made to help them keep their scholarship. However, if this requires the student to take an extra semester in order to graduate, that scholarship may not be renewable to cover the additional semester.

Considerations for Taking a Leave of Absence from Music School

There are important ramifications and consequences to consider on both sides of the coin.

  • How likely is this opportunity to jumpstart your career?
  • Will it expand your musicianship?
  • Will it significantly build your network and networking skills?
  • Who can you talk with to gain some clarity (professors, musicians, music students who have had similar experiences, friends who understand your dilemma and know you as a musician)?

Remember to also talk with student affairs, an advisor, or the financial aid office to find out exactly what the impact of leaving school will be on your scholarship and need-based financial aid. If you have scholarships from other sources, check what happens to those as well.

It’s also important to talk with your parents, but you’ll likely get a more supportive response from them if you’ve done your homework on this first.

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