Below is a Q&A developed by the Office of Academic Advising which aims to help all undergrads no matter where you may be on your Stanford journey think about their enrollment plans for Winter Quarter and beyond. Learn more about this team at the Office of Academic Advising web site.

What’s the difference between enrolling full time, taking a Flex Term, or pursuing a Leave of Absence?

In normal years, most students enroll for three quarters, and then spend their summers working, interning, vacationing, or taking classes. In any year, a student might also decide to take a leave of absence for a quarter or more for any number of reasons, but this year is different—and not just due to the pandemic. Stanford is offering four academic quarters, which means you have the choice each quarter to either enroll full time, take a Leave of Absence (LoA), or take your one and only Flex Term.

Melissa Stevenson at her computer in a home office. Cat sits on bookshelf nearby

Academic Advising Director Melissa Stevenson and her colleagues within the Office of Academic Advising have held more than 1,000 virtual appointments with students since the start of January to discuss Winter Quarter planning and issues around wellbeing. (Image credit: Courtesy VPUE)

When you enroll full time, you must take a full course load. This is generally at least 12 units, though students with an OAE accommodation may be fully enrolled in fewer than 12 units. Most students will enroll in three quarters, but you could enroll in none at all or, in some cases, all four quarters.

During a Flex Term, you can take up to 5 units at no cost—or no units at all. Totally your choice. However, you may enroll in no more than 5 units on your Flex Term, which makes it different from past Summer Quarters. You can flex any quarter you want, whatever your enrollment status during the other quarters, but you only get one Flex Term, so you’ll need to choose carefully.

On a Leave of Absence (LoA), you can’t take any Stanford courses. You may take an LoA any quarter this year, and up to four LoA quarters this academic year.  Frosh who take an LoA in Winter or Spring are generally not able to re-enroll until the following academic year (Autumn 2021-2022 in this instance).

Why might I want to do a Flex Term?

Flex Terms are brand new this year (and might actually be exclusive to 2020-2021), so you should really think about taking advantage of the opportunity. There are many things you might want to do on a Flex Term.

This could involve participating in Stanford clubs and activities, taking up to five units of coursework at no cost, participating in research with Stanford Faculty, or accessing opportunities like a BOSP Summer Seminar.

Would a second Flex quarter be approved for any reason?

Each student can take just one Flex Quarter this academic year.

What kind of classes might you want to take during your Flex?

Basically anything – as long as they total 5 units or fewer. It could be a class for your major or minor—perhaps a class you want to spend extra time on? Or that one you have been putting off for a while? You could also take a class to fulfill a Ways requirement, maybe something interesting outside your usual wheelhouse. You could also try a PWR or Think class, or an Introsem, whether for exploration or to connect with a faculty member. You can also take a class purely for pleasure or out of academic interest. Always wanted to study opera, try a new language, or learn to code? This could be your chance!

Students on a Qualified Flex Term (see below) can do all the above AND can also apply to an Experiential Opportunity like Cardinal Quarter, Chappell-Lougee and Major Grants, and full time Undergraduate Research Opportunities such as Bio-X, CESTA, or CURIS (the CS summer research program). Talk to your academic advisor about the options available to you as you plan your Flex Term.

What are the different kinds of Flex Term?

Every student, regardless of enrollment status the rest of the year, has the option to take a regular Flex Term. On a regular Flex Term, you can enroll for free in up to five units of coursework, can participate in Stanford activities, can be a member of a student organization, can be involved in research (with a limited number of hours), and you have access to some Stanford opportunities (like BOSP summer seminars). Students who have completed at least two fully enrolled quarters in the Academic Year 2020-2021, also have the opportunity for a qualified Flex Term. Students on a qualified Flex Term can do everything a student on a regular Flex Term can, but also have the option to apply to spend that quarter pursuing an Experiential Opportunity (like a Cardinal Quarter, Major Grant, etc.)

Why wouldn’t I want to take a Flex Term?

The primary reason you might not take a Flex Term in any given quarter is that you want to (or need to) save your Flex Term for another quarter. There are many university opportunities that are only available to students during a Flex Term (regular or qualified). Students on a regular Flex Term can, for example, participate in a BOSP summer seminar. And students with a qualified Flex Term have the opportunity to apply to spend that term pursuing an Experiential Opportunity (like a Cardinal Quarter, Bio-X, Major Grant, etc.). And even if you are not planning to pursue a particular opportunity, you might want to save your Flex Term for a particular class. In addition, if you are thinking you might pair your Flex Term with a Leave of Absence, you might be waiting to use your five units for a specific class that isn’t offered in Winter (or Spring, or Summer). Not every course is offered every quarter, so you might be saving a Flex Term for a specific course.  In general, you will want to take a Flex Term at some point during 2020-2021, as Flex Terms will not carry over past this academic year.

Why might I want to take a Leave of Absence?

Perhaps there’s a professional opportunity you want to pursue. Or maybe you’ve been given the chance to volunteer for a cause that matters to you. In other cases you may need time to deal with a family situation, or attend to your health and general wellbeing. And still other times you may be feeling burned out and need to recharge. Whatever your reason, Stanford has a simple process for taking an LoA and returning to your studies at a later date. Stanford students take Leaves of Absence all the time. Sometimes taking time off can help you get the most of your time at Stanford, virtual or in person.

Why wouldn’t I want to take a Leave of Absence?

Some reasons that you might not want to take a Leave of Absence include choosing to enroll in a Flex Term or be fully enrolled in courses in order to take advantage of some university opportunities that are only available to enrolled students, such as participating in either a BOSP summer quarter, BOSP summer seminar, or pursuing an Experiential Opportunity (like a Cardinal Quarter, Bio-X, Major Grant, etc.). If you are an international student, you might have visa reasons for needing to be enrolled, so check with the Bechtel International Center before planning an LoA. Or you might also decide that staying an active part of the Stanford community, whether through courses, research, student organizations, etc., is one of your priorities.  While LoAs taken this academic year don’t count against the eight quarters of LoA that all undergraduates get, there is also no need to take a leave unless you want or need to. It is just one of your options!

This is a confusing period. Whom should I talk to about my options?

Your academic advisor (in VPUE’s Office of Academic Advising) is one of the best places to start. These resourceful, caring helpful staff include your academic advisors for student athletes (AARC advisors), your academic advising directors (AADs), advisor for transfer students, co-term advisor, and pre-professional advisors. If you have declared a major, your faculty advisor in your major is also an excellent resource. You might want to talk to your family, your friends, and any other mentors as your options leading to the best decision for you. And if you have any questions about how to put your decision into practice, your academic advisor is again one of the best resources to reach out to.

What are the deadlines for my decision to be fully enrolled, to take a Flex Term and to take a Leave of Absence?

  • The deadline to be fully enrolled for Winter 2020-21 is Friday, January 29, 2021 at 5 pm PST.
  • The deadline to choose to enroll in a Flex Term  is Friday, January 29, 2021 at 5 pm PST.
  • The deadline to submit a Leave of Absence with a full tuition refund is Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 5pm PST. The last day to submit Leave of Absence to withdraw from the University with a partial refund is Friday, February 19, 2021 at 5pm PST.

How does my enrollment choice for Winter impact my potential to do an experiential opportunity (like a Cardinal Quarter, Bio-X, Major Grant, etc.)?

There are some new requirements for experiential opportunities that are in place for this academic year, and if you are considering those possibilities, the timing of when to take your Flex Quarter, and when you might take a Leave of Absence, is really important to keep in mind. If you take your Flex Term during Winter Quarter, you are no longer eligible for experiential opportunities, as you must have your Flex Quarter available for any of these programs. That is also true if you have taken your Flex quarter in the Autumn.  If you were enrolled in Autumn, you can take a Leave of Absence in Winter and still be eligible for Summer Quarter opportunities if you enroll full-time in Spring Quarter.  If you took an LoA in Autumn, you must enroll in Winter and Spring to be eligible for Summer opportunities. This is the case because you need to have been fully enrolled in two prior quarters, as well as having your Flex Quarter available, in order to do any of these programs.

What if I have questions about Cardinal Care?

While your academic advisor is always a great place to start with any questions you may have, we aren’t always the ones with the information you need.  But, like for this question for instance, we will always point you to the right person or organization on campus to ask. In this case, you should reach out to a residence dean. Your RD is one of your best resources for all your residential questions. You can also contact Vaden directly. Finally, you can also have your Cardinal Care questions (as well as many other questions!) answered by putting in a Service Now Help request.

Whom should I talk to if I have questions about my Financial Aid?

These questions should be directed to Financial Aid directly.  You can make an appointment with them, or call them at 650-723-3058.