International students in F-1 and J-1 status are required to maintain full-time enrollment during the school year. If you cannot or will not meet this requirement, you must request a reduced course load. Federal immigration regulations severely limit a student's ability to be less than full time, but it may be allowed in some circumstances explained below. If you drop below full time without authorization from International Students & Scholars (ISS), we are required by law to report in SEVIS and you will lose your F-1 or J-1 status.
According to 8 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) § 214.2(f)(6)(iii), a Designated School Official (DSO) and/or an ARO (Alternate Responsible Officer) may allow an F-1/J-1 student to engage in less than a full course of study as provided below. A student who wishes to drop below full time must obtain the approval from a DSO/ARO in advance, regardless what the reason might be. A student who drops below a full course of study without prior approval of a DSO/ARO will be considered out of status. Please be advised that a lack of financial support does not constitute a valid reason to reduce course load according to immigration regulations.
A student must apply for reduced course load if, due to academic difficulties, he/she is unable to be enrolled full time. He/she must fill out the reduced course load form and return to ISS with the appropriate signatures (F-1 students) and/or first obtain a letter from his/her academic advisor to verify his/her eligibility to be part time based on academic difficulties (for J-1 students).
Immigration regulations specify four academic difficulty reasons for which a reduced course load may be approved:
o Initial difficulties with the English language (usable only in student's first year)
o Initial difficulties with reading requirements (usable only in student's first year)
o Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
o Improper course level placement
- A student may be authorized for a reduced course load on the "academic difficulties" basis only for a single term during any one course of study at a particular program level, and must resume a full course of study at the next available term (excluding summer).
- A reduced course load must consist of at least half the clock hours required for a full course of study.
Source: [8 CFR § 214.2(f)(6)(iii)(A)]
A student must apply for RCL if, due to a temporary illness or medical condition, he/she is unable to be enrolled full time (or, if necessary, no course load).
- The student must provide medical documentation from a licensed US-based medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist, to the DSO/AROto substantiate the illness or medical condition.
- The letter from the medical provider cannot be dated more than 30 days before the start of the term for which the RCL is requested.
- The letter from the medical provider must recommend either that the student be part time or not enrolled due to medical circumstances.
- A reduced course load for a medical condition can be granted for a period of time not to exceed an aggregate of 12 months while the student is pursing a course of study at a particular program level.
- The student must provide current medical documentation and the DSO/ARO must authorize the drop below full time for each new term.
Source: [8 CFR § 214.2(f)(6)(iii)(B)]
Completion of Course of Study
A student must apply for RCL in his/her final term if fewer courses (i.e. less than full time) are needed and required to complete the course of study.
The student must turn in the reduced course load form (for F-1 students) and/or obtain a letter from his/her academic advisor to verify that the current term will be the final term for the student to complete his/her academic program (for J-1 students).
Source: [8 CFR § 214.2(f)(6)(iii)(C)]
How to Apply for a Reduced Course Load
- Set up an appointment with your academic advisor for "academic reason" or licensed medical physician (or doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist) for "medical reason" to request a letter. The letter must be printed on an official letterhead and contain contact information of the person who signed the letter.
- Submit the following required documents to the Global Engagement Office:
- For F-1 students: the reduced course load form with the appropraite signatures and medical documentation (if necessary)
- For J-1 students: a letter documenting need for RCL.
- Completion of Studies: A letter from your academic advisor confirming that you are expected to complete degree requirements by [date] and specifying the number of credits for which you need to be enrolled in the final term.
- Academic Difficulties: A letter from your academic advisor recommending a Reduced Course Load on the basis of [insert one of four academic difficulty reasons] and elaborating on the circumstances.
- Medical Conditions: A letter from a licensed medical physician, doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist recommending a Reduced Course Load on the basis of a medical condition for which you have received care. The letter need not detail the diagnosis or treatment but must specify whether the recommendation is for part-time study or no study (0 credits). The letter cannot be dated more than 30 days before the start of the term for which the RCL is requested.
- You will then drop off the required documents with the ISS front office.
- An advisor will review your request within 5 working days and you will be contacted regarding the result of your request.