Reduced Course Load (RCL) Regulations
International students in F-1 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 after the drop/add deadline, the ESC International Student Services is required to report this to SEVIS and you will lose your F-1 status.
According to 8 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) § 214.2(f)(6)(iii), the Designated School Official (DSO) may allow an F-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 in advance, regardless what the reason might be. A student who drops below a full course of study (after the drop-add period) without prior approval of a DSO will be considered out of status. Please be advised that according to immigration regulations, a lack of financial support does not constitute a valid reason to reduce course load.
Definition of Full Time
Full time is at least 12 credits per semester. Only 3 credits out of the 12 credits required can be taken online.
For example, an undergraduate that is required to register for 12 credits per semester to maintain a "full course of study" could take 3 of those credits through an on-line class each semester. If the student chose to take an overload of 15 credits, 6 of which were done on-line, all 6 credits might be counted towards the student's degree requirements, although only 3 of those credits are actually serving to maintain the student's F-1 "full course of study." On the other hand, an undergraduate student who is registered only for 12 total credits, 6 of which are done on-line, would be considered as being below a "full-course of study," since only 9 of the total credits would count towards the full-course of study requirement.
Withdrawal from courses is not permitted. Withdrawal is acceptable only if after withdrawing from a course, the student remains in at least 12 credits (e.g. If the student choses to take an overload of 15 credits he/she is allowed to withdraw from 3 credits assuming all other full time requirements are satisfied with the remaining credits).↑ Back to Top
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 first obtain a letter from his/her academic advisor to verify his/her eligibility to be part time based on academic difficulties.
- Immigration regulations specify four academic difficulty reasons for which a reduced course load may be approved:
- Initial difficulties with the English language (usable only in student’s first year)
- Initial difficulties with reading requirements (usable only in student’s first year)
- Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
- 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 for academic difficulties must consist of at least 6 credit hours of on-campus classes.
Source: [8 CFR § 214.2(f)(6)(iii)(A)]↑ Back to Top
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 medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist, to the DSO to 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 pursuing a course of study at a particular program level.
- The student must provide current medical documentation and the DSO must authorize the drop below full time for each new term.
Source: [8 CFR § 214.2(f)(6)(iii)(B)]↑ Back to Top
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 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. The student must also write a letter explaining the plan for the completion of the degree program and list the courses that are planned for the final semester.
Note: If only one course (at least 3 credits) is needed to complete the program of study in the final semester, that course must be taken on-campus.
Source: [8 CFR § 214.2(f)(6)(iii)(C)]↑ Back to Top
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 International Student Services:
- F-1 Student Reduced Course Load (RCL) Request Form
- Legible copies of all your previous and current I-20s (pages 1 & 3).
- A copy of your Form I-94.
- A letter written by the student 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.
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- Always sign your name on the I-20 and keep a record of all I-20s issued to you.
- Ensure that you have health insurance coverage. Your request for RCL will not be processed until ISS verifies that you have health insurance.
- Update your address with ISS within 10 days of any change.
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