International students who are in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 student visa classification are required by law to maintain full-time enrollment status during all normal enrollment periods.
- For undergraduate students, full-time status is defined as 12 credit hours of course work per term.
- For graduate students, full-time status is defined as 9 credit hours of course work per term or Full-time Dissertation Study.
The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and/or the U.S. Department of State (DOS) allow very limited reasons for a student to engage in less than full-time enrollment. In order to qualify for the Reduced Course load authorization (RCL), an international student must apply for a Reduced Course Load (RCL) with the OIS office prior to dropping below full-time. If a student fails to continue full-time enrollment and/or be approved for a reduced course load, he/she is in violation of F-1 status resulting in termination of his/her SEVIS record.
There are three types of criteria in which a student might be eligible for a Reduced Course load authorization: Academic, Medical, and To Complete Course of Study in Current Semester.
The following are academic criteria for which a student could apply for an RCL. The first three reasons pertain to a student’s first semester. For each of these reasons a student must be enrolled for at least six credits, or half the credits required for a full course of study. A reduced course load can be approved for academic reasons only once while pursuing a course of study at a particular program level. Use of an academic difficulty reduced course load does not affect eligibility for the other criteria (Medical and Final Semester).
- Initial difficulties with the English language
- Initial difficulties with reading requirements
- Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
- Placed in an improper course level
A student can apply for an RCL if he/she has a medical condition that warrants taking less than a full course of study. The student will be required to provide OIS with a recommendation letter from a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist which clearly states that the professional recommends the student to enroll part-time or not at all. The letter need not detail the medical or mental health issue. Reduced Course Load for medical conditions can be granted for no more than 12 months in the aggregate during any one course of study but is approved on a semester by semester basis.
To Complete Course of Study in the Current Term Criteria
A student can apply for an RCL if he/she needs less than a full course load and will complete his/her course of study in the current term. This allows students to register for only the number of credits required to complete the course of study. A student cannot be registered for only an online course in his/her final semester. If applying for an RCL to complete course of study and a student does not finish, the student’s F-1 status will be in jeopardy. A student is not eligible to seek an extension after approval of an RCL for To Complete Course of Study in the Current Term Criteria.
How to Apply
You must apply for the RCL request before dropping below full-time.
Step 1: Meet with your academic advisor to inquire about your particular eligibility. Let your advisor know that he/she will receive an email from the My OIS system requesting him/her to complete a recommendation form online.
Step 2: Log into My OIS
Step 3: Under “F-1 Student Services,” or “J-1 Student Services” review the “Reduced Course Load Request” section.
Step 4: You will be required to complete the online form and choose the reason in which you qualify for an RCL. You will have to include the semester in which you are applying for the RCL and your academic advisor’s name and email. If you are applying due to Medical reasons, you will have to upload the letter from the medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist.
Once your academic advisor has recommended your Reduced Course Load and you have completed the requirements, OIS will review your application. Normal processing time is 5 business days from receipt of all materials. Once approved, if you are an F-1 student you will receive a new I-20 with Reduced Course Load approval on page three of your new I-20. If you are a J-1 student you will receive a memo indicating the RCL approval. OIS will e-mail you once it is ready to pick-up.