Reduced Course Load

Normally, F-1 and J-1 students must be enrolled full time every academic year semester until degree completion. To maintain full-time academic student status, a student must enroll in a minimum of 12 hours (for undergraduates) or 9 hours (for graduate students) every semester.

However, there are sometimes exceptions to this full time enrollment requirement, and when an exception is granted, a student may take what is called a “reduced course load”.

On this page, you’ll find information about these exceptions so you can reflect on whether you qualify for one, and how to apply for a reduced course load (RCL). Reduced Course Load Fall 2023 presentation.

Exceptions to Full Time Enrollment

There are 4 exceptions to the full time enrollment requirement for international students. We’ve listed each of the exceptions below, along with a brief description of the supporting documentation that must be submitted for each kind:

  1. Illness or other medical condition: a U.S. doctor must recommend a reduced course load for one semester at a time; a doctor’s note is required. Students may be approved for a maximum of 12 months medical reduced course load per degree level (which converts to 2 fall of spring semesters for semester schools).
  2. Difficulty understanding the English language or unfamiliarity with American teaching methods or reading requirements: this exception is generally only allowed during the first semester in an academic program in the U.S. To qualify, your academic advisor must recommend a reduced course load before you can drop below full time enrollment. Students can only be approved for 1 semester of reduced course load for academic reasons per degree level.
  3. Improper course level placement: for this exception, an Academic advisor must confirm that the course level is an improper placement for the student, or other ISSO approved academic difficulty reasons that does not fit #2 above. ISSO advisors are available to consult with academic advisors regarding RCL reasons as specific questions arise.
  4. Student will graduate at the end of this semester and needs less than the full-time credit load to complete coursework: an Academic advisor must confirm this request. Students enrolled in GRAD 7999/9999 must also apply for this type of Reduced Course Load. A Final Semester RCL can only be granted once (in the final term).

The U.S. government allows the International Student Advisor to authorize a reduced course load, or RCL, if the student meets one of the four criteria for an exception above for a given semester. For all reasons other than illness, the student’s Academic Advisor must approve the course reduction.

Finally, while some of the RCL types above may only be used one term, the use of one RCL type does not prevent the use of another RCL type later. For example, a student who uses an Academic Difficulty or Medical/Illness RCL can still use a Final Semester RCL later on, in their final term, because these are different RCL types.

When to Apply

Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorizations are granted on a per-semester basis. The Fall 2023 Reduced Course Load (RCL) application will open August 1, 2023. Students who need less than full-time enrollment to graduate in the fall 2023 semester should apply for the RCL by August 28, 2023. Students should apply for an RCL or enroll full-time by the drop/add deadline of the semester.

For three types of RCL, the ISSO must approve the RCL request before the student is authorized to drop below full-time enrollment. However, if you are graduating in the upcoming semester and have no previous RCL requests, you may register for a reduced course load in the expectation that your “Final Semester” RCL will be approved (read on for details). If you are requesting a reduced course load to graduate this semester, AND if you have not requested a reduced course load before, you may assume that the ISSO will approve your reduced course load request. The ISSO may not open the application until up to 30 days before the upcoming semester begins; additionally, it may take several days to approve your Reduced Course Load application. While you are waiting for official approval, or even before you submit your application, you are free to register for less than a full course load.

How to Apply for a Reduced Course Load

If a student’s reason for requesting approval of less than full-time enrollment meets one of the four criteria listed under the “Exceptions” tab, the student completes the following online application request:

Apply for a Reduced Course Load

To resume an incomplete RCL application, or to check the status of other applications in ISSOconnect use the following link: ISSOConnect.

The student should also meet with both his/her Academic Advisor and his/her International Student Advisor.

Special Situation: GRAD 7800 or 9800

If you are a graduate student and are enrolled in GRAD 7800 or 9800, these courses by themselves constitute full time enrollment and you should not submit the Reduce Course Load form to the ISSO. Students enrolled in GRAD 7999/9999, on the other hand, should apply for a Final Semester Reduced Course Load (see above).

RCL & Normal Progress Toward Degree

International students in F-1 or J-1 visa status are expected to make “normal progress toward their degree”. While a reduced course load might temporarily slow progress towards a degree, it is important to note that RCL authorizations are expected to be temporary, infrequently used, and not hinder normal progress towards the degree.

  • Maintaining normal progress toward a degree is defined as successfully completing courses and other educational objectives that meet the degree requirements in a reasonable period of time. A reasonable period of time is determined by the academic department’s published degree timeline included in the university catalog. Students must also maintain the minimum GPA requirement to continue the degree program.
  • If a student fails to maintain normal progress toward degree, he/she will be deemed to be “out of status” for immigration purposes 8 C.F.R 214.2(f)(5)(i). International students who are experiencing academic difficulty are strongly encouraged to consult with their Academic and International Student Advisors to avoid further complications.
  • Students may NOT postpone graduation to a future semester unless there is a valid academic reason to do so. Career-related reasons are not considered valid academic reasons to delay graduation.