As an F-1 student, you must register full-time every fall and spring term. Failure to study full-time is considered a serious violation of F-1 regulations. However, you can request a reduced course load in certain situations as described below. Unless otherwise indicated, you must get authorization from the International Center BEFORE you drop below full-time enrollment.
Undergraduate students: Full-time is a minimum of 12 SHUs (credit hours)
Graduate / professional students: The full-time standard varies across different schools; it is usually a minimum of 9 SHUs but can be higher for different schools and programs
Note: If you are approved by the International Center for a reduced course load, you are considered to be maintaining valid F-1 student status and are eligible to continue on-campus employment up to 20 hours per week (full-time on-campus employment over 20 hours per week is permitted during school breaks, including the summer vacation). Please meet with an International Center advisor to discuss how a reduced course load may affect your off-campus employment eligibility.
The following are situations in which you may be eligible for a reduced course load (part-time enrollment or no enrollment):
1. Annual Summer Vacation
You are allowed a summer vacation as long as you have completed two consecutive semesters of full-time study (normally fall and spring) and will continue full-time studies in the following fall semester after the summer is over
Graduate students who begin their program in the spring may take their first summer as a vacation if allowed by their academic programs
Graduate students who begin their programs in the summer must register full-time for the summer
During the summer vacation you are not required to take any classes at all
You do not need to request authorization from the International Center to take a summer vacation as long as you were full-time during the previous fall and spring semesters
2. Initial Academic Difficulties
You can request permission to reduce to part-time enrollment (no fewer than 6 SHUs for undergraduates or 5 SHUs for graduates) if you are in your first academic year of degree study and are having initial academic adjustment difficulties
Acceptable reasons include initial difficulties with the reading requirements, American teaching methods, English language proficiency, or because of improper course placement
You may request this type of reduced course load authorization only once per degree level
3. Final Term of Study
You are not required to study full-time if you only need less than a full course load to complete your degree requirements
Example: if you only have two classes left to complete your program, you only need to register for those two classes
In your final semester, only one class can be online - if you have only one class left to complete, it must be an in-person class
If you are approved for a final term of study, you are expected to finish your requirements in that semester
4. Medical Reduced Course Load
You can request permission to drop some or all of your classes if you have a medical illness or condition that prevents you from maintaining full-time enrollment
You must provide the International Center a written letter from a licensed US medical doctor, clinical psychologist, or doctor of osteopathy that recommends a reduced course load for medical reasons. The letter must be on letterhead and signed and verify the medical care provider's licensure.
You can request up to three semesters of medical reduced course load, but you must make a separate request for each semester by providing updated medical documentation
Note on Special Student Relief: Certain F-1 students who are citizens or residents of countries that have been designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security for Special Student Relief and who are experiencing severe economic hardship may be eligible for reduced course load authorization. For more information, go to our Special Student Relief page.
Requesting a Reduced Course Load
Requesting a Reduced Course Load - Initial Academic Difficulties
If you are having initial academic difficulties in your first year of US degree study, you may request authorization to drop to part-time study (minimum 6 SHUs required) upon the recommendation of an academic advisor. You may drop only after receiving the authorization of the International Center. Examples of initial difficulties include:
Initial difficulties with the reading requirements
Initial difficulties with the English language
Initial difficulties with US teaching methods
Improper course placement
The Academic Difficulties RCL is granted only once per degree level and typically only during the first year of study. An exception may be made for the Improper Course Placement reason, which allows for a reduced course load whenever a student is incorrectly advised to take or placed in a class that was too advanced, and should have been placed in a more fundamental class level instead. In any case, the academic difficulties RCL may be granted only once per degree level.
Discuss your academic situation with your advisor or school registrar (as applicable). If your advisor or registrar recommends an initial academic difficulties RCL, proceed to log into the International Center Portal to submit the request.
Access the Academic Reduced Course Load Request on the Request Center and provide your advisor or registrar's contact information for the approval request.
Once your advisor has approved the request, an international student advisor will be electronically notified. If your request is approved by the International Center, you will receive an approval notification by email within 5 business days.
Requesting a Reduced Course Load - Medical Reasons
If you are requesting a reduced course load for medical reasons, follow these procedures.
Consult with your medical provider to determine if you need to take a reduced course load for a semester due to medical reasons. A reduced course load can mean taking only part-time classes or no classes if medically warranted.
If your medical provider agrees, obtain a letter that recommends that you take a reduced course load (part-time or no study) for the semester
Please note: under F-1 regulations, only a written recommendation by a licensed medical doctor, clinical psychologist, or doctor of osteopathy can be accepted for purposes of authorizing a reduced course load. The letter should be written on the doctor's letterhead and contain a verification of the doctor's state licensure.
The letter does not need to provide details about the nature of your medical condition, but must confirm the existence of a medical condition and recommend the reduced course load
In order to ensure your privacy, the International Center does not require or retain personal medical records (e.g., hospital charts, billing statements, X-ray copies, etc.)
Discuss your medical situation with your academic advisor or registrar (as applicable) and provide them with the medical letter for their reviewing. If your advisor or registrar recommends a medical RCL, proceed to log into the International Center Portal to submit the request.
Access the Medical Reduced Course Load Request on the Request Center and upload the Medical Letter.
After submitting the request, an international student advisor will be electronically notified. If your request is approved by the International Center, you will receive an approval notification by email within 5 business days.
In addition to following the medical RCL procedure for immigration purposes, you will need to consult with an academic advisor or advising dean to request authorization from your school to take a reduced course load
Even if granted permission by your school for a medical reduced course load or medical withdrawal, you must still follow the procedure described above to obtain immigration approval to drop below full-time study
Under F-1 regulations, you can request up to but no more than 12 months (three semesters) of medical reduced course load during your program
During a semester in which you have a medical reduced course load, you are still considered an F-1 student in valid status
If the medical RCL will delay your expected completion date, ask your academic advisor to send an email to the International Center recommending additional time
You do not need to request a medical RCL if you do not plan to continue courses at Tufts but will instead leave the US to receive medical treatment; however, in this case you should request an authorized early withdrawal from studies and speak to an International Center advisor about the process for returning to the US at a future date
Requesting a Reduced Course Load - Final Term of Study
If you only need to enroll part-time to finish the requirements for your degree, you may request a Final Term of Study RCL. You are not required to study full-time for F-1 visa purposes if you do not need a full course load to complete your degree requirements. (However, please note that undergraduate students may also be required to fulfill Tufts residency requirements, which are separate from F-1 visa requirements, in order to qualify for graduation.)
Provide your advisor, academic dean or registrar's information as applicable to request their approval.
If your request is approved, you will receive an International Center approval notification by email within 5 business days.
In rare and extraordinary situations, a student may request a second Final Semester RCL if the remaining degree requirements were not completed in the final semester (this allowance is usually limited to students who did not pass a required course in the final term). No more than two consecutive Final Semester RCL approvals may be granted. Do not upload any documents into the International Center Portal in this situation, but make an appointment to talk with an international student advisor directly.