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F-1 Reduced Course Load Options

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 under this category include:
      • initial difficulties with the reading requirements
      • initial difficulties with American teaching methods
      • initial difficulties with English language proficiency or
      • difficulties due to improper course placement (e.g., student is placed into the incorrect course)
  • You may request this type of reduced course load authorization only once per degree level
  • For situations involving academic difficulties beyond the first academic year, please contact the International Center

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 (including psychiatrists), 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

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

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.


  1. 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.
  2. Access the Academic Reduced Course Load Request on the Request Center and provide your advisor or registrar's contact information for the approval request.
  3. 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.