Reduced Course Load (RCL) Regulations
• Academic Difficulties
• Medical Conditions
• Completion of Course of Study
• How to Apply for a Reduced Course Load
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 FSW 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).
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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)]
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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)]
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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)]
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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:
If you are requesting RCL for “Completion of Course of Study” because this is your final semester of required courses, you may drop off your request form to the International Student Services designated school official. The DSO will determine your eligibility for RCL and report your RCL to SEVIS and notify you via email.
If you are requesting RCL for “Academic Difficulties” or “Medical Condition”, you must meet with an International Student Advisor. Contact ISS to arrange a meeting with the DSO. ISS will determine your eligibility for RCL, report your RCL to SEVIS, and generate a new I-20 for you. The documented RCL authorization will be printed on page 3 of the I-20. You will then be notified to pick up your new I-20.
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- 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.