Reduced Course Load

Federal regulations require that all F-1 students maintain enrollment in a full course of study (i.e., full-time enrollment). This is one of the most important requirements for F-1 students to maintain legal F-1 status.

However, in very limited circumstances, an F-1 student may be able to drop below a full course load with advance authorization from the Designated School Official (DSO). This is known as a reduced course load authorization, or RCL. If an F-1 student meets the criteria for an RCL, the DSO can authorize the RCL in the SEVIS system. Once the RCL has been authorized in SEVIS, the student can then make the necessary changes to his/her academic schedule.

F-1 students cannot drop below a full course of study unless they complete the RCL application process and receive authorization from the DSO in the Center for Global Health (CGH). If an F-1 student drops below a full course of study without prior approval from the DSO, the student has violated the terms of F-1 status. This means that the student will no longer be able to remain in the US in F-1 status.

RCL Eligibility & Requirements

A reduced course load must consist of a minimum of six credit hours per semester or half the clock hours required for a full course of study.

Academic Difficulties

The DSO can authorize a reduced course load for academic difficulties based on one of the following:

  1. Initial difficulties with the English language
  2. Initial difficulties with reading requirements
  3. Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
  4. Improper course level placement

Students requesting an RCL for academic difficulties must provide official documentation from an academic advisor or other college official that fully describes one of the above criteria.

An RCL based on academic difficulties can only be authorized once per program level and for a maximum duration of one term/semester. An F-1 student who receives RCL authorization for academic difficulties must resume a full course of study at the next available term/semester.

Medical Conditions

The DSO can authorize a reduced course load (or, if necessary, no course load) due to a student’s temporary illness or medical condition. An RCL based on medical conditions can be granted for one term/semester at a time for a maximum aggregate time period of 12 months per program level. Students must reapply for a medical RCL at the beginning of each term/semester and provide new medical documentation with each medical RCL request.

Students requesting an RCL based on a medical condition must provide official documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist to substantiate the illness or medical condition and the need for a reduced course load or no course load.

Completion of Course of Study

The DSO can authorize a reduced course load in an F-1 student’s final term/semester if fewer courses are needed to complete the course of study.

Students requesting an RCL based on completing the course of study in the final term must provide a letter from his/her academic advisor verifying that the current term will be the final term and that the student is on track to complete the academic program at the end of this term.

RCL Request Process

If you need to request an RCL, you must submit a request in advance. RCL requests must be submitted at least 3 weeks prior to the start of the semester.

Step One: Gather Supporting Documentation

You are responsible for obtaining supporting documentation to substantiate your RCL request. You will submit the supporting documentation to CGH with the RCL request in Terra Dotta (step two).

Below are additional details about the supporting documentation requirements based on one of the eligibility categories. All letters must be on official letterhead.

Academic Difficulties – Letter from your academic advisor/mentor that:

  • Specifies which of the four academic difficulty reasons applies to your RCL request
  • Describes in detail the specific circumstances of the academic difficulty
  • States that you will resume a full course of study for the next available term

Medical Conditions – Letter from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist that:

  • States that the medical practitioner is recommending a reduced course load for you due to a current illness or medical condition
    • The letter does not need to provide the specific medical diagnosis or details of your treatment plan
  • Specifies if the recommendation is for part-time study or no study (0 credits)
  • Provides the full name and professional designation (medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, licensed clinical psychologist) for the medical practitioner
  • Dated no more than 30 days prior to the start of the term for which you are requesting RCL

Completion/Final Term – Letter from your academic advisor/mentor that:

  • States that the upcoming term is your final term
  • States that you are on track to complete your course of study on your F-1 program end date (specify the exact program end date from your current Form I-20)

Step Two: Submit Request in Terra Dotta

Access the Reduced Course Load Authorization request page, then log in through your Terra Dotta portal. Click Apply Now and select the term for which you are applying for RCL.

Read the instructions and learning content, then complete all of the application elements. You do not have to complete the application in one sitting. After you have created the record, you can access the pending record through your Terra Dotta portal home page. Once all application elements are complete, click the Submit button at the top of the record page.

Remember that medical condition RCL requests can only be submitted for one term at a time, and a new medical RCL request is required at the beginning of each new term (for a maximum aggregate of 12 months).

Step Three: CGH Application Processing

You will be notified by the DSO in CGH if your RCL request is approved. If your RCL request is approved, you will receive a new Form I-20 indicating the RCL authorization. The new Form I-20 will be sent to your US residential address by regular US mail (so be sure that your address is correct in your Terra Dotta portal).

Remember that you cannot make the changes to your academic schedule until you are notified that the RCL request is approved. If you drop below a full course of study before receiving approval from the DSO, you will be violating your F-1 status.