Reduced Course Load

U.S. government immigration regulations require that F-1 and J-1 international students study full time each Fall and Spring semester, and Summer session (if that is your last term). Full Time enrollment is 12 credit units for undergraduates, or 8 credit units for graduates.  There are limited scenarios in which an exception can be granted. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allows CIE to authorize a reduced course load exclusively for the reasons listed below. Please note that DHS does not consider financial difficulties or the unavailability of certain courses as valid reasons for enrolling in less than a full course of study.

Who can approve my RCL and when should I apply? 

Who Can Approval a RCL?

Only a Designated School Official (DSO)- CIE advisors are DSO's, not your academic advisor

When to apply?

You can apply for a Reduced Course Load as soon class registration opens for the semester you are applying for a reduced course load. If you are applying for a reduced course load for last semester, please be enrolled in the classes you have remaining before submitting the request. 

Approval from a CIE Advisor must be granted PRIOR to engaging in a reduced course load. A student who drops below full time enrollment without PRIOR approval from a CIE Advisor will be considered to be in violation of their immigration status.

Reduced Course Load Options

Academic Difficulties

You qualify for this option only if one of the following applies to you:

  1. Initial difficulties during the 1st year of your academic program with the English language, reading requirements, or unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
  2. Improper Course-Level Placement- missing prerequisite courses due to now fault of your own
  • An RCL for academic difficulties can only be used once per degree level. This option only covers a single semester during any one course of study at a particular program level and you must resume full-time enrollment at the next available semester (excluding eligible vacation semester).
  • Important: if you qualify for Academic Difficulties RCL you must still enroll in at least 6 units.
  • To apply for a reduced course load based on academic difficulties, you will need to provide a letter from your academic advisor to substantiate the reason for the request.


If, due to a serious illness or medical condition, you are unable to be enrolled full-time, (or, if necessary, no course load), you may apply for this RCL. To apply for this option you must provide:
  • Medical documentation from a U.S. licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist to the DSO/ARO to substantiate the illness or medical condition.
    • You will need to obtain a letter from your doctor. The letter must be prepared on the official letterhead and signed by the doctor. The letter must contain:
      • In your doctor’s medical opinion, it is advised that you take a reduced course load or not take any classes because of your current medical condition. (It does not have to state what the medical condition is)
      • Duration of time, including a beginning and end date (or indicate for the semester), that your doctor advises you reduce your course load or suspend your study due to medical reasons affecting you personally.
  • Reduced Course Load for a medical condition can be granted for a period of time not to exceed a total of 12 months (365 days) while you are pursuing a course of study at a particular program level.
  • A DSO/ARO must authorize the drop below full time for each semester. You will be required to submit a new request with new documentation each semester.

Completion of Study or Coursework

You qualify for this option only if the following applies to you:
  • A student may apply for Reduced Course Load in his/her final semester if fewer courses (i.e. less than full time) are needed to complete the course of study.
  • If approved, he/she must complete his/her study at the end of the particular semester.

How to Apply for a Reduced Course Load

  1. The Reduced Course Load (RCL) form must be completed and returned to CIE by the student. 
  2. Request documentation
    • Academic Difficulties- you will need to have your academic advisor email CIE explaining the justification for the RCL due to the specified academic issue. If the academic issue is for course sequencing, you will also need to submit a copy of your academic planning worksheet (or equivalent) to demonstrate your remaining degree requirements.  
    • Medical-  you will need to submit a letter from a licensed medical doctor (or doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist) substantiating your illness. Please carefully follow the instructions listed above.
    • Last semester of study
      • Undergraduates- you will need to request your major advisor and your GE advisor ( to email CIE a list of your remaining requirements and your expected term of completion. Please see above for more details
      • Graduates- you will need to request your major advisor to email CIE a list of your remaining requirements and your expected completion date
      • Graduate students with 0 units continuing Thesis or Project- You and your capstone project or thesis advisor must complete and sign the Capstone Project/Thesis Verification Form. This form must be submitted along with verification (email or memo) from your major advisor. 


Reasons that are NOT valid for Reduced Course Load

Some popular reasons that students request an RCL that are NOT permitted per F-1 regulations include, but is not limited to:

  1. Financial Reasons
  2. Class is full
  3. Didn't get added from the waitlist
  4. Got dropped and can't get back in