The primary purpose of F-1 student immigration status is to study! This is why all F-1 students are required to take a full course load each academic term. Each academic term (Fall, Winter, Spring) the ISS Team confirms that every F-1 student is fully enrolled and we confirm this full time enrollment in the SEVIS immigration system. There are limited exceptions to the requirement to take a full course load. If you’re struggling with your course load or thinking about dropping class, please visit our office during drop-in advising hours.
What Is A Full Course Load?
For immigration purposes, a full course load is the minimum number of classes you must enroll in and attend to maintain F-1 student immigration status. Your academic program may recommend or even require that you take more courses.
Undergraduate (Bachelor’s) Students = 12 units
Graduate (Master’s / Doctorate) Students = 8 units
These courses must be taken at SCU within your academic program. In general, you should never drop below a full course load without the written permission of ISS.
What About Summer Term?
For immigration purposes, students are not required to take classes during the summer term. From an immigration standpoint, you can take as many or as few classes as you like -- including no classes at all! Your academic program may recommend or even require that you take courses during the summer. For information about how summer enrollment impacts CPT, please visit our CPT website.
During academic terms (Fall, Winter, Spring) international students are only eligible to take 1 course online per term. If you have questions about online courses and the full time enrollment requirement, please visit our office during drop-in advising hours.
Classes at Other Institutions
While enrolled at SCU (or engaged in post-completion OPT or STEM OPT extension) students can take classes at another school for fun or for personal edification. These classes generally do not transfer to SCU and cannot be used to fulfill SCU’s degree requirements. Courses taken at another school do not count toward your full course load requirement at SCU.
If you need a letter of support confirming your F-1 status at SCU and our permission for you to enroll in classes at another school, please email firstname.lastname@example.org (your email should include your full legal name, your SCU ID number, the name of the school where you want to take the classes, the academic term, and the course name and number).
Reduced Course Load Authorization
In some limited circumstances, an F-1 student can be authorized to take less than a full course load, but still be considered to be maintaining their F-1 immigration status. Most Reduced Course Load Authorizations require you to speak with an ISS advisor. In general, you should never drop below a full course load without the written permission of ISS.
If you are in your final term and have less than a full course load needed to complete your degree you can be approved to take a reduced course load.
This is very common and does not require you to meet with an ISS Advisor.
Please complete the Reduced Course Load Form and deliver it to the secure drop-box as soon as you have completed enrollment for the term but no later than the first Friday of the academic term. The signed and completed Reduced Course Load Form must be processed before we can authorize CPT or OPT, so you can bring it to you CPT or OPT appointment (whichever is earlier).
If your Reduced Course Load Form is filled out properly, we will authorize you to take a Reduced Course Load. We will not contact you to confirm. We will only contact you if the form is not filled out properly. If you don’t hear from us, you should assume the authorization was granted.
If your final units will all be Thesis or Capstone units, you should submit the Thesis/Capstone Confirmation Form instead of the Reduced Course Load Form.
Sometimes students get sick, injured or have ongoing medical conditions, including mental health conditions, that keep them from being able to fully participate in academic life at SCU. If your U.S. based doctor or healthcare professional believes that you should take less than a full course load (including no classes) during an academic term (Fall, Winter, Spring), please email email@example.com or visit our office during drop-in advising hours.
To authorize a Medical Reduced Course Load we will work with you to collect:
- A completed Reduced Course Load Form signed by your academic advisor
- A medical recommendation that includes:
- Your full legal name
- The academic term which you need a Medical Reduced Course Load
- The number of classes the doctor recommends you take (in units, hours or courses), including the recommendation that you take no classes (if applicable).
- A statement that you are under the doctor's care that include the medical diagnosis the doctor has made that supports the recommendation that you take few or no classes.
- The letter must be on letterhead and should be dated and signed by your U.S. based doctor or health care professional.
For immigration and F-1 reduced course load purposes, pregnancy does not qualify as a medical diagnosis and therefore the doctor's letter must address any other relevant medical diagnosis or treatment reasons why you cannot attend classes.
Do not drop any courses until you have written authorization from ISS.
In some situations, a student’s academic difficulty qualifies them to drop a course. If you are having academic difficulty, please visit our office during drop-in advising hours to speak with an ISS Advisor. We will work with you, your academic advisor and the faculty member teaching the course to understand if you meet the immigration criteria to drop the course. Typically, your difficulty must fall within one of these criteria:
- Improper course level placement
- Initial difficulty with reading requirements (first quarter / semester)
- Initial difficulty with the English language (first quarter / semester)
- Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods (first quarter / semester)
Do not drop any course until you have written authorization from ISS.
Thesis / Capstone Authorization
Generally F-1 international students are required to take a full course load. However, when a student is engaged in a program that has a thesis or capstone requirement and the student has completed all class / courses requirements except the thesis or capstone work, the student may enroll in less than a full course load and still be considered fully enrolled for immigration purposes.
Please complete the Thesis/Capstone Confirmation Form and deliver it to the secure drop-box as soon as you have completed enrollment for the term but no later than the first Friday of the academic term. The signed and completed Thesis/Capstone Confirmation Form must be processed before we can authorize CPT or OPT, so you can bring it to you CPT or OPT appointment (whichever is earlier).
US immigration regulations are complex and change frequently. The University strives to maintain a website that is both current and helpful, however, Santa Clara University is not responsible for students maintaining lawful immigration status; this is the responsibility of the student. Further, resources and links do not constitute endorsement by Santa Clara University.