International students in F-1 and J-1 status are required to maintain full-time enrollment during the academic year.  If you cannot or will not meet this requirement, you must complete a Request for Reduced Course Load (RCL) and meet an advisor in ISSS to discuss your request.

  • Unauthorized Drop Below Full Time
    • Federal immigration regulations limit the international student's ability to enroll less than full time, but it may be allowed in some circumstances explained below.
    • Please note that if you drop below full-time enrollment without authorization in advance from an ISSS advisor, ISSS is federally mandated to report this in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS); and you will lose your F-1 or J-1 status.
  • Who Can Approve RCL?
    • According to immigration regulations governing international students, only a Designated School Official (DSO, a designation held by ISSS advisors, not your academic advisor) may allow an F-1 student to engage in less than a full course of study as provided below.
    • For J-1 students, a Responsible or Alternate Responsible Officer (RO/ARO – again, ISSS advisors have this designation, not your academic advisor) may allow such reduced course load.
  • Obtain RCL Approval First
    • A student who wishes to drop below full time must obtain the approval in writing from a DSO/ARO in advance, regardless of what the reason might be.
    • A student who registers for fewer classes than a full course load, or drops below a full course of study, without appropriate prior approval from an ISSS advisor will be considered out of status.
    • Please be advised that a lack of financial support does not constitute a valid reason to reduce course load.
  • Definition of Full Time
    • An undergraduate student, including students in post-baccalaureate programs, must register for and complete at least 4 course units (CUs) per semester.
    • As a graduate student, you must register for and complete a minimum of 3 CUs per semester or more if your graduate program requires it (e.g., four CUs for school of design).

    If you are not enrolled full-time as defined here, please see an ISSS advisor immediately.

    NOTE: Courses that you audit or any incompletes that you are working to complete do not count toward the full-time enrollment requirement for immigration purposes.

    NOTE: Federal Regulations limit the number of online/web courses that could count towards the full-time enrollment requirement for immigration purposes Please see an ISSS advisor prior to registering for any online/web courses.

RCL Options

  • Academic Difficulties
  • A student may apply for Reduced Course Load if, due to academic difficulties, he/she is unable to be enrolled full time. Academic difficulties are exclusively limited to:

    • Initial difficulties during the first year of an academic program at Penn with the English language, reading requirements, or unfamiliarity with American teaching methods

    • Improper course-level placement during his/her academic program

    A student may be authorized for Reduced Course Load on the “academic difficulties” basis only for a single semester during any one course of study at a particular program level and must resume a full course of study at the next available semester (excluding eligible vacation semester).

    Important!   Even with the reason of academic difficulties (listed above), Reduced Course Load must still consist of at least 2 CUs per semester for undergraduates; and at least 1.5 CUs per semester for graduate students.

  • Medical Conditions
    • A student may apply for Reduced Course Load if, due to a serious 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/ARO to substantiate the illness or medical condition.
    • Please show this website to your doctor so that his/her letter will include required information. If not, we might have to ask you to obtain a new letter from your doctor. The letter must be prepared on the official letterhead and signed by the doctor.
    • A letter from your doctor must contain the following:
      • 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 illness.
      • 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.
      • If a reduction of your course load is advised, the doctor must specify whether he or she advises you to take ¾ load, ½ load, or ¼ load for medical reasons.
    • Reduced Course Load for a medical condition can be granted for a period of time not to exceed a total of 12 months while the student is pursuing a course of study at a particular program level.
    • A DSO/ARO must authorize the drop below full time for each new semester.
  • Master’s & Doctoral Students on Thesis/Dissertation Track
    • For one semester only
    • If this is your final semester of coursework before the start of your thesis or dissertation (only) status, an ISSS advisor could approve you to register for a course or courses left for completion.
    • Once you have completed your coursework and begin working full-time on your thesis or dissertation, you are required to continue to register for master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation tuition (or registration) during each semester until you graduate.
  • Completion of Course of Study
    • 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 RCL

  • RCL Request in iPenn
    1. The Reduced Course Load request form is available in iPenn. After you log in with your Pennkey, you will find "Reduced Course Load" under Student Services in the left menu. RCL may be requested for one semester at a time after registering for that particular semester.
    2. As part of your iPenn eform submission, scan and upload the following:
      • Copy of your current I-20
      • Copy of your passport
      • Photocopy of your I-94 card (front and back if issued paper I-94) or US entry/admission stamp in passport  (if issued electronic I-94)
        Refer to the automated I-94 process at
      • If requesting RCL based on illness, letter from a licensed medical doctor (or doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist) substantiating your illness. Please carefully follow the instructions listed above.
    3. You must consult the appropriate school advisor to apply for Reduced Course Load.  Refer to the eform in iPenn to determine which advisor to consult.  Your advisor may require you to meet in person.
    4. There is no need to come to ISSS in person as it will be handled electronically. Your RCL request will be electronically sent to your school advisor via email for review and recommendation.  If your school advisor recommends your RCL request, it will be forwarded to an ISSS advisor for final approval.  Without your school advisor’s recommendation, ISSS is unable to process this request.  
    5. ISSS processing time is 3-5 business days from receipt of your school advisor’s review/recommendation.  During the peak / high-volume period, processing may take longer.