Reduced Course Load

F-1/J-1 students are required to maintain full-time enrollment during the academic year.  If you cannot/will not meet the requirement, complete a Request for Reduced Course Load (RCL) and, if you have any questions, meet with an ISSS advisor to discuss your request.

Requesting an RCL
Read the Overview

Read the Overview of the RCL process

See Overview

Explore the RCL Options

Explore the RCL Options to see what works for you

See RCL Options

Apply for the RCL

Apply for the RCL through iPenn

See How to Apply



Before you begin, please read the following items to understand how the RCL process works. 

Federal Regulations limit your ability to enroll less than full-time. If you cannot meet the full-time requirement you need to request an RCL. Dropping below full-time without an RCL is considered an unauthorized drop, which will endanger your immigration status.

​Definition of Full Time

  • Undergraduate students, including those in post-baccalaureate programs, must register for and complete at least 4 course units (CUs) per semester.

  • Graduate students must register for and complete a minimum of 3 CUs per semester or more if your graduate program requires it (e.g., 4 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 incompletes you are completing do not count toward full-time

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

Unauthorized Drop Below Full Time

  • 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?

  • F-1 Students: only a Designated School Official (DSO) - ISSS advisors are DSOs, not your academic advisor.

  • J-1 students: a Responsible or Alternate Responsible Officer (RO/ARO) - again ISSS advisors, not your academic advisor.

Obtain RCL Approval First

  • If you wish to drop below full-time you must obtain approval in writing from a DSO/ARO in advance, regardless of the reason.

  • If you register for, or drop below, full-time without appropriate prior approval from an ISSS advisor you will be considered out of status.

  • NOTE: lack of financial support does not constitute a valid reason to RCL.


RCL Options

Below are the situations upon which you could be eligible for a Reduced Course Load (RCL). 

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

  1. Initial difficulties during the 1st year of an academic program at Penn with the English language, reading requirements, or unfamiliarity with American teaching methods 

  2. Improper course-level placement during your academic program- missing prerequisite courses

  3. Course sequencing- no courses available to satisfy your degree requirements

Please note:

  • 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 maintain at least 2 CUs per semester for undergraduates; and at least 1.5 CUs per semester for graduate students.

  • 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 your academic reduced course load request is due to the unavailability of courses to satisfy your degree requirements (course sequencing), you must also upload a copy of your academic planning worksheet (or equivalent) to show your remaining degree requirements.

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 licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist to the DSO/ARO to substantiate the illness or medical condition.

  • A letter from your doctor. Please show the following details to your doctor so that the letter includes the 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. 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 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.

Please note:

  • 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.

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

1. Final Semester of Coursework before Thesis/Dissertation

  •  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.

 2. 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.

 Please note: Each option can be used for one semester only.


How to Apply for RCL

  1. The Reduced Course Load request form is available in iPenn.

    • Log in with your Pennkey

    • Look for "Reduced Course Load Request" 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:

    • If requesting RCL based on academic difficulties, a letter from your academic advisor 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 upload a copy of your academic planning worksheet (or equivalent) to demonstrate your remaining degree requirements.

    • 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 RCL.

    • 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 peak / high-volume period, processing may take longer.