US flag   Official website of the Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Study in the States

View Disclaimer

 

Full Course of Study

To maintain your status as an F-1 or M-1 student in the United States, you must enroll in a full course of study at the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school where a designated school official (DSO) issued you the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” you used to enter into the United States.

The definition of a full course of study varies depending on both your status (F-1 or M-1) and the program of study you attend. For instance, U.S. government regulations define a full course of study at an SEVP-certified kindergarten to grade 12 school differently than at an SEVP-certified college or university.

To help better understand the definition of a full course of study, below is a breakdown according to status and program of study.

Full course of study requirements for F-1 and M-1 students at K-12 schools

  • F-1 students at a private academic school or public academic high school (grades 9-12) must meet the minimum number of hours per week their school determines is necessary for normal progress toward graduation or completion of the program of study.
  • M-1 students at a vocational or other non-academic high school must meet the minimum number of hours per week that their school determines is necessary for normal progress toward graduation or completion of the program of study.

If you are an F-1 or M-1 student at a K-12 school and do not know how many hours per week fulfill your school’s requirement for normal progress toward graduation or completion of the program of study, talk to your DSO. Your DSO will know how many hours of class you need to attend each week and can tell you if your class schedule meets the requirement.

Full course of study requirements for post-secondary programs

F-1 post-secondary requirements

F-1 post-secondary students have a number of requirements they must abide by to remain compliant.

  • F-1 undergraduate students at a college or university must take at least 12 credit hours per term. 
  • F-1 students in postgraduate programs at a college, university, conservatory or seminary must take a full course of study as certified by the institution.   
  • F-1 students in other post-secondary liberal arts, fine arts or other non-vocational or English language learning training programs must meet 18 clock hours per week if the majority is classroom instruction  or 22 clock hours per week if the majority of the program instruction does not take place in the classroom, such as laboratory work.

Online courses cannot count toward a full course of study for an English language training student.

If you are an F-1 student in a post-secondary program of study and are unsure if your class schedule meets the requirements for a full course of study, talk to your DSO. Your DSO can verify that your class schedule for this academic term meets the requirements to maintain your status.  If meeting this full course load requirement is difficult for you, talk to your DSO immediately to discuss if you are eligible for a reduced course load. For more information, please read the “Reduced Course Load” and “Reduced Course Load for Language Limitations” sections below.

M-1 post-secondary requirements

M-1 post-secondary students have a number of requirements they must abide by to remain compliant.

  • M-1 students at a community college or junior college must take at least 12 credit hours per term.
  • M-1 students at certain post-secondary vocational or business schools must take at least 12 hours of instruction per week.
  • M-1 students in vocational or other non-academic curricular programs must take 18 clock hours per week if the majority is classroom instruction or 22 clock hours per week if the majority of the program instruction does not take place in the classroom, such as laboratory work or flight training.

If you are an M-1 student in a post-secondary program of study and are unsure if your schedule meets the requirements for a full course of study, talk to your DSO to verify your schedule meets the requirements to maintain your status. If meeting this full course load requirement is difficult for you because of medical reasons, talk to your DSO immediately to discuss if you are eligible for a reduced course load. 

Online courses and “Distance Learning”

An online, or distance learning, course for the purpose of international student regulations means a course that is primarily offered through technology and does not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examinations or other purposes integral to completion of the class.

  • Only one online or distance learning class can count toward a full course of study for an F-1 student during each term or semester.
  • No online or distance learning classes may count toward an M-1 or ESL student's full course of study requirement.

If you are unsure which courses count toward the requirements for a full course of study, talk to your DSO to verify your schedule meets the requirements to maintain your status.

Reduced Course Load

Under certain circumstances, F-1 and M-1 students may talk to their DSO about enrolling in a reduced course load and still maintain their student status.

If an F-1 student is having specified initial academic difficulties, a temporary illness or medical condition, or needs fewer courses than a full course load in their last term to complete the program of study, DSOs may authorize a reduced course load. However, an M-1 student may only receive a reduced course load for illness or a medical condition.

If you are a student in need of a reduced course, talk with your DSO as soon as possible. You cannot drop below a full course of study unless your DSO approves it and updates your student record in SEVIS.

Reduced Course Load for Language Limitations

If an F-1 student enrolled in a program has difficulties due to language limitations, they should speak with their DSOs about the options available to them.

If a student is having difficulties due to language limitations, they may take a reduced course load.

DSOs can also work with the student to determine if they should change their education level and enroll full time in an SEVP-certified English language training program or pathway program. In either of these circumstances, the DSO must update the student’s education level in SEVIS and print a new Form I-20 to reflect the change. Remember, DSOs must report any changes to student information within 21 days. For more information about these programs of study, please visit the English Language Training page.

Was This Helpful?

Additional Feedback
Additional Feedback