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Reduced Course Load

Last updated 13-Mar-2018

General Information

Designated school officials (DSOs) must be familiar with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) standards for what equals a full course of study at their schools. F-1 and M-1 students normally must enroll in a full-time course load each term to keep their F-1 and M-1 status. Sometimes a DSO may excuse a student from this rule. 

negative consequenceIf 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 his/her last term to complete the program of study, DSOs may authorize a reduced course load (RCL).

 

negative consequenceAn M-1 student may only receive RCL for illness or a medical condition.

 

DSOs authorize RCL by completing an action in SEVIS called “Authorizing a Drop Below Full Course.” The DSO authorizes RCL for one term and may extend it, if needed, the following term if the student is still eligible. RCL allows F-1 and M-1 students to attend classes part-time. In addition, for illness or medical cases, a DSO may excuse a student from all classes for up to 12 months for an F-1 or five months for an M-1. During this time, they remain in F-1 and M-1 status. This document explains when a student may be allowed an RCL, how to authorize it, and how to modify an RCL in SEVIS.

Reasons for Reduced Course Loads

Regulations provide limited reasons for granting an RCL. Reasons for an RCL differ between F and M students.

RCL Reasons and Guidelines for F-1 Students

negative consequence

Reasons Guidelines
Illness or Medical Condition
  • Cannot exceed 12 month aggregate per program level
  • May excuse a student from all classes
  • Student must provide medical documentation from a licensed:
    • Medical Doctor
    • Doctor of Osteopathy
    • Clinical Psychologist
  • DSO must renew the RCL each term, based on new or continuing medical information
  • May be used nonstop or at different times during a program level
  • Start date should be the date DSO approved the RCL

Academic Difficulties, including:

  • Improper course level placement
  • Initial difficulty with reading requirements
  • Initial difficulty with the English language
  • Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods
  • Can only be used for the initial academic term
  • Student must maintain a minimum six-credit course load, or half the clock hours required for a full course of study
  • Student must begin a full course of study at the next offered term
  • RCL start and end dates must correspond to the school session start and end dates
  • RCL start dates may be back dated, if necessary
To Complete Course of Study In Current Term
  • Used in a student’s final term if he/she can complete the program with fewer classes
  • Student must be enrolled in at least one required class
  • RCL start and end dates must correspond to the school session start and end dates
  • RCL start dates may be backdated, if necessary
Part-time Commuter Student
  • There is no limit to the number of times this can be used
  • May be used in case of F-1 commuter student attending school within 75 miles of the U.S. border
  • Student must maintain a minimum six-credit course load, or half the clock hours required for a full course of study

 

negative consequencenegative consequenceFind the regulations addressing reduced course loads for F-1 students at: Title 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 214.2(f)(6)(iii)-(iv)

Find regulations addressing part-time border commuter students at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(18)(i)

 

RCL Reasons and Guidelines for M-1 Students

negative consequence

Reasons Guidelines
Illness or Medical Condition
  • Cannot exceed five months per entire course of study
  • May excuse a student from all classes for an entire academic term
  • Student must provide medical documentation from a licensed:
    • Medical Doctor
    • Doctor of Osteopathy
    • Clinical Psychologist
  • DSO must renew the RCL each term, based on new or continuing medical information
  • May be used nonstop or at different times during a period of study
Part-time Commuter Student
  • There is no limit to the number of times this can be used
  • May be used in case of M-1 commuter student attending school within 75 miles of the U.S. border
  • Student must maintain a minimum six-credit course load, or half the clock hours required for a full course of study

 

Find the regulations addressing reduced course loads for M-1 students at: negative consequencenegative consequenceTitle 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 214.2(m)(9)(v)-(vi)

Find regulations addressing part-time border commuter students at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(18)(i)

Authorizing a Reduced Course Load Process at a Glance

For students to keep F-1 and M-1 status, a DSO must approve all RCLs. The DSO does this by entering the RCL reason and RCL start and end dates in the “Authorize to Drop Below Full Course” option on the student’s SEVIS record. Once the DSO submits the information to SEVIS, the RCL is approved and the student may drop the requested courses.

Event Steps
Student Has Problem
  • Visits doctor, or
  • Speaks with teacher or academic advisor for all nonmedical reasons
 
Student Requests RCL 
  • Brings letter from doctor, or
  • Explains academic problem to DSO
DSO Authorizes RCL
  • DSO authorizes RCL in SEVIS prior to the student commencing the reduction:
    • Selects reason, and
    • Enters start and end dates
  • Note: For all academic reasons, including completion of studies, the RCL start and end dates should correspond with the current session start and end dates. For illness or medical conditions, the RCL start date should be the day the DSO approves the RCL. The end date should correspond with the current session end date
Student is on RCL Student maintains F-1/M-1 status during the segment of RCL
DSO Updates Student Full-Time Study
  • At end of the authorized segment of RCL, student must resume full course load, unless further RCL is needed and the student has remaining eligibility
  • DSO must update SEVIS registration to full course load within 21 days of the student’s commencement of full course of study

 

Authorize a Reduced Course Load/“Drop Below Full Course” in SEVIS

  1. Navigate to the Student Information page.

the Student Information page

  1. Click Authorize To Drop Below Full Course. The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one opens.
The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one
  1. Click New Authorize to Drop Below Full Course. The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page two opens.
 
 
The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page two
 
  1. Enter information relevant to the RCL authorization. 
Note: An * (asterisk) indicates required fields.
 
* Authorization Reason
  • For F-1 students, select one of the following:
    • Illness or Medical Reason
    • Improper Course Level Placement
    • Initial Difficulty with Reading Requirements
    • Initial Difficulty with the English Language
    • To Complete Course of Study in Current Term
    • Unfamiliarity with American Teaching Methods
  • For M-1 students, select one of the following:
    • Illness or Medical Condition
    • Part-time Commuter Student
*Authorization Start Date The date the authorization is to start. For any academic reason, including completion of studies, the start date should correspond with the current session start date.
Format MM/DD/YYYY
*Authorization End Date The date the authorization is to end. For any academic reason, including completion of studies, the end date should correspond with the current session end date. This date cannot be beyond the program end date. This date cannot be in the past.
Format: MM/DD/YYYY
Remarks
This is optional. Enter any remarks regarding the student’s situation; for example, “Student is in first semester of academic course work and is having trouble with English.”
  1. Review the information. Click one of the following:
  • Authorize: Submits the RCL requests

A message with two options indicates if the update was successful:

  • Return to Authorization List: Returns user to the Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page. The newly added RCL is now listed. It is located under the Authorization Reason title.
  • Print I-20: Prints the Form I 20. The authorization appears on the Form I-20.
Note: If you choose to print the Form I-20, do not forget to sign it before you give it to the student.
 
  • Reset Values: Returns the previous values to the fields. In this case, the new information is deleted and the fields are left empty.
  • Cancel: Cancels the action and returns the user to the Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one.
  1. Review the information on the Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one. If you need to make changes to the existing RCL Authorization request, see Update Authorize to Drop Below Full Course.
Note: If you need to recommend an additional segment of RCL, repeat Steps 4 and 5. Periods of approved RCL cannot overlap.
 
  1. Click either:
  • New Authorization to Drop Below Full Course: Returns the user to the Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page two.
  • Print I-20: Prints the Form I 20.

 

Update Authorize to Drop Below Full Course

DSOs can take different actions even after submitting an RCL segment:

RCL Dates Available Actions in SEVIS
Start Date is Still in the Future
  • View Request
  • Update Request
    • Change Authorization Reason
    • Change Authorization Start Date 
    • Change Authorization End Date to Any Day After Start Date Within 12 months
    • Student Remarks
  • Cancel Request
  • Recommend another RCL segment as long as the dates do not overlap
Start Date Has Passed but End Date is Still in the Future
  • View Request
  • Update Request
    • Change Authorization Reason
    • Change Authorization End Date to Any Date Within 12 Months of Start Date
    • Student Remarks
  • Recommend another RCL segment as long as the dates do not overlap
To update an Authorize to Drop Below Full Course request:
 
  1. Navigate to the Student Information page.

the Student Information page

  1. Click Authorize To Drop Below Full Course. The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one opens.

The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page

  1. Click Update. It is located in the Command column to the right of the RCL segment you want to edit. The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page two opens.

The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page two

  1. Enter any updates relevant to the RCL authorization.
Note: An * (asterisk) indicates required fields.
 
*Authorization Reason
  • For F-1 students, select one of the following:
    • Illness or Medical Reason
    • Improper Course Level Placement
    • Initial Difficulty with Reading Requirements
    • Initial Difficulty with the English Language
    • To Complete Course of Study in Current Term
    • Unfamiliarity with American Teaching Methods
  • For M-1 students, select one of the following:
    • Illness or Medical Reason
    • Part-time Commuter Student
*Authorization Start Date only if the current start date has not passed)
The date the authorization is to start. For any academic reason, including completion of studies, the start date should correspond with the current session start date.
Format: MM/DD/YYYY
Authorization End Date
The date the authorization is to end. For any academic reason, including completion of studies, the end date should correspond with the current session end date. This date cannot be beyond the program end date. This date cannot be in the past.
Format: MM/DD/YYYY
Remarks This is optional. Enter or update remarks regarding the student.
  1. Click one of the following:
  • Authorize: Submits the RCL request.
A message with two options indicates if the update was successful:

  • Return to Authorization List: Returns user to the Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one. The updated RCL is now listed. It is located under the Authorization Reason title.

  • Print I 20: Prints the Form I 20. The updated authorization appears on the Form I-20.
 
  • The following are additional interesting facts regarding some of our questions about disconnects between the regulations and practical RCL functions and standard practices in the field. They come from the NAFSA Adviser’s Manual.
     
  • Historical Note
In SEVIS Releases prior to SEVIS 5.0, there was a Resume Full Course function that was meant to allow DSOs to comply with their notification obligation. That functionality did not work properly, and was eliminated in the SEVIS 5.0 release.
 
  • A dated notation appears on a student's SEVIS record, based on the dates indicated in the Authorized To Drop Below Full Course function. Having the proper RCL authorization end date in the system, combined with the standard Continuing SEVIS Registration and enrollment reporting actions taken on the SEVIS records of continuing students, should satisfy the regulatory requirement for notifying SEVIS of a student's return to a full course of study.

  • Reset Values: Returns the previous values to the fields. In this case, the fields are returned to the original RCL information.
  • Cancel: Cancels the action and returns the user to the Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one.

Cancel Authorize to Drop Below Full Course

An Authorize to Drop Below Full Course request can be cancelled at any point before the approved Authorization Start Date.
 
To cancel an Authorize to Drop Below Full Course request:
  1. Navigate to the Student Information page.
the Student Information page
 
  1. Click Authorize To Drop Below Full Course. The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one opens.

The Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page

  1. Click Cancel in the Command column to the right of the RCL segment you want to cancel. The Update Successful message box opens. It indicates the update was successful.
     
  2. Click one of the following:
  • Return: Returns the user to the authorization list on the Authorize to Drop Below Full Course page one.
  • Print I-20: Prints the updated Form I-20.

Correcting Information about an Approved RCL

Sometimes DSOs need to change RCL information in SEVIS. They can update the RCL reason and end date if the RCL segment has not yet ended. They cannot:
 
  • Correct an RCL start date if the start date has passed.
  • Add an RCL when the start and end dates are both in the past.
  • Correct the RCL reason if the RCL end date is in the past.
  • Remove an RCL from the record if the RCL start date is in the past and the student did not actually use it.
     
In these cases, the DSO should call the SEVIS Help Desk (1-800-892-4829) and submit a Help Ticket (Data Fix).

Icon Guide

See the SEVIS Help Icons on the SEVIS Help Hub for a quick-reference of the icons used in this user guide.