There are very few exceptions to the full time course load rule. Those exceptions include academic difficulty, medical condition, and completion of study, and there are strict criteria for each. In every instance, you must obtain PRIOR authorization from ISS before withdrawing from any classes.  An F-1 student who drops below a full course of study without the prior approval of the Office of International Students and Scholars will be considered out of status, and must be reported in SEVIS as having dropped below a full-time course load without authorization.

Academic Difficulty:

A student must first obtain permission from ISS before dropping below a full-time course load for academic reasons, which are limited to the three choices listed below.  A Permission for a Reduced Course Load Form (provide link to Forms library page in website) available at ISS will need to be completed by both the student and department advisor, and then approved by ISS before the course can be dropped. If the drop is approved, the student must still be registered for at least six credits.

Federal immigration regulations define academic difficulty as:

  • Initial difficulty with English Language or reading requirements
    • Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods
    • Improper course placement
    The student must resume a full course of study in the next available semester in order to maintain student status. A student previously authorized to drop below a full course of study due to academic difficulties will NOT be eligible for a second authorization due to academic difficulties while pursuing a course of study at that program level.

A student authorized to drop below a full course of study for academic difficulty while pursuing a course of study at a particular program level may still be authorized for a reduced course load due to an illness or medical condition, should such a condition arise.

Medical Condition:

ISS may authorize a reduced course load (or if necessary, no course load) due to a student's temporary illness or medical condition for a period of time not to exceed an aggregate of 12 months while the student is pursuing a course of study at a particular program level.  A student must provide current medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor or licensed clinical psychologist in the United States to ISS to substantiate the illness or medical condition.

The student must first obtain permission from ISS before dropping below a full-time course load or withdrawing from school due to a medical condition. A Permission for a Reduced Course Load Form (provide link) available at ISS will need to be completed by the student with documentation attached by the appropriate health care provider.

Completion of Course of Study:
ISS may authorize a reduced course load if the student is in his or her final semester and if fewer courses than a full-time course load are needed to complete the course of study. If the reduction is authorized, the student must then be registered for those credits needed to complete the course of study.

A Permission for a Reduced Course Load Form (provide link) will need to be completed by both the student and department advisor.


An F-1 student who drops below a full course of study for reasons other than the ones described above will be out of status, and that information will have to be reported to the federal immigration authorities via the SEVIS system.