F-1 Enrollment Requirements and Exceptions

Enrollment Requirements

International students in F-1 immigration status are required by immigration law to be enrolled full-time during the regular semesters (Fall and Spring).

Summer and Winter session enrollment is optional – it is not required – unless you plan to complete your academic program during a summer term, in which case you must follow all full-time enrollment rules.

Definition of Full-Time Enrollment

Graduate students-  Graduate students are required to enroll in a MINIMUM of 9 credits per semester.

Students with a full-time Graduate Assistantship on campus (GA, TA or RA) will have their GA position count as 5 credits, through enrollment in GRAD 601. Thus, only a minimum of 4 additional credits is required.  Students in this situation should verify with their academic department that there is not a departmental minimum enrollment required.

Undergraduate students- Undergrads are required to enroll in a minimum of 12 credits per semester.

One class is typically 3 or 4 credits.

Online Coursework

Immigration regulations allow for one online class per semester towards your minimum requirement.  You could take additional online courses beyond your minimum enrollment as well, if you like.  For example, an Undergraduate could take one online course for 3 credits, 3 regular courses for 9 credits, and that’s the required 12.  Beyond the required 12, an additional online course could be taken.

Online courses can be taken as much as you like in summer or winter sessions, when enrollment is not required, unless you plan to complete your academic program during a summer term, in which case you must follow all full-time enrollment rules and are only permitted to take at most one fully-online course.

Possible Exceptions to Full-Time Enrollment Requirements

The immigration language for receiving permission to enroll less than full-time is a “Reduced Course Load (RCL)”.  Any RCL MUST be approved in advance with ISSS, before the semester begins in which you plan to be enrolled part-time.  In some cases, an RCL can be approved during the semester if you need to drop the class.  Please note these rules are very strict and the exceptions are not very accommodating – please plan appropriately!

1. Last Semester

  • Duration: Last semester before graduation only
  • Limitations: Up to 2 semesters, if the student later discovers that their last semester will not actually be their last (requires an I-20 extension)
  • Enrollment Requirements:  Only required to enroll in credits remaining to graduate – at least 1 credit
  • Requirements to be approved: Your I-20 end date must show that this is your last semester.  Special approval is not required from ISSS – this RCL is automatic if your I-20 shows it is your last semester.

2. Medical Reduced Course Load (RCL) 

  • Duration: Approved one semester at a time, can be granted until the deadline to drop classes during a semester
  • Limitations: Up to 12 months cumulative during one degree program
  • Enrollment Requirements: Enrollment can be part-time or not at all
  • Requirements to be approved: You must provide a note from your doctor indicating their recommendation that you do not study full-time this semester based on a medical situation.

Mental Health conditions such as depression, anxiety or a wide range of conditions can be eligible for a Medical RCL with the recommendation of a licensed mental health practitioner, such as those available at the UMBC Counseling Center.  Please note, this kind of support from a professional counselor usually requires multiple visits and building a relationship with Center staff, so they can best help address these concerns.

Please note, unfortunately the immigration rules do not allow a healthy pregnancy or child birth to be considered for a Medical RCL, though a pregnancy or birth with complications can be considered.  Please see our section on Pregnancy and Childbirth in the US for more information.

There is a one-year limit for a student to use a Medical RCL throughout the entire degree program, so students with very serious conditions that are highly disruptive to their studies for a term beyond one year should consider relocating outside the US for their care, or applying to change their immigration status to B-2 status, which allows visitors to remain in the US specifically for medical treatment.

3. Academic Difficulty RCL

  • Duration: One semester
  • Limitations: Available to use for one semester ONLY during a degree program – cannot be used more than once!
  • Enrollment Requirements:  Must enroll in half of full-time enrollment (at least 5 credits for Graduate students, at least 6 credits for Undergraduate students)
  • Requirements to be approved: Email or letter from course instructor or academic advisor, recommending that the student be allowed to drop the class for one of the following reasons:

Improper Course Placement –  This option is appropriate for students who were advised inappropriately and have taken classes out of sequence, or who were inappropriately allowed to take a course for which they did not have the prerequisite knowledge to be successful.  In other words, if the class assumes you have some specific background knowledge, and you do not, this might be an option to drop the class.

Unfamiliarity with US Teaching Methods: This option is appropriate for students for whom the professor or adviser feel the lack of success is due to cultural differences in classroom expectations.  This is not often appropriate later in a student’s degree program.

First semester students only! – Initial Difficulty with English Language or Reading – Students in their first semester in the US can also be eligible to drop credits during the semester if they find they are struggling significantly with the English language used in the classroom, or with the new teaching methods. Written support from the instructor is required, indicating the student’s difficulty.

Process to Apply: 

  1. Login to your ISSS Portal 
  2. Click on “Search Forms” in the top right corner of the page
  3. Choose the relevant request – Reduced Course Load
  4. Read the directions and complete all sections of the application
  5. The application requires the support of your academic adviser.  Please follow the directions under the “Recommendations” section to invite your adviser to provide their support electronically.
  6. Only click submit after you have uploaded all requirements.
  7. ISSS advisors will review your application and contact you within 2-3 business days after your advisor recommendation is received.

Deadlines and Refund Information

UMBC has a final deadline to drop a class during each semester.   Please note these deadlines for each semester on the semester calendars managed by the Registrar’s Office.  ISSS does not have the ability to allow a student to drop a class after the deadline!

Students withdrawing from a class after registering or after attending need to be aware of the refund schedule.  Full refunds are only given for a very short period of time at the beginning of each semester, and decrease incrementally throughout the first 2 weeks of school.  By the end of the Schedule Adjustment period, no refund is given.  If you drop a class during the semester, you will not receive a refund.  Please refer to the refund schedule for semester-specific deadlines.

Taking courses at another school while also attending UMBC

You are welcome to take up to half of your credits at another school while attending UMBC and while your I-20 is at UMBC.  Please be sure to work carefully with your academic advisor to choose classes from the other school that will transfer back to UMBC and will count towards your general requirements or major.  This can only be up to half of your total credits during a fall or spring semester, but in summer or winter sessions you can take as many credits as you like at another school without enrolling at UMBC, since enrollment during those sessions is not required, unless you plan to complete your academic program during a summer term.

Please note that if you will take some credits at another school during a semester, you will need to provide ISSS with a copy of your course schedule.  We are required by law to verify your full-time enrollment each semester, and will need to be able to report how many credits you are taking at another school to make sure that, combined with your UMBC courses, you meet the minimum full-time requirements.

If while applying to the other school, you need a letter or email of permission from our office, please email isss@umbc.edu to let us know and we will be happy to provide the required permission.

Please be sure to work with your academic advisor to choose which courses you will take at another school, and to plan in advance to make sure they will transfer back to UMBC and be applied to your degree in the way you are hoping they will.

Taking a Semester Off

Students are not able to remain in the US in F-1 immigration status if they are not enrolled. Students that need to take a semester off should plan to leave the US until ready to return to their studies.  Students leaving the US for more than 5 months will need a new I-20 to return to the US; students outside the US for less than 5 months MAY be able to use the same I-20 to return to the US, working closely with ISSS.  Please contact ISSS at isss@umbc.edu to notify us if you are taking a semester off, and discuss how you can return to the US when you are ready.


These enrollment requirements are mandatory to remain in good immigration status.  Failure to enroll as required will result in your F-1 immigration status being “terminated,” which means you will no longer have a legal immigration status in the US and are required to leave the country immediately.  Should you find yourself in this situation, please contact ISSS to learn what options you might have.