Reduced Course Load (RCL)

Updated 1/24/2023

International (F-1/J-1) students are required to enroll and complete a full course load each semester in order to maintain valid non-immigrant student status. There are only a few exceptions to the full-time enrollment requirement for the fall and spring semesters. Each exception (category) has its own criteria, which are outlined below.


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RCL General Information

Category 1: Academic Difficulty

NOTE: Students must be registered in a minimum of 6 units (undergraduate), 4 units (graduate), 3 units (doctorate).

  • Improper course level placement
  • Initial difficulty with reading requirements
  • Initial difficulty with the English language
  • Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods

These reasons can only be used during the student’s first semester and once per degree program. (i.e. Tommy was having a difficult time with the English language requirements in several of his classes in his first semester. He applied for an RCL and it was approved. Tommy is expected to register full-time for the remaining duration of his degree program. He may not apply for another RCL based on academic difficulty.)

Definition of Academic Difficulty Reduced Course Load per Study in the States.

Category 2: Medical Reasons

If students have a temporary health condition, they may be able to take a break from their studies (i.e. not enroll in any classes) or reduce their course load for the specified semester. OIS may authorize a medical RCL due to temporary health (physical or mental) condition(s) with an appropriate doctor’s letter recommending the RCL for medical reasons.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must remain in the U.S. for medical treatment
    • Students may remain in the U.S. on an expired F-1/J-1 visa if they have a valid Form I-20/DS-2019
    • Students who are receiving medical treatment outside the U.S. must apply for a Standard LOA instead of a medical RCL
  • Be in continuous treatment with a qualified U.S. doctor
  • Attach a letter of support from the U.S. doctor to the OIS RCL Request
    • Must be from a licensed medical doctor (MD), doctor of osteopathy (OD), licensed clinical psychologist
    • Must be on official letterhead, dated, and signed by the doctor;
    • Specify the semester you are being recommended for the medical RCL; and
    • State you will remain in the U.S. to receive treatment
  • Intend to resume their program at USC in a future semester
  • Not exceed three semesters (12-month aggregate total) of medical Reduced Course Loads (RCLs) throughout your program and per degree level
  • Students who remain in the U.S. without obtaining prior approval for a medical RCL from OIS will be considered out of status
  • Receive approval from their academic department* and OIS
    • *Viterbi graduate students must receive approval from the Viterbi VASE office
Category 3: Final Semester

OIS may authorize a final semester RCL for students who are in their final semester of study and only have a few units remaining to meet academic program requirements. Students may request an RCL due to the final semester only once per degree program.

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Spring 2023 Update

Students who have an active SEVIS Record

The current SEVP guidelines do not make any exceptions to the RCL categories based on COVID-19. Therefore, unless you meet the eligibility requirements for one of the three categories mentioned above, you are expected to maintain a full course load.

New and Continuing Students with Initial Attendance I-20s Currently Abroad

Students who are currently abroad and are enrolled in online classes as non-F-1 students are not required to maintain a full course load for immigration purposes as they do not have an active SEVIS record yet; however, they should check with their academic advisor to ensure they meet any academic enrollment requirements for their program. They do not have to submit an RCL form.

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RCL Application Process

  1. Student completes Request for Reduced Course Load
  2. RCL form is automatically routed to academic advisor for review and approval.
  3. OIS will automatically receive completed form after signed by academic advisor. Submission does not automatically grant approval. If your request is approved, you will not receive any additional confirmation from OIS. If your request is not approved, you will receive an email from OIS with further instructions.
RCL Application Process for Viterbi Graduate Students
  1. Viterbi graduate students must submit the online Viterbi RCL form.
  2. Viterbi Admission & Student Engagement (VASE) reviews the RCL form and notifies students of the decision via email.
  3. VASE’s RCL decision will automatically be routed to OIS for final review and approval.

RCL DEADLINE: All RCL forms are due by the end of the second week of classes. The form must be approved by the student’s academic advisor prior to submission to OIS.

Important Notes:
  • Submission of RCL Form to OIS does not automatically grant approval. If additional information is needed, OIS advisor will contact the student and/or advisor for clarification.
  • Course enrollment is required if summer session is student’s first or last semester. RCL form is required if summer session is student’s first semester and student is not full time enrolled.
  • F-1/J-1 students should not drop below full-time enrollment until they have received authorization from OIS. Students who drop below full-time enrollment without the proper authorization from OIS will be considered out of status.
  • Students on a Voluntary Health Leave (VHLA) through USC Campus Support and Intervention (CSI) Office must first receive approval from CSI for their return.
  • J-1 students not sponsored by USC do not need to submit the RCL request to OIS (for example, IIE, BSMP, etc). The RCL should be submitted directly to your program sponsor.
  • Students who will have on-campus employment during the semester they wish to be authorized for RCL should review these on-campus employment requirements.
  • Graduate students who register for thesis, dissertation or qualifying exams (GRSC 800) are considered to be enrolled full time although the number of units enrolled will be below the normal full-time course load. An RCL form is not required for students at these stages in their academic program.
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