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.
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.
- 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
Final Semester Exemption
Students who are in their final semester of study and only have a few units remaining to meet academic program requirements are exempt from the full course load requirement. For example, if you only have 4 units remaining in your degree program, you do not have to enroll in additional units to maintain your immigration status. You will be considered as being in status despite only being enrolled in 4 units. Students who are in their final semester and are taking less than a full course load must submit a SEVIS Final Semester Check eForm through Trojan International.
Return to Top
RCL Application Process
- Student submits completed Reduced Course Load (RCL) Request for Academic Difficulty/Medical Reasons
- RCL form is automatically routed to academic (or VASE) advisor for review and approval.
- 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 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 (or VASE) advisor prior to submission to OIS.
- 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.