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Full Course of Study

This information is provided to help you understand F-1 and J-1 regulations regarding a full course of study.

International Student and Scholar Services must comply fully with federal regulations, and is obligated to report F-1 and J-1 students not enrolled for a full course load to the Department of Homeland Security. Your departmental or college policy supersedes immigration rules regarding exceptions from the full course load; therefore, you must check with your college and/or department before reducing your course load even if ISSS approves it J-1 students whose DS-2019 was issued by an outside agency must clear any course load reduction through their J-1 program sponsor.

Important Reminders:

  • The registration deadline and requirements are federally mandated; ISSS is unable to make exceptions.
  • Please consult your academic department about your registration. It is up to students to ensure that they are compliant with federal registration requirements.

Guidelines to a full course load


Full-time status, in most cases, is defined as 12 hours during the academic year (Fall and Spring terms) and 6 hours during the Summer term. 

Online & distance education courses

Students may take as many online courses as permitted by their department each semester. However, please note:

  • F-1 students may only count one online or distance education course (up to a maximum of three credits) toward full-time registration in any given term.
  • J-1 students may only count one online or distance education course toward full-time registration in any given term.
  • Students can never only be registered for online classes in a required semester of registration. Course registration must also include on-campus classes, which requires in-person attendance.

Concurrent enrollment

  • Students who are concurrently enrolled at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and another institution must submit a request in iSTART and include proof of registration from the other institution
  • Students must be registered for at least one on-campus course at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which requires in-person attendance

Summer registration requirements

You are not required to register in the summer if you were registered in the preceding Spring term and will register in the upcoming fall term. However, if Summer is your first semester, you must register for six (6) hours for the Summer term, and the online and distance education limits will apply. Additionally, if you will complete your studies in the Summer you will need to enroll for that term.

Minimum enrollment requirements

Students with ISSS approval to reduce their course load must still carry at least 6 hours unless the approval was based on your final term of study or health problems. 

Half-Semester courses

Students should ensure that they are registered for at least 12 credit hours when registering for half semester courses.


ISSS must approve the following reduced enrollments before any changes are made in Banner registration system.

If you wish to enroll for a reduced course load (RCL) for academic reasons or final semester, please fill out the appropriate form online: F-1 RCL and J-1 RCL. Your academic advisor must complete and submit the form, and an ISSS advisor must review it and approve your reduced course load before you drop any class.

  • Academic reasons. You may reduce your course load for only one semester total during your program of study for academic reasons. A reduced course load is acceptable under the following circumstances:
    • New students enrolled for the first time and having difficulty with spoken English;
    • Difficulty with reading requirements;
    • Difficulty with unfamiliar teaching methods.
    • A student who has insufficient background for the class level in which he/she was placed may also seek approval for a reduction in course load at any time.
  • Medical reasons. If you have a valid medical reason for reducing your course load, you must provide ISSS with a certificate from a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist in the United States.   You may only reduce your course load for medical reasons for a maximum of 12 months during your program of study, however, ISSS can only approve one semester at a time.
  • Final term of study. During your final term of study, and with the prior approval of ISSS, you only need to enroll for the required number of hours needed to complete your degree.

Leave of Absence/Gap Semester. Please reach out to ISSS in addition to your academic advisor if you wish to take a gap semester or leave of absence from the university.

Caution: although some of these situations may apply to you, you may still need to enroll for a full course of study. For instance graduate fellowship recipients, some scholarship recipients, and students in certain departments may be required to maintain 12 hours or more of registration. Familiarize yourself with any such rules, because they take precedence over immigration regulations.

  • Mandatory ESL classes. Students who are required to take ESL classes as a result of the English Placement Test (EPT) or because of teaching assistantship obligations, may reduce their course load by four credits for each ESL course taken. If the ESL class is recommended, not required, and you are having difficulty with English, you may ask for a reduction based on academic reasons (see "Academic reasons" in the preceding section).
  • Graduate assistants. Graduate students with 25-50% assistantships may register for 8 hours rather than the usual 12. If summer registration is required, assistantship holders may register for 4 credits rather than the usual 6.
  • Thesis research. Graduate students who have completed all course work and required thesis units may register for 0 hours of 599 until completion of degree.

Please contact the Graduate College to obtain their policy regarding full-time course of study for graduate students.