Exception from Full Time Enrollment

The U.S. government requires that international students on F-1 and J-1 visas register and complete a full course of study each semester. Thus, international students (both F-1 and J-1) must enroll full time in order to maintain status. For undergraduate students this is defined as 12 credit hours. For graduate students this is defined as 9 credit hours.

Summer session is considered a vacation period and students are not required to enroll during the summer (exception: graduate students admitted to begin a program of study effective summer session must enroll as a full-time student the summer of admission.

As SEVIS now requires reporting on student enrollment it becomes more important that students and departments understand full time enrollment as defined under Immigration law.

Exceptions from Full Time Enrollment for F-1 students

Under certain circumstances, students may request an exception from full time enrollment. This request must be approved by an International Student Services Advisor (also known as a DSO) in order for the student to maintain status.

Students must obtain prior approval from the ISS before enrolling for less than a full-course study or before a cancel/withdraw that results in less than a full course load.

In order to find out if you qualify for or in order to request an “exception from full time enrollment,” please see the Request for an Exception from Full Time Enrollment Form. Please note that you must submit the required documents indicated on the form in order for your request to be considered.

Some of the reasons the ISS may authorize a temporary deviation from a full course load are for a medical problem, a valid academic reason for enrolling less than full time, the last semester of enrollment and for other reasons.

Note: Certain academic programs as well as exchange and scholarship program sponsors and other private educational funding agencies may use a different credit requirement for their students. If this credit requirement is higher than that of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) , it takes precedence over the BCIS requirement.

Acceptable Reasons for Less Than a Full Course Load (F-1 Students)

The U.S. Government recognizes that circumstances exist that may prohibit a student from enrolling full time. Consequently, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) has deemed the following to be acceptable reasons for carrying less than a full course load.

Note: The reasons below are acceptable only if a student has obtained PRIOR approval from an ISSS adviser for completing less than a full course of study. Students who may have an acceptable reason but fail to obtain prior approval from ISSS will be considered, under new the immigration service regulations, to be in violation of legal status.

Academic Difficulties

An F-1 student may reduce his/her course load only once per program level due to academic difficulties. To maintain legal status, an F-1 student who is authorized to reduce his/her course load due to this reason must still be enrolled for at least on half the full time credit requirement (This means at least 4 credit hours for graduate students/and at least six credit hours for undergraduate students.) and must enroll full-time the next available semester. The ISS must approve the request to cancel/withdraw from a class before any changes to a student’s enrollment are made! The US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services accepts the following academic difficulties as reasons for a reduction of a student’s course load:

  • Improper course level placement (supporting letter from academic adviser required)

  • Initial difficulty with the English language and/or with reading requirements; taking required part-time ESL classes in conjunction with academic classes- total less than 12 or 6 credits (supporting memo from academic adviser required and Exception Form Required). This exception may be granted only in the student’s first semester in the United States in their academic program.

  • Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods or reading requirements (supporting memo from academic adviser required and Exception Form Required). This exception may be granted only in the first semester.

  • In all instances, the ISS must APPROVE the exception before you can reduce your course load, even if your academic advisor recommends this action.

Medical Reasons

  • Immigration regulations limit the period of time an F-1 student may enroll for less than a full course load due to a medical condition to 12 months per program level. An F-1 student whose medical condition does not permit full-time enrollment after a 12 month period must either leave the U.S. and recuperate in the home country or apply for a change of visa status to allow for continued medical treatment in the U.S.

  • Students who are ill and unable to attend classes must see a doctor regarding their illness. If the illness is such that the doctor recommends that the student take less than a full course load, withdraw from classes or not enroll, the student may file an Exception from Full Time Enrollment with a supporting letter from the physician. The supporting documentation must clearly state that request for a reduction in the student's course load is based on medical considerations. The letter must include a diagnosis, statement of the nature of the illness or medical condition, explanation of the treatment, and prognosis for recovery. The letter must state the anticipated date on which the student can resume enrolling on a full time basis.

  • The supporting letter which accompanies your Exception Form for a medical reason must be written by a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist. The letter must clearly state that the student is unable to maintain full-time enrollment or is unable to enroll in any classes, whichever is the case.
  • Illness of family members is not a reason recognized by the immigration service for failure to enroll for a full course of study.

Final semester

A student must be completing a program of study by the end of the semester. The student must be able to demonstrate that s/he has applied for graduation.

Working Full or Part-time on a Research/Thesis

Submit the Exception form prior to the beginning of the semester. One Exception form per semester.

Participating in a Full-time REQUIRED Internship or Full-Time Co-Op

Prior approval of the Exception form for internship or co-op is required. The Internship must be a graduation requirement. The ISS will need evidence of the internship requirement in the course catalog.

Special Asian Student Relief

Student must attach a copy of the work permission granted by the BCIS to the Exception form and submit the form before the beginning of the semester.

Enrollment at Another School

  • Lewis University requires that an F-1 student satisfy the full-course of study requirement at Lewis University during the academic year.

  • In extremely limited circumstances, the ISS will provide approval for a student to take a class at another institution during the academic year and have the credits applied toward the full-time enrollment requirement. A student must obtain ISS approval before enrolling at another school in such case. A copy of the registration statement from the other school with the number of credits displayed must be submitted with the International Student Request for Guest Status Form.

  • A Lewis University student may enroll for classes at another institution during the academic year if and only if s/he is enrolled full time at Lewis University or if s/he is enrolled at Lewis and together with the courses taken at another local institution the combination results in full time enrollment providing that the courses taken at the other institution will count towards graduation at Lewis and the student has applied for and been granted Guest Student Status by the ISS.

  • A Lewis student who as been enrolled full time at Lewis during the Fall and Spring Semesters may enroll at another school during the summer vacation without transferring the I-20 and providing the student registers full time at Lewis during the next (Fall) semester.

Reasons Not Acceptable for Less than a Full Course of Study

  • Financial difficulties

  • Medical illness of family member

  • Study for the GMAT, GRE, CPA, or other similar exam(s)

  • Suspension from academic program

  • Working on Incompletes from a previous quarter/semester

Consequences of Failure to Enroll Full Time Without an Acceptable Reason and Approved Exception Form

  • Loss of valid immigration status in the United States – Under SEVIS the University is required to report failure to register for a full course load to the BCIS. If you have failed to maintain status in the US, you must apply for Reinstatement of Status within five months. See the Reinstatement of Status section of this web site. Results in loss of eligibility to be employed on-campus and off-campus

  • Ineligibility to transfer your F-1 status (I-20) to another institution

  • Ineligibility to change to another visa status

  • Ineligibility to obtain another non-immigrant visa abroad under certain circumstances.

Exception from A Full Course of Study Form

The Exception from Full Time Enrollment Form must be completed for each semester that a student fails to enroll full time. It is imperative that the Exception form be submitted to the ISS and approved prior to enrollment for less than a full course of study or prior to a cancel/withdrawal that results in less than a full course of study. Failure to obtain prior approval of less than a full course load will result in the loss of legal status under current immigration regulations.

  • Undergraduate, Non-degree Seeking and Professional School students must consult with an ISS adviser before making the decision to enroll for less than a full course of study or drop a class and must submit their Exception form along with the academic adviser’s supporting letter to the ISS. The form must be received and approved by the ISS before the first day of class and before the student reduces his/her course load.

  • The ISS will make the final decision on the acceptability of the Exception form.

  • An Exception form approved by the ISS allows a student to maintain legal F-1 status.