Full-Time Enrollment Requirements

Full-Time Enrollment Requirements

U.S. immigration regulations require F-1 and J-1 international students to be enrolled for a full course load each semester. Each semester, Berkeley International Office is required to confirm that all international students maintaining full-time enrollmentto monitor enrollment throughout the semester. Immigration regulations only allow very limited academic or medical reasons for reduced enrollment. Any reduction in course load below full-time units must be authorized in advance by Berkeley International Office.

Students who drop below full-time without authorization from Berkeley International Office would face serious consequences to their F-1 or J-1 status including termination of the SEVIS record and I-20/DS-2019.

General Full-Time Enrollment Minimum

Degree Level Minimum Number of Units
Undergraduate 12
Graduate* 12

* Some very specific graduate programs have a different full-time enrollment requirement. See below for Graduate Unit exceptions per department. Per immigration regulations full-time enrollment is always 12 units for undergraduates.

Graduate Unit Exceptions per Department

These specific graduate programs have different full-time unit minimums. Check with your graduate department regarding your enrollment requirements.

Program Minimum Number of Units
Evening and Weekend MBA 10
Information Management and Systems 8
Law - JSD

8 (12 average per semester)

Law - JD 10
LLM, Academic Year and Summer 8
MBA 8 (12 average per semester)
MFE 7
MPA 6
OOMPH 6 (only 3 units allowed online)
Executive MBA 10
Jewish Studies (PhD) 4
Flex MSW 11

Full-time enrollment and online coursework

Immigration regulations limit the number of online courses a student can count towards the 12-unit full-time requirement. International students can count only one course or three units of on-line coursework towards the full time requirement. If the full time requirement for a session can be satisfied with three units or one course, the full time requirement cannot be satisfied with online coursework alone.

COVID-19 ONLINE ENROLLMENT RULES: DHS has approved increased online enrollment during the COVID-19 period, but limitations differ for new and continuing students. See BIO's COVID-19 FAQ for information regarding new and continuing student online coursework limitations. 

Reduced Course Load (RCL) Authorization

Immigration regulations permit exceptions to the full-time enrollment in very limited circumstances and only with prior approval from BIO. Students will be considered for a reduced enrollment based on the reasons listed below. To be considered for an exception, submit a completed Reduced Enrollment Request Form to Berkeley International Office prior to dropping any courses below full-time. 

BIO is generally required to approve Late Drop forms via Cal Central or as determined by your College. CHECK WITH YOUR COLLEGE REGARDING THE DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTING A LATE DROP/LATE CHANGE OF SCHEDULE. Every College has a different procedure and different deadlines for Late Change of Schedule requests! If you submit a Late Drop request to BIO before you submit BIO's required RCL form, your Late Drop request will be denied.

How do I request a reduced course load from BIO? How do I drop my units?

Follow these steps if you wish to have a reduced course load. You have to get visa approval from BIO and you have to follow your College's procedures to drop the units:

  1. Talk to a BIO advisor about your plans, and determine if you qualify for an Academic, Final Term or Medical RCL. (See below.)
  2. If you qualify, then talk to your academic advisor to be sure that this is academically acceptable and to receive instructions on how to drop the units. CHECK WITH YOUR COLLEGE REGARDING THE DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTING A LATE DROP/LATE CHANGE OF SCHEDULE. 
  3. Complete the required Academic, Final Term or Medical RCL Form and submit it to BIO at internationaloffice@berkeley.edu . (See below for forms.) This will either require signature and approvals from your academic advisor (Academic/Final Term RCLs) or medical provider (medical RCL) or the UHS medical withdrawal committee (medical withdrawal with no enrollment.)
  4. AFTER you've submitted your form to BIO you can proceed to drop your units. You are responsible for taking the next steps to drop your units, according to instructions from your academic advisor. (Every College has a different procedure and different deadlines for Late Change of Schedule requests!) BIO will not drop the units for you. BIO advisors are not academic advisors and do not have any ability to adjust your enrollment. 
  5. BIO will add a reduced course load authorization to your record. F-1 students will receive an updated I-20 with the reduced Course Load authorization on page 2.  J-1 Students do not receive an updated DS-2019, but they may request a confirmation letter of the approval from BIO if they wish.

Getting RCL forms signed electronically

BIO understands that many staff members, including academic advisors and medical care providers, are working remotely and may not be able to sign forms by hand.  To accommodate this situation, we will accept the following types of signatures:

  1. Docusign signature
  2. Adobe digital signature  (example on page 3).
  3. Hand-drawn signature (not typed) using mouse or touch screen (example)
  4. Email confirmation of approval.  For this method, follow the steps below.
  • Email the RCL form to the appropriate person (an academic advisor for an academic or final term RCL; a medical care provider for a medical RCL).  
    • The recommender should complete the bottom portion of the form but can type their name instead of signing in the signature field. They should email the form back to you with the line "I approve [student name and student ID] for reduced course load" in the body of the email. 
  • Forward the recommender's email and the RCL form to BIO for review. 

Final Term RCL

Degree-seeking students who are completing their degree requirements in a specified semester can enroll for as many or as few units as needed to graduate. Download the Final Term Reduced Course Load Request form.

Eligibility for Final Term RCL

To be eligible for Final Term RCL, students must meet the following criteria:

  • The student must be on the degree list for the specified semester
  • The student must graduate at the end of the semester
  • The enrollment cannot be in 100% online coursework and must include in-person classes or units. (Exception: 100% online coursework is allowed during the COVID emergency.)
  • An academic advisor (college or major advisor)  or Graduate Student Affairs Officer must recommend the reduced enrollment and sign the Academic RCL form.

Options for after the term ends

  • F-1 students will have a 60-day grace period for a one-time departure from the U.S. or transfer to another school, advancement to a higher degree level, change of nonimmigrant status, or application for Optional Practical Training.
  • J-1 students will have a 30-day grace period for a one-time departure from the US. To be eligible for Academic Training, J-1 students must submit an application to BIO at least 3 business days prior to the last day of their academic program.

Special instructions for L&S undergrads

Please see the L&S Unit Minimum & Maximum webpage for detailed information on the procedure you’ll need to follow at L&S. First you’ll make an appointment with your major advisor. They will confirm that you are on track to complete all major requirements. If you are, the major advisor will prepare a memo verifying that information. Second, you'll meet with your college advisor who will view the memo and check that you are on track to complete L&S college requirements. If you are, then the college advisor will electronically sign this RCL request.

Academic RCL

THIS REASON IS ONLY AVAILABLE DURING THE STUDENT'S FIRST SEMESTER IN THE U.S. REQUESTS MADE AFTER THE FIRST SEMESTER WILL BE DENIED. Download the Academic Reduced Course Load Request form


Eligibility for Academic RCL

Acceptable academic reasons for dropping below full-time include improper course placement, initial difficulties with English language and/or reading requirements, or unfamiliarity with American teaching methods.

  • This reason is ONLY available during the student's first semester in the U.S. in the current degree program or level.
  • An academic advisor (college or major advisor) or Graduate Student Affairs Officer must recommend the reduced enrollment and sign the Academic RCL form.
  • Reduced enrollment for academic reasons may be approved for only one semester during the student's degree program. Students should consider this carefully before requesting an approved reduced enrollment for academic reasons since it can only be used once.
  • Reduced enrollment for academic reasons must consist of at least six units or half of the units required for a full course of study.
  • During the COVID period through Spring 2022, some students may enroll in fully online coursework. However, new students in their first semester at UC Berkeley may not enroll in 100% online coursework

Special instructions for L&S undergrads

If you want to drop below 12 units for academic reasons, you need both L&S and BIO approval before you can do this. If you are not dropping below 12 units, you do not need BIO's approval.

  1.  Fill out the top of an academic reduced course load (RCL) form.  Discuss your situation with a college or major advisor.  If they agree that you have a compelling academic reason to drop a course, they will fill out the bottom portion of the form. Submit the form to BIO by the L&S Late Drop Deadline. We will deny RCLs to students who apply after this date.
  2. A BIO advisor will review the request.  If it is approved, we will prepare an updated I-20 with an RCL authorization on page 2. If the request is incomplete or not approved, we will follow up with you.  
  3. Once you have submitted your RCL request to BIO, you may request the late drop from L&S. (You don't need to wait for BIO to complete its review process before you take this step.) You can find the L&S Late Drop deadline on their homepage You can learn more about the L&S process from their Late Change of Schedule page.

Medical RCLs and Medical Withdrawals

Students may drop below full-time enrollment for physical or mental health reasons, with specific documentation. Medical withdrawal- dropping ALL units and having no enrollment- requires special approval by the UHS Medical Withdrawal Committee. See below.

Download the Medical Reduced Course Load Request form for authorized reductions to 1 or more units.

Eligiblity for Medical RCL

  • F-1 and J-1 regulations state that only a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist may recommend a student for a medical reduced course load.

  • Medical RCLs are approved for one semester at a time. Continuing health problems may need more than one approval if they continue beyond one semester.

  • Medical RCLs may be approved for no more than a cumulative period of 12 months during the student’s degree program.

  • BIO will only accept recommendations from a U.S. medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist. If you have been seeing a practitioner overseas, you will need to be connected to care in the United States. 

Requesting a Medical RCL

Remember that F-1 and J-1 regulations state that only a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist may recommend a student for a medical reduced course load. BIO will only accept recommendations from a U.S. medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist. If you have been seeing a practitioner overseas, you will need to be connected to care in the United States. 

  • If you are seeing a CAPS therapist at UHS, you don't need to fill in the BIO Medical RCL form linked above.  Instead, your therapist will prepare a recommendation letter for you and will email it to you via the Tang Portal.  Please forward it to BIO at internationaloffice@berkeley.edu.  
  • If you are seeing any other doctor at UHS (a doctor who is not on the CAPS team), download the BIO medical RCL form, fill in the top portion, and ask your doctor to fill in the bottom portion.  Email that form to BIO at internationaloffice@berkeley.edu
  • If you are seeing a U.S. doctor outside of UHS/CAPS, download the BIO medical RCL form, fill in the top portion, and ask your doctor to fill in the bottom portion.  Also ask your doctor to write a brief memo confirming that they recommend you for a medical RCL. Email both of these documents to BIO at internationaloffice@berkeley.edu.  

Can an advisor at the Disabled Students Program (DSP) sign my medical RCL form?

Even if a DSP advisor recommends that you drop below full-time for medical reasons, that advisor cannot sign your medical RCL form unless they are a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy or licensed clinical psychologist. You may consider asking your DSP advisor for help in contacting a University Health Services medical professional who can speak with you, assess your health, and then, if appropriate, recommend you for a medical RCL.

Medical Withdrawal (if dropping ALL units)

Download the Medical Reduced Course Load Request form.

  • Medical Withdrawal Requests must be signed by the UHS Social Services Unit to verify that the request has been approved by the UHS Medical Withdrawal Committee. For more information about the UHS Medical Withdrawal Committee and the process of obtaining a medical withdrawal through the University, see Withdrawals.
  • Only students who are approved by the UHS Medical Withdrawal Committee may submit this medical withdrawal request to BIO in order to maintain their visa status and remain in the U.S. for the stated semester.
  • Students who are withdrawn from Berkeley will only be approved for one semester of medical withdrawal for visa purposes. In order to remain in the US in the following semester, the student must take one of the steps listed below:
  1. Work with the UHS Medical Withdrawal Committee and the College (undergraduates) or Department (graduates) to be readmitted; or
  2. Transfer the SEVIS record to a new school.