Full-Time Enrollment Requirements

Full-Time Enrollment Requirements

Overview

Immigration regulations require international students in F-1 or J-1 status to be enrolled full-time each semester. For immigration purposes, full-time enrollment is defined as:

  • Undergraduate students = 12 units
    Colleges may require more than 12 units to be considered full-time (e.g. Letters & Sciences full-time = 13 units or more).
  • Graduate students
    Full time enrollment for graduate students is 12 units or the number of units required by the department for all graduate students in the program.

U.S. immigration regulations require F-1 and J-1 international students to register for and complete a full course load each semester. At the beginning of each term, Berkeley International Office is required to confirm that all international students are registered and maintaining full-time enrollment. Student enrollment continues to be monitored throughout the semester.

Students must also be registered at UC Berkeley within 30 days of the semester start date. For more information, see Registration Requirements.

Students who drop below full-time without approval (see below) from Berkeley International Office must be reported to the Department of Homeland Security via SEVIS. As a result, the SEVIS record will be terminated and the student will lose lawful F-1 or J-1 status including employment eligibility and benefits.

Normal Full-Time Enrollment

Degree Level Minimum Number of Units
Undergraduate 12
Graduate 12

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

Overview

Immigration regulations permit exceptions to the full-time registration requirement in very limited circumstances and only with prior approval from Berkeley International Office. 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.

Getting RCL forms signed during COVID

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

Overview & eligibility

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 Reduced Course Load Request form.

To be eligible, 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.)

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

Overview & eligibility

Download the Reduced Course Load Request form.

  • THIS REASON IS ONLY AVAILABLE DURING THE STUDENT'S FIRST SEMESTER IN THE U.S. REQUESTS MADE AFTER THE FIRST SEMESTER WILL BE DENIED.
  • 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.
  • An academic advisor (college or major advisor) or professor must recommend the reduced enrollment.
  • 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 emergency, 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 RCL

Overview & eligibility

Download the Reduced Course Load Request form.

  • Students may drop below full-time enrollment for physical or mental health reasons.
    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.

  • If your care provider is not employed by University Health Services, they must also provide you with a letter of explanation that describes your medical condition and confirms that you require 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.

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

Download the 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.