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 enrollment to 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:

Program Minimum Number of Units
Evening and Weekend MBA (including EWMBA Special Exchange) 10
Berkeley MBA for Executives 10
Full Time MBA (including Full Time MBA Special Exchange) 8 (12 average per semester)
Flex MSW 11

Info Mgmt & Systems MIMS

8

Doctor of Science of Law JSD

8 (12 average per semester)

Law JD 10

Master of Laws LLM (Academic Year and Summer)

8

Analytics MAnlytx

Final summer - 4 units (12 units required for fall/spring)

Financial Engineering MFE

7

Public Affairs MPA

6

On-Campus/Online Prfsnl MPH

6

Full-time enrollment and online coursework

Immigration regulations limit the number of online courses a student can count towards the full-time requirement. International students can count only 1 course or 3 units of on-line coursework towards the full time requirement. If the full time requirement for a session can be satisfied with 3 units or 1 course, the full time requirement cannot be satisfied with online coursework alone. 

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. (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.

NEW! Online request forms for Academic RCL and Final Term RCL

Beginning in January 2023, BIO's Academic and Final Term RCL request forms are now online forms initiated by students and routed to academic advisors via email for review.  

Instructions for students can be found in the Final Term RCL and Academic RCL sections below.

Instructions for academic advisors/departments can be found here.

Getting RCL forms signed electronically (MEDICAL RCL)

BIO understands that many staff members, including 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 (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. Access the Final Term Reduced Course Load online 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.
  • An academic advisor (college or major advisor) or Graduate Student Affairs Officer must recommend the reduced enrollment and approve the online Final Term RCL form. NOTE: L&S students should have the form completed by L&S following instructions below.

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.

  1. 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 either prepare a memo verifying that information or add a note into the BOA online advising system.
  2. Complete the BIO Final Term Reduced Course Load Form using the email LNS_international_students@berkeley.edu . If you do not complete Step 1 first, your request will be denied by L&S. 

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. Access the Academic Reduced Course Load online request form

Eligibility for Academic RCL

Immigration only allows the following academic reasons for dropping below full-time:  improper course placement or sequence, initial difficulties with English language and/or reading requirements, or unfamiliarity with American teaching methods.

  • Your academic reason for the reduction must fit into one of these categories: 1) improper course placement or sequence, 2) initial difficulties with English language and/or reading requirements, or 3) 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 approve the Academic RCL online 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.
  • Most students 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. Discuss your situation with a college or major advisor.  If they agree that you have a compelling academic reason to drop a course, fill out the online academic reduced course load (RCL) form and route it to your advisor for approval. Make sure the online form is completed by you and your advisor 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 explaining your medical situation and 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)

If you need to withdraw from the university for medical reasons, and wish to remain in the U.S to seek treatment, you will need to work with BIO and University Health Services. It is important that you first meet with a BIO Advisor to understand the process and receive advising.

  • Students requesting a Medical Withdrawal must first meet with a BIO Advisor to understand the process and receive advising, as this process and the timing can be complex.
  • Medical Withdrawal Requests be 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 the UHS medical withdrawal page.
  • Only students who are approved by the UHS Medical Withdrawal Committee will receive an approval from BIO in order to maintain their F/J visa status and remain in the U.S. for the medical withdrawal semester. If you are approved for a Medical Withdrawal, UHS will notify BIO and BIO will provide you an updated I-20 with Medical authorization, or a confirmation of your J-1 Reduced Enrollment.
  • Students who are medically 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.