International students in F-1 immigration status are required by immigration law to be enrolled full-time during the regular semesters (Fall and Spring).
Summer and Winter session enrollment is optional – it is not required.
Definition of Full-Time Enrollment
Graduate students- Graduate students are required to enroll in a MINIMUM of 9 credits per semester.
Students with a full-time Graduate Assistantship on campus (GA, TA or RA) will have their GA position count as 5 credits, through enrollment in GRAD 601. Thus, only a minimum of 4 additional credits is required. Students in this situation should verify with their academic department that there is not a departmental minimum enrollment required.
Undergraduate students- Undergrads are required to enroll in a minimum of 12 credits per semester.
One class is typically 3 or 4 credits.
Immigration regulations allow for one online class per semester towards your minimum requirement. You could take additional online courses beyond your minimum enrollment as well, if you like. For example, an Undergraduate could take one online course for 3 credits, 3 regular courses for 9 credits, and that’s the required 12. Beyond the required 12, an additional online course could be taken.
Online courses can be taken as much as you like in summer or winter sessions, when enrollment is not required.
Exceptions to Full-Time Enrollment Requirements
The immigration term for receiving permission to enroll less then full-time is called a Reduced Course Load (RCL). Any RCL MUST be approved in advance with the IES office, before the semester begins in which you plan to be enrolled part-time. In some cases, an RCL can be approved during the semester if you need to drop the class. Please note these rules are very strict and the exceptions are not very accommodating – please plan appropriately!
1. Last Semester – If you are preparing to enroll in your last semester at UMBC, you can enroll less then full-time. Your I-20 MUST also show that this is your last semester, so the end date should be the end of your last semester. Please contact the IES office if you need your I-20 end date shortened to reflect your last semester. You must enroll in at least 1 credit in the last semester to keep your I-20 active.
2. Medical Reduced Course Load (RCL) – Should a medical situation arise that keeps you from attending school full-time, you can be granted a medical RCL. You must provide a note from your doctor indicating their recommendation that you do not study full-time this semester based on a medical situation. A medical RCL can allow a student to enroll part-time or, in extreme cases, not at all, and still be in good immigration status.
Mental Health conditions such as depression, anxiety or a wide range of conditions can be eligible for a Medical RCL with the recommendation of a licensed mental health practitioner, such as those available at the UMBC Counseling Center. Please note, this kind of support from a professional counselor usually requires multiple visits and building a relationship with Center staff, so they can best help address these concerns.
Please note, unfortunately the immigration rules do not allow a healthy pregnancy or child birth to be considered for a Medical RCL, though a pregnancy or birth with complications can be considered. Please see our section on Pregnancy and Childbirth in the US for more information.
There is a one-year limit for a student to use a Medical RCL throughout the entire degree program, so students with very series conditions that are highly disruptive to their studies for a term beyond one year should consider relocating outside the US for their care, or applying to change their immigration status to B-2 status, which allows visitors to remain in the US specifically for medical treatment.
3. Improper Course Placement – This option is appropriate for students that were inappropriately allowed to take a course for which they did not have the prerequisite knowledge to be successful. In other words, if the class assumes you have some specific background knowledge, and you do not, this might be an option to drop the class. for this kind of RCL to be approved, the course instructor must provide a written statement to the IES office indicating that the student did not have the background knowledge required to be successful in the course.
4. First semester students only! – Initial Difficulty with English Language or American Classroom – Students in their first semester in the US can also be eligible to drop credits during the semester if they find they are struggling significantly with the English language used in the classroom, or with the new teaching methods. Written support from the instructor is required, indicating the student’s difficulty.
Deadlines and Refund Information
UMBC has a final deadline to drop a class during each semester. Please note these deadlines for each semester on the semester calendars managed by the Registrar’s Office. IES does not have the ability to allow a student to drop a class after the deadline!
Students withdrawing from a class after registering or after attending need to be aware of the refund schedule. Full refunds are only given for a very short period of time at the beginning of each semester, and decrease incrementally throughout the first 2 weeks of school. By the end of the Schedule Adjustment period, no refund is given. If you drop a class during the semester, you will not receive a refund. Please refer to the refund schedule for semester-specific deadlines.
Taking courses at another school while also attending UMBC
You are welcome to take up to half of your credits at another school while attending UMBC and while your I-20 is at UMBC. Please be sure to work carefully with your academic adviser to choose classes from the other school that will transfer back to UMBC and will count towards your general requirements or major. This can only be up to half of your total credits during a fall or spring semester, but in summer or winter sessions you can take as many credits as you like at another school without enrolling at UMBC, since enrollment during those sessions is not required.
Please note that if you will take some credits at another school during a semester, you will need to provide the IES office with a copy of your course schedule. We are required by law to verify your full-time enrollment each semester, and will need to be able to report how many credits you are taking at another school to make sure that, combined with your UMBC courses, you meet the minimum full-time requirements.
If while applying to the other school, you need a letter or email of permission from our office, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know and we will be happy to provide the required permission.
Please be sure to work with your academic adviser to choose which courses you will take at another school, and to plan in advance to make sure they will transfer back to UMBC and be applied to your degree in the way you are hoping they will.
Taking a Semester Off
Students are not able to remain in the US in F-1 immigration status if they are not enrolled. Students that need to take a semester off should plan to leave the US until ready to return to their studies. Students leaving the US for more than 5 months will need a new I-20 to return to the US; students outside the US for less than 5 months MAY be able to use the same I-20 to return to the US, working closely with the IES office. Please contact the IES office to notify us if you are taking a semester off, and discuss how you can return to the US when you are ready.
These enrollment requirements are mandatory to remain in good immigration status. Failure to enroll as required will result in your F-1 immigration status being “terminated,” which means you will no longer have a valid immigration status in the US and are required to leave the country. Should you find yourself in this situation, please contact the IES office to learn what options you might have.