Full-Time Enrollment Requirement

Immigration regulations require F-1 and J-1 students to register for, and complete, a full course of study each Fall and Spring Semester.


For immigration purposes, full-time enrollment is defined as:

Undergraduate Students = 12 Credit Hours

Please note that additional credit requirements vary depending on the school/program to which you were admitted. In some cases, the required credit hours for your degree program may exceed the 12 credit hours required for immigration purposes.

Graduate Students = 12 Credit Hours*

*Graduate students with teaching or research responsibilities: Exceptions are made for graduate students who are assigned teaching or research responsibilities pursuant to the terms of a full teaching assistantship, teaching fellowship, or research assistantship requiring 20 hours of work per week. In this case, you must register and be officially certified full time by your academic department.

*Graduate students who have completed all required coursework: If a thesis or dissertation is required of your program of study and you have completed all required coursework, you need only register for the number of hours of thesis or dissertation research recommended by your academic advisor. In addition, you must register and be officially certified full time by your academic department.

Non-Degree Students = 12 Credit Hours

At the beginning of each semester, the ISSO is required to confirm that all international students are maintaining full-time enrollment. Student enrollment continues to be monitored throughout the semester. Students who drop below full-time enrollment without prior authorization from the ISSO must be reported to the Department of Homeland Security via SEVIS. As a result, the student will lose lawful F-1 or J-1 status including employment eligibility and benefits.

International students in a status other than F-1 or J-1 do not have the same minimum registration requirements. Please consult with the ISSO to discuss any registration requirements or limitations based on your specific immigration classification.

Online Course Restrictions

Federal student immigration regulations only allow for one 4-credit class to count towards the minimum full-time enrollment requirement of 12 credits.  Therefore, F-1 and J-1 students must be careful when registering for online coursework.  If a student enrolls for 12 credits, they are only permitted to enroll in one 4-credit online course per semester. If a student enrolls for 16 credits, they may be eligible to enroll in two online courses per semester.  Blended and hybrid class formats are counted the same as online classes and therefore, the same restrictions apply.


Immigration regulations permit exceptions to the full-time enrollment requirement in very limited circumstances. You must request and obtain a reduced courseload authorization from the ISSO prior to dropping below full-time enrollment. The ISSO cannot retroactively authorize a drop below full-time enrollment, so please contact the ISSO before you drop or withdraw from classes. Students may be considered for an exception for the following reasons:

Reduced Enrollment for Academic Reasons

  • Acceptable academic reasons for dropping below full-time enrollment include improper course level placement, initial difficulties with the English language and/or reading requirements, or unfamiliarity with American teaching methods.
  • You must provide a letter of assessment from your academic counselor that verifies the circumstances and recommends that you be allowed to take less than a full-time credit load for the semester.
  • Authorization for reduced enrollment due to initial difficulties with the English language and/or reading requirements or unfamiliarity with American teaching methods may only be authorized during the first semester of study.

Reduced Enrollment for Final Semester

  • Degree-seeking students in F-1 or J-1 status may be authorized to drop below full-time enrollment in their final semester, if they will complete all program requirements by the end of that semester.
  • Proof of expected graduation is required in order for ISSO to authorize this. Before requesting authorization for reduced enrollment during your final semester, you should register for graduation with your school or college so that the anticipated graduation is reflected in your student record in the University Information System (UIS). Alternately, you may obtain a letter from your academic advisor, director of graduate studies, or dean of the school/college verifying that you need only a part-time courseload to complete your program in the current term.
  • If you wish to request authorization for a reduced course load from the ISSO, you must be registered for at least one “in-person” class on campus as you are not permitted to enroll in only online courses in your final semester.
  • To request a Reduced Courseload during your final term, you should complete the Final Semester RCL Request form and submit it to your ISSO Advisor via e-mail along with a copy of your most recent I-94 record (not your travel history).  If your expected graduation is not posted in UIS, also submit the letter from your department verifying your expected graduation.
  • If you are requesting a Reduced Courseload in your final semester and need ISSO’s approval to drop a class, please submit the Registrar’s Add/Drop Form to your ISSO Advisor along with your Final Semester RCL Request form.  You will complete and save the first two sections of the form and attach it to your e-mail with your RCL Request form and your I-94 information.  ISSO will complete the Authorized School Official signature section and forward the completed form to the Registrar’s Office on your behalf.
  • Please note that it can take up to 10 business days to process this request.

Reduced Enrollment for Medical Reasons

  • Students may be authorized to drop below full-time enrollment due to physical or mental health reasons. (Complete withdrawal from courses is also permitted, if necessary.)
  • Students must provide documentation from a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or a licensed clinical psychologist recommending a reduced courseload due to illness or medical condition. The letter must also specify the time period recommended for the reduced enrollment.
  • Authorization for reduced enrollment for medical reasons cannot exceed a cumulative period of 12 months during the student’s degree program.
  • Authorization for reduced enrollment for medical reasons can only be given one semester at a time, therefore continuing health issues may require more than one authorization.

Requesting Authorization for a Reduced Courseload

To request authorization for a reduced courseload for any of the permitted circumstances, please bring your support documentation, I-20, passport, and I-94 record to the ISSO. An appointment with your advisor may be required in some circumstances. Upon approval, your SEVIS immigration record will be updated to reflect the reduced courseload authorization and you will receive a new Form I-20 documenting the authorization.

If you have registered for 12 credits and need to drop a course, you must obtain the signature of an ISSO advisor on a BU drop form and submit that directly to the University Registrar’s office. Please note: This ISSO process has no bearing on your University bill. If you need your tuition charges adjusted, you will also need to request your department administrator to adjust your enrollment status from “full-time” to “part-time” and to contact Student Accounting Services to follow up.

Audited Courses, Incomplete Courses, and Missing Grades

  • Audited (“AU”) courses do not count toward the credit requirements for a full course of study.
  • Incomplete (“I”) courses are permissible, so long as you are eligible to continue in your program and remain enrolled for a full course of study while you make up incomplete work. Makeup work cannot be counted toward full-time enrollment in subsequent semesters. To stay in lawful immigration status, you must complete all work and receive a final grade for any incomplete courses by the end of your final semester of study.
  • Receiving a missing grade (“MG”) in any course usually indicates that you stopped attending the course and that a grade cannot be given. Courses for which you receive an “MG” grade will not be counted toward your full-time enrollment.

Summer Term Registration

Summer enrollment may or may not be required—it depends on your situation. You are required to register for classes during the summer if:

  • You will begin a new program of study or return to study after a leave of absence or suspension during the Summer Term. 
  • Degree Students: If your begin a new program in the summer and your immigration document was issued to begin in late May, you must register for at least 12 credits over the entire Summer Term. If your immigration document was issued to begin in late June or early July, you must register for at least 8 credits. (Graduate students may register for fewer credit hours only if they are certified full time by their academic department.)
  • Non-Degree Summer Term Students: If your immigration document was issued for 6 weeks of study, you must register for at least 8 credits. If it was issued for 12 weeks of study, you must register for at least 12 credits over the entire Summer Term.
  • You will complete your program of study during the Summer Term.