Maintaining Your F-1 Status

International students must maintain full-time status as defined by the University. In mitigating circumstances, students may be authorized to drop below full-time. This is called a Reduced Course Load (RCL). For acceptable RCL mitigating circumstances under SEVP regulations please contact the Designated School Official (DSO).

USU defines full-time status as enrolled in no less than six credits per semester for graduate students. International students must be enrolled in two (2) ground courses and one (1) online course per semester (refer to your degree plan). If a student is in their last semester and only needs one (1) course to complete their program of study, the course cannot be completed online. Please note that SEVP does not allow a University to count online courses towards full-time status.

International students are expected to adhere to the University attendance requirements for both on-ground and online courses. Students that do not adhere to the University's attendance policy may have their SEVIS record terminated.

Reduced Course Load (RCL)

A DSO may allow an F-1 student to engage in less than a full course of study for limited reasons as allowed under federal regulations. This reduction in course load is called a Reduced Course Load (RCL) and is reported within SEVIS as "Authorized a Drop Below Full Course." A RCL is authorized for one (1) semester and may be extended, if needed, the subsequent semester if the student is still eligible. 

The DSO may authorized a RCL for the following reasons:

Academic Difficulties - Unfamiliarity with the U.S. teaching methods or initial difficulty with reading requirements. A student can only use academic difficulties for the initial academic term and must maintain a minimum six-credit course load (including online course). Must begin a full course load at the next offered term. The RCL will start and end with alignment of the university's start and end dates of semesters. 

Medical Conditions - Temporary illness or medical condition for a period of time not to exceed an aggregate of 12 months while the student is pursuing a course of study at the particular program level. To authorize a RCL the student must provide medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, psychiatrist, doctor of osteopathy, licensed psychologist, or clinical psychologist to the DSO to substantiate the illness or medical condition. The student must provide current medical documentation and a DSO must reauthorize the RCL each semester. A student may not be permitted to be enrolled in any CPT courses during this time. 

Completion of Course of Study - In a final semester, if the student has fewer courses to complete may be authorized for RCL. The student must be enrolled in at least one required credit bearing course.

Attendance and Participation Policy

Attendance is mandatory for all scheduled weekend classes and participation for online courses. Failure to attend one day may result in immediate withdrawal from the University and the SEVIS record terminated. No exceptions can be made to this policy. If a student misses class due to mitigating circumstances, they must notify the faculty and DSO. Evidence of mitigating circumstances may be requested by the DSO to determine options. Example: i.e., medical illness, natural disaster/sever weather conditions preventing travel leading to national emergency. The University is a San Diego Based institution and students are expected to be in class during scheduled sessions. Students traveling from outside the area should make every effort to plan accordingly ahead of time to ensure they are on-time to class sessions.

The university understands that at times a student may be late to class or need to leave early. Being late to any class or leaving early is a disruption to fellow classmates and is strongly discouraged. The university will consider a student to be tardy when they arrive more than 10 minutes late after class starts and/or an early departure is any time a student leaves before the end of class. The university will consider it an absence if a student exceeds more than two (2) tardies or early departures during a single course; and at which point the university will withdraw the student from the course and/or the university. Their SEVIS record may also be impacted and terminated due to "Unauthorized Drop Below Full Course of Study."

Refer to the University's Attendance and Participation Policy for more detailed information.

Change in Status

In compliance with SEVP regulations, students must notify the DSO of any changes in status including, but not limited to, change in demographic information, transfer to another college/university, obtaining a social security number, or returning to their home country permanently within ten (10) days. Failure to comply with this requirement may impact the student's F-1 visa status.

International Travel and Vacation

An international student at an academic institution is considered to be in status during vacation. An international student at United States University (USU) is eligible for vacation after they have completed and remain in good academic standing after one (1) academic year. Vacations are limited to two (2) 8-week sessions per year (365 days) after the completion of at least one (1) academic year. Vacations are not mandatory and students may continue to attend year round.

Students that decide to take their annual vacation may still study part-time, travel internationally, travel within the U.S. and/or enroll into the symposium/internship course. Students must notify a DSO in advanced of any annual vacation to review and determine eligibility. All annual vacations must start at the beginning of a semester and cannot be taken during a semester. In most instances a second request for an annual break may not be granted given the University's academic calendar.

If a student is going to be traveling outside of the U.S., they must request their Form I-20 to be endorsed by a DSO at least two (2) weeks prior to departure. Traveling outside of the U.S. without a travel endorsement signature may lead to difficulties with a CBP Officer when returning back into the U.S.  Students must consider the attendance policy when making travel arrangements.

Travel Documents

If a student is traveling outside of the U.S., they must carry their current Form I-20 endorsed for travel with DSO signature, passport (not to be expired within 6 months), and their valid visa, if applicable.

Intent to Withdraw or Request Medical Leave

If a student intends to or is thinking about taking a leave or withdrawing they must contact their DSO as soon as possible. International students must submit a withdrawal form in the student portal.

Requests for leave of absence due to medical reasons must be accompanied by a letter from a licensed physician that clearly indicates that a student is not able to be enrolled in classes in the current semester. Refer to the Reduced Course Load Policy.

Students on an approved medical leave are considered maintaining status under SEVP regulations. While the student is on medical leave, they can remain in the U.S. The authorization period cannot exceed an aggregate of 12-months per program level. For more information regarding the medical leave please contact the DSO.

SEVIS Termination and Status Violations

When a status violation occurs, the University may be required to terminate a student's SEVIS record. Termination of a SEVIS record (i.e., an I-20) is serious and can have negative consequences for a student and their ability to stay in the U.S. Grounds for termination of a SEVIS record include but are not limited to:

  • Unauthorized employment
  • Unauthorized withdrawal form all classes
  • Unauthorized drop below full course of study
  • Expulsion and suspension
  • Failure to enroll in classes

In most cases, the termination of a student's SEVIS record will result in the student's immediate departure from the U.S. The departure is necessary to avoid more severe consequences. Additionally, in cases of terminations, a student forfeits the 60 day grace period. If your SEVIS record is terminated, there are only two ways to regain your status:

  1. By travel, Exit, then re-enter the U.S. with a new I-20.
  2. By reinstatement. Submit a reinstatement application to the U.S. Government. An F-1 student is only eligible for reinstatement if all of the following conditions apply to the student:
    1. Has not been out of status more than 5 months at the time of filling the request for reinstatement.
    2. Does not have a record of repeated or willful violation of regulations.
    3. Is currently pursuing, or intending to pursue, a full course of study in the immediate future at the school which issued the Form I-20.
    4. Has not engaged in authorized employment.
    5. Is not deportable on any other grounds.
    6. Establishes to the satisfaction of USCIS, in detail showing, either that:
      1. The violation resulted from circumstances beyond the student's control, OR
      2. The violation relates to a reduction in the student's course load that would have been within a DSO's power to authorize, and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student.


The DSO will assist students with a reinstatement petition only if: (1) all of the conditions above apply, and, (2) the violation was not preventable. Students should consult with an appropriate U.S. immigration attorney, especially if none of the above eligibility are not met. The DSO may help you determine the best option for you.

Program Extension

An F-1 student who is admitted for a duration of status is not required to apply for any extension of stay as long as the student is maintaining status and making normal progress toward completion of their education objectives (refer to the Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy). A student who is making progress but is unable to complete their course of study by the program end date on the Form I-20 must apply prior to the program end date for a program extension.

A student who is unable to meet the program completion date as listed on their Form I-20 may be granted an extension if the DSO certifies that the student has continually maintained status and that the delays are caused by compelling medical reasons and/or documented illnesses. Any delays that are caused by academic course failures, probation, or suspensions are not acceptable reasons for program extensions.

When requesting an extension the student must include proof of continued financial support for the extended period they are requesting and the appropriate medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor or licensed clinical psychologist. The financial documents must not be more than three (3) months old. A DSO will review the request within 10 days after receiving the program extension request. If approved the DSO will notify the student and provide an updated Form I-20 with the new program end date.

Note that a DSO cannot grant a program extension if the request is after the completion date listed on the Form I-20. If an F-1 student is unable to complete the educational program by the completion date listed on the Form I-20 is considered out of status, any off-campus authorization will be terminated (including CPT), and all other eligibility benefits will be lost as an F-1 visa student. If eligible, the student may apply for reinstatement under certain provisions under regulations. Refer to the Reinstatement section within this Handbook.

Document Retention

Form the time of acceptance and throughout the program of study, a DSO will issue a Form I-20 to a student. It is the responsibility of the student to review for accuracy and to notify the DSO if any information is not correct. A DSO will make the necessary corrections and provide an updated Form I-20 to the student.

All documents, including the Form I-20 must be retained by the student. The University's record retention policy states that student's educational records are only retained for at least five (5) years form the date of completion (except student transcripts). If a student is wanting to obtain copies of any documents while attending USU and it has been beyond five years, the University may no longer hold those records in its possession.