Schools should offer, and students must follow and make normal progress toward completing, a full course of study.
General Requirements for F-1 full course of study
8 CFR 214.2 ( f)(6) establishes the general framework within which a “full course of study” should be determined. A program of study must meet the following criteria before it can be considered a “full course of study” for F-1 purposes:
Successful completion of the program “must lead to the attainment of a specific educational or professional objective” and the program must qualify under one of the five paragraphs (A-E) enumerated in 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(6)(i)
(6) Full course of study: (i) General. Successful completion of the full course of study must lead to the attainment of a specific educational or professional objective. A course of study at an institution not approved for attendance by foreign students as provided in §214.3(a)(3) does not satisfy this requirement. A “full course of study” as required by section 101(a)(15)(F)(i) of the Act means:
(A) Postgraduate study or postdoctoral study at a college or university, or undergraduate or postgraduate study at a conservatory or religious seminary, certified by a DSO as a full course of study;
(B) Undergraduate study at a college or university, certified by a school official to consist of at least twelve semester or quarter hours of instruction per academic term in those institutions using standard semester, trimester, or quarter hour systems, where all undergraduate students who are enrolled for a minimum of twelve semester or quarter hours are charged full-time tuition or are considered full-time for other administrative purposes, or its equivalent (as determined by the district director in the school approval process), except when the student needs a lesser course load to complete the course of study during the current term;
(C) Study in a postsecondary language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other non-vocational program at a school which confers upon its graduates recognized associate or other degrees or has established that its credits have been and are accepted unconditionally by at least three institutions of higher learning which are either:
(1) A school (or school system) owned and operated as a public educational institution by the United States or a State or political subdivision thereof; or
(2) a school accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting body; and which has been certified by a designated school official to consist of at least twelve clock hours of instruction a week, or its equivalent as determined by the district director in the school approval process;
(D) Study in any other language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other nonvocational training program, certified by a designated school official to consist of at least eighteen clock hours of attendance a week if the dominant part of the course of study consists of classroom instruction, or to consist of at least twenty-two clock hours a week if the dominant part of the course of study consists of laboratory work; or
(E) Study in a curriculum at an approved private elementary or middle school or public or private academic high school which is certified by a designated school official to consist of class attendance for not less than the minimum number of hours a week prescribed by the school for normal progress toward graduation.
The rules for postgraduate studies in colleges, universities, conservatories and seminaries (as well as undergraduate studies in conservatories and seminaries) allow the DSO to determine what constitutes a “full course of study” for F-1 purposes. For postgraduate candidates, the degree in particular may serve as the required academic objective.
Although the regulatory formulation is open-ended, a DSO should use her judgment wisely, taking the institution’s interests into account. DHS immigration agencies have the right to review a DSO’s discretionary decisions regarding any determinations related to the full course of study, and a DSO’s decision must always be well documented and supported by applying well-articulated standards.
A clear criterion that can be used to determine if the postgraduate study should be certified as a full course of study is examining how the “full-time” school standards are used for other purposes, such as financial aid. In many postgraduate programs, nine hours of credit are considered a full-time postgraduate course during the working phase of a postgraduate program. However, in many schools, the definition of what constitutes “full time” for a graduate student varies depending on the year of study (for example, the first year of a program versus the third year) and the field of work. For example, during the first semester in the Biology doctoral program, the student could be registered full time; however, in the second semester, the student could be required to register in only one course while working as a research assistant for most of each day.