Whether you are interested in an F-1 visa for study in an academic program or an M-1 visa for vocational study, your course of study will need to be “full time.” But what exactly does that mean?
Definition of a “Full Course of Study” for F-1 Students
For F-1 students, a “full course of study” means that you cannot be a part-time student. Your study must “lead to the attainment of a specific educational or professional objective.” This objective can be a degree, such as a Bachelor’s, Master’s, Ph.D., or other certification. However, you do not actually have to complete that degree in the United States. You could come to the U.S. to take a semester of college courses as your “objective,” so long as your study is full time during that one semester. The following types of study are acceptable:
- Postgraduate or postdoctoral study at a -college, university, conservatory or religious -seminary; post-graduate study usually requires at least nine credit hours per term, but your school may have different requirements. You can likely receive an exception to the requirement for a full course of study during the last term if fewer hours are needed to finish.
- Undergraduate study at a college or university; usually at least 12 credit hours per term (for schools on the semester or quarter system), but your school may have different requirements. You can usually receive an exception to the requirement for a full course of study during the last term if fewer hours are needed to finish.
- Study at a post-high school institution (such as a community college) that awards “associate” or comparable degrees.
- Study in a language, liberal arts, fine arts or other non-vocational training program; at least 18 actual hours of attendance per week, 22 hours if most of the study time is spent in a laboratory.
- Study at a high school (9th through 12th grade) or elementary school (first through 8th grade); at least the number of classroom hours per week that the school requires for normal progress toward graduation.
You will be allowed some breaks in your study regimen. These are typically winter and summer breaks. You are not allowed a break for personally scheduled vacations that disrupt your studies during the academic term and prevent you from completing your coursework.
Exceptions to maintaining a full course of study can be granted by the school DSO. These exceptions include illness and part-time study during your final term.
Definition of a “Full Course of Study” for M-1 Students
A “full course of study” for vocational (M-1) students must “lead to the attainment of a specific educational or vocational objective.” 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(m)(9). This objective can be a degree, a certificate or the completion of a program. On the way to that objective, you must spend your time studying in or at one of the following: (See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(m)(9).)
- A community college or junior college of at least 12 semester or quarter hours of instruction per academic term, except during the last term if you need fewer hours to finish the -program.
- A post-secondary vocational or other business school (not language training) of at least 12 hours weekly (or its equivalent), at a school that gives associate or other degrees (or gives credits that are accepted unconditionally by at least three institutions of higher learning).
- A vocational or other nonacademic curriculum (not language training) consisting of at least 18 hours of classroom attendance per week or 22 hours per week if the dominant part of the course is shop or laboratory work.
- A vocational or other nonacademic high school curriculum, for the minimum number of hours the school requires for normal progress toward graduation.
M-1 students will be allowed some breaks in the study regimen, such as for school vacations. Your school can authorize fewer study hours if appropriate for academic or medical reasons (including pregnancy).
For more information, talk to your Designated Student Officer or DSO (if you’re already in school in the U.S.) or to an attorney.