Guidelines to Maintaining Status (Students)
How to Maintain Your Lawful F/J Student Status
If the summer term is a required part of your academic program, you must register full-time. If not, it is considered a vacation period and is optional.
Use the scheduled registration dates on the Registrar's webpage
Full-time enrollment may differ from school to school, but generally it is:
- 12 points for Columbia schools and programs that use the credit point system for registration (except for Law and Social Work, OR
- one residence unit for schools/programs using the RU system
If you’re not sure if you’re enrolled full-time, check your enrollment status at Student Services OnLine (SSOL )or check with your school.
Online classes: You can count only ONE online class toward your minimum number of credits required for your full-time enrollment. For example, you can take one online 3-credit course toward the 12-credit minimum. If you want to take an additional online class for a 15-point course load, it is permitted because it's beyond the minimum required for full-time status.
If you only need one course to complete your program of study in your final term, the course cannot be online or distance learning.
There are limited exceptions that may allow you to be registered for a “Reduced Course Load” (RCL).
- Final Term of a Degree Program. You are allowed to be less than full-time in the final term of your degree program if you do not need a full-time course load to complete degree requirements-- unless your academic program has a minimum registration requirement each term for all its students. This does not require permission or further action.
- Other eligible exceptions based on academic or medical reasons require you to receive authorization from us before dropping below full-time, withdrawing from classes, or taking a leave of absence. Follow these instructions to Request a Reduced Course Load
While in the U.S., you must keep your I-20 / DS-2019 up-to-date by informing us of any pertinent changes.
Here are the changes you need to report:
- Apply for an extension before the end date if you need more time to complete your degree.
- Inform us if you are finishing earlier than the end date on your I-20 or DS-2019. We need to change the date, and you need to be informed of deadlines associated with the new completion date.
- Be sure you have a travel signature on your most recent I-20 or DS-2019 that will be less than 12 months old on the date you return from a trip abroad.
- Request a transfer of your SEVIS record to another school if you are going to continue your studies elsewhere.
- Inform us if you are beginning a new program at Columbia. You will need a new COE (I-20/DS-2019) for it.
- Inform us if you are leaving Columbia program before completing your program.
- Inform us if you are changing to another nonimmigrant status or if you become a permanent resident (“green card” holder).
It is very important that your travel documents are up-to-date to avoid any problems at your departure airport when you’re returning to the U.S. and at a U.S. port of entry when you arrive. Check our Documents Needed to Travel page well in advance of a planned trip. It is also important to access your electronic I-94 arrival record every time you enter the US. to check that your admission was recorded correctly as F or J until “D/S” (duration of status).
You risk losing your status if you don’t report Post-completion OPT and STEM OPT updates as described on our OPT Reporting webpage. The ISSO will send you reminder emails, so be sure to pay attention to them.
Once you have completed your studies and any authorized post-graduation employment under F-1 or J-1 status, you have an additional grace period that allows you to remain in the U.S. to prepare for departure.
- F-1 status: 60 days
- J-1 status: 30 days
Learn more about your grace period and other information relevant to your final term.
IRS Form 8843 is required for F and J students and their dependents even if you had no U.S. income. ISSO provides you free access to Sprintax, a nonresident tax preparation system to complete the 8843 if you had no US income and a nonresident federal tax return in addition to the 8843 if you do have income to report.
When applying for a nonimmigrant visa, applicants have to document that they have the financial resources to support themselves and any family members with them. Accepting taxpayer-funded public benefits can jeopardize your legal status and future visa applications, change of status applications and admission to the U.S. if it is determined that you could become a public burden. Public benefits that count towards the "public charge inadmissibility" rule broadly include any Federal, State, or local cash assistance for income maintenance, SNAP (commonly known as food stamps), certain government housing programs, and Medicaid. Refer to the USCIS Public Charge Fact Sheet for additional information.
And don't forget!
You may need them in the future:
- to document your employment history and your compliance with U.S. immigration regulations
- for future USCIS and/or visa applications
As an international student, you have an academic status with your school of enrollment and an F or J immigration status.
Watch our video for a summary of How to Maintain Your Status
- Columbia Student Services Online (SSOL)
- Reporting Your First Arrival (F and J)
- Requesting a Reduced Courseload (RCL)
- Address Changes
- Leave of Absence, Suspension, or Withdrawal
- Travel Signatures and Passport Renewal
- Maintaining Status for Dependents
- Employment Options
- Study Abroad with Student Status