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F-1 Students

F-1 students are non-immigrants pursuing a full course of study towards a specific educational or professional objective at an academic institution in the U.S., as designated by the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).



Passport:  The passport must be kept valid at all times during your stay in the U.S. It must be valid at least 6 months into the future to reenter the U.S. or to apply for a visa. The passport is usually renewable through your embassy or consulate in the U.S.

I-20:  This 3-page document is issued to students in F-1 status by an educational institution. The I-20 must be presented to the U.S. consulate abroad to obtain a visa and to immigration officials upon each subsequent reentry to the U.S. Page 3 must contain a valid signature (no more than 6-months old) for authorized reentry in F-1 status. ONLY an International Student Adviser in ISSS is authorized to sign the I-20!

I-94:  This is the electronic record of your admission to the US that is generated when you are admitted by a U.S. immigration official at the U.S. port of entry. You can retrieve your electronic I-94 from This document authorizes your presence in the U.S. as a student for a specified period of time, in a specified program of study, at a specified institution. Two dates appear on the I-94; the date of U.S. entry and the date of expiration of your permission to stay.  The expiration date for F-1 students should read “D/S” for “duration of status.” The top number is your “Admission Number.” The “Class of Admission” on your I-94 should be F-1 .

F-1 Visa:  The student visa, which is a stamp or sticker placed in the passport at the American embassy or consulate permits you to enter the U.S.  The expiration date on the visa is the last day you can use it to enter the U.S. Once you enter the U.S., the date does not matter.  The visa may expire while you are in the U.S.  You cannot and need not renew it while you are here. If the original visa expires, a new entry visa is required for subsequent reentries to the U.S. following travel abroad.


Maintaining Status


  • Maintain valid passport (for you and your dependents)
  • Attend the school whose name appears on the I-20
  • Register full-time – Do not drop below full-time without advanced authorization by your International Student Adviser
  • Maintain valid I-20 – Apply for extensions at least one month before your I-20 expiration date
  • Consult your International Student Adviser in order to initiate an academic transfer
  • Obtain a I-20 travel signature from your International Student Adviser before you depart the U.S. (for you and your dependents)
  • Maintain health insurance that meets Vanderbilt requirements (for you and your dependents)
  • Notify ISSS within 10 calendar days of a change of address or telephone number
    • Enrolled Students: This information is electronically submitted to your ISSS portal profile via YES
      • Log in to YES and edit your personal information
      • Primary phone number should be your telephone number in the US
      • Local (mailing) address should be the address where you live in Nashville
      • Students living on campus do not need to enter an address in the Local (mailing) address field
    • Students on Active OPT: This information must be updated directly in your ISSS portal profile
      • Log in to the ISSS Portal
      • Under Edit Profile > Address Info, edit your local and mailing address.
      • Under Edit Profile > Information, edit your US phone number
  • Do one of the following within 60 days after program completion:
    • Apply for OPT
    • Depart the U.S.
    • Transfer and obtain an new I-20 for a new school/program, and enroll
    • Change to another immigration status
    • Depart the country within 15 days after academic withdrawal

NOTE:  As an international student, you must submit U.S. tax forms each year whether or not you receive any U.S. income.


  • Work off-campus without authorization from your International Student Adviser
  • Work on-campus more than 20 hours per week while school is in session
  • Take leave of absence without authorization from your International Student Adviser
  • Drop below full-time without authorization from your International Student Adviser
  • Accept an I-20 signature or advice from anyone other than ISSS staff


Full-Time Enrollment Requirement

Regulations require all undergraduate students to enroll for at least 12 credit hours per semester, and in general graduate students must enroll for at least 9 credit hours per semester. Graduate students who are not in Graduate School programs should be sure to confirm with your academic program the minimum full-time hours per term.

Graduate students in PhD programs whom have completed all their coursework need only to enroll in the zero-credit research only course which is considered full-time.


International Student Hold

What does the hold mean? This means that you will not be able to drop below a full course of study without permission from ISSS.

What is the purpose of this hold? The purpose of the hold is to prevent you from dropping below full-time and unknowingly putting your immigration status in jeopardy.  Remember as an international student you are required by immigration to maintain a full course of study each semester.

What if I want to add or drop a class? Submit an add/drop form to your Office of Academic Services (or equivalent for your program). If the change is approved, they will forward your form to the University Registrar’s Office (URO) for processing. If you are requesting to drop a class and the drop will put you below full-time, approval from ISSS will be needed before the change can be processed.

How do I get Authorization to drop below Full-Time from ISSS? Reducing your course load below full-time can only be approved by ISSS in certain circumstances. Unless you are requesting a reduced course load because it is your last term and you do not need a full-time course load to graduate, it is best to discuss your situation with an ISSS advisor to explore options for less than full-time enrollment. To submit your Reduced Course Load Authorization (RCL) Request you must complete and submit your application online via the ISSS Portal. This will involve sending an electronic recommendation request to your academic adviser.

Courseload Reduction

ISSS must report to immigration each semester whether students are enrolled full time or part time. Those who do not maintain a full course of study will be considered out of legal status and must either depart the U.S. immediately or apply for reinstatement.

There are, however, six approved reasons for students enrolled less than full time. They are the following:

  1. Initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements, unfamiliarity with American teaching methods, or improper course level placement (allowed only once per academic level, and undergraduates must enroll for at least six credit hours);
  2. Last semester of study (may be fewer than six credits);
  3. Concurrent enrollment (total combined enrollment at each institution must meet the definition of full time as stated above);
  4. 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 a particular program level. Documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist is required and must be provided for each new quarter that a student is ill.

If any of the above exceptions apply to you, you MUST see an ISSS advisor to get permission prior to the start of the semester or as soon as you know you will not be enrolled full time at Vanderbilt University.


Grace Periods

60-day grace period after academic program completion. During the 60-day grace period, you may:

  • Apply for Post-Completion OPT
  • Remain in the U.S. to prepare for departure
  • Transfer to another school or degree program
  • Apply for a change of status
  • Caution: no travel abroad and U.S. reentry on the same DS-2019 and no employment permitted during the 30-day grace period

15-day grace period after withdrawals authorized and approved by your International Student Adviser

  • Remain in the U.S. to prepare for departure
  • No employment permitted during the 15-day grace period
  • No transfer may be initiated during the 15-day grace period

No grace period after unapproved withdrawals or terminations

  • Immediate departure is expected if you fail to maintain status, withdraw from school, or otherwise interrupt your studies