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Lehigh University has a flexible curriculum where students can move between majors and even colleges. If you decide to change your major or course of study, you must report it to OISS immediately.

You must also report if you:

  • Leave your program to return home for a short-term emergency or permanently
  • Plan to graduate before the date on your I-20 or DS-2019
  • Need more time to complete your program
  • Need to enroll in fewer than the required credits per semester

J-1 students sponsored by an organization other than Lehigh University, such as the Fulbright Program, must report changes to the organization that issued their DS-2019.

We strongly recommend that you not take any chances if things change in your program. Contact us if you have questions about your immigration status.

Section 1

Changing Your Major or Degree

If you want to change your major or degree program, you need to get a new I-20 or DS-2019 from OISS after you receive admission from your new program.

For OISS to issue a new I-20 or DS-2019, you need to:

  • Show proof of admission into the new program of study
  • Provide proof of financial support for one academic year
  • Start the new program the following academic semester
  • * J-1 students also need to show proof of health insurance coverage.

OISS will process your request and issue a new I-20 or DS-2019 with the program updates.

The following J-1 program changes require approval from the U.S. Department of State:

  • From a doctorate to a master’s program
  • From a non-degree to a degree-seeking program
  • From a degree-seeking program to a non-degree program

Section 2

Reducing Your Course Load

International students must enroll full-time, with few exceptions. If you feel you cannot enroll full-time, we recommend that you consult with an OISS advisor.

Exceptions to Full-Time Enrollment

  • Final semester: If you are in your final semester, you can enroll less than full-time. If you only need to take one more course, you must be physically present for that course. It cannot be an online or distance course.
  • For academic reasons: If you have academic trouble, such as struggling with U.S. teaching methods or learning in English, or if you were assigned the wrong course.
  • For medical reasons: If you are have a serious medical condition, OISS can approve a reduced course load for up to 12 months total. You will need to renew it each semester. You are not required to leave the country in this case.

Applying for a Reduced Course Load

  1. Discuss your plan with your academic advisor.
  2. If you are requesting a reduced course load (RCL) for medical reasons, your doctor or licensed clinical psychologist needs to write a letter to OISS recommending less than full-time study due to your medical condition. You do not need to share your medical condition with your academic advisor. You cannot use a RCL to care for an ill spouse or child.
  3. Complete the RCL authorization form in iHome. Include your academic advisor’s name and contact information.
  4. Once you submit the form, your advisor will get a request to approve the RCL.

OISS will email you after your advisor approves the request. You can drop below full time once OISS approves your request.

Section 3

Shortening or Extending Your Program

Shortening Your Program

If you want to graduate before the program end date on your I-20 or DS-2019, you need to contact OISS to shorten your program. Your academic advisor will need to attest to your program ending sooner than expected. OISS will issue you new immigration documents.

Extending Your Program

If you will not finish your program by the program end date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019, you must request a program extension. Make the request before that date. If you wait until that date, you will lose your immigration status and you will not be able to extend your program.

To extend your program, you need to show that:

  • You are making academic progress toward completing your program
  • Your delay is due to valid reasons, such as changing majors, losing credits after transfer, medical illness, etc.

OISS will not extend your program if you have been suspended.

To extend your program, discuss the extension with your academic advisor. Then complete the Extension Request form in iHome. J-1 students must also show proof of health insurance coverage.

Fulbright students need to contact their program administrator to extend their DS-2019.

Section 4

Taking a Leave of Absence or Withdrawing

Taking a Leave of Absence

If you need to return home for a brief period, you may choose to take a leave of absence from Lehigh University. You must consult with OISS before taking a leave of absence. As an international student, you may not remain in the U.S. during a leave of absence from the university and you must leave within 15 days of OISS approval for leave.

To take a leave of absence, discuss your plans with your academic advisor. Meet with an OISS advisor to discuss the timing. Then complete the Leave of Absence Request Form with the Dean of Students Office if you are an undergraduate student or with the Graduate Life Office if you are a graduate student.

Returning from a Leave of Absence

If your leave is fewer than five months, notify OISS at least 30 days before you want to return. We will request a reactivation of your SEVIS account. Once your account is reactivated, you can return on your original I-20 or DS-2019, but make sure you have a valid travel signature from OISS. You do not need to pay the SEVIS fee again.

If your leave is five months or longer, you need a new I-20 to re-enter the U.S. You will need to provide new financial documents to OISS and pay the SEVIS fee again. You will also need to complete a full academic year to qualify for practical training like CPT.

To return to Lehigh, you will need to be readmitted to your program by the Dean of Students Office (undergraduate students) or the Graduate Life Office (graduate students).

Once you are readmitted, you will need to email OISS the following documents:

  • Readmission letter
  • Photo page of your passport
  • New letter from your bank with the funds available
  • Financial certification form

We will issue your new I-20 or DS-2019.

Log in to iHome and complete the immigration check-in process by uploading your most recent immigration documents. When you arrive at Lehigh, come to OISS to activate your SEVIS record.

Withdrawing from Lehigh

You must meet with an OISS advisor before withdrawing from the university. If you withdraw without letting OISS know, your record will be terminated and you will violate your F-1 or J-1 status.

Personal Withdrawal

Before you drop all courses, you need to contact OISS and request an authorized early withdrawal from the university. Our office will then terminate your SEVIS record and send you an email confirmation. Once you are terminated, you will have 15 days to leave the U.S. Leaving this way will not affect your immigration record.

If you fail to notify OISS before you drop your courses, your termination may bar you from returning to the U.S.

Dismissal from Lehigh

If you are dismissed from your academic program, you must leave the U.S. as soon as you receive notification from OISS, unless you opt to appeal. OISS recommends that you not wait for a termination decision from your college or department. If you contact us before that point, we can help you plan.

Section 5

Transferring Out

F-1 students can transfer to another institution during or after completing their program. To transfer:

  1. Meet with an OISS advisor to discuss your transfer plans.
  2. Complete the Transfer-Out e-form in iHome. You will be asked to upload proof of admission to a new school and select a SEVIS Transfer Release Date in the Transfer-Out e-form.
    1. Your SEVIS Transfer Release Date must be during your 60-day grace period after you complete your academic program or your OPT.  Enrolled students should not select a SEVIS Transfer Release Date that is before the last day of their exam period.  Students on OPT will not be able to work beyond the SEVIS Transfer Release Date (your OPT will end, if you are transferring before your OPT end date).
    2. You must start your program at the new school at the next available start date within 5 months of the date of last attendance at Lehigh, or your program completion date/OPT end date. 
    3. If the new school's program start date is more than 5 months away, you will need to depart the US, receive a new I-20 from the new school and return to the US using the new school's I-20.  
  3. Tell the DSO at your new school when you plan to transfer your record.
  4. Report to the new school within 15 days of the start date on your I-20 from that school.

J-1 students can transfer to another institution if they:

  • Will continue pursuing their original exchange visitor program objective
  • Are within the program dates on their DS-2019
  • Have maintained their status as a J-1 student and are in good academic standing

To transfer, J-1 students must:

  1. Meet with an OISS advisor to discuss your transfer plans, including the SEVIS release date. If you will stay in the U.S. between programs, the release date cannot be after the program end date on your DS-2019.
  2. Complete the transfer-out form in iHome.
  3. Report to your new school within 30 days of the program start date on your form DS-2019.