Frequently Asked Questions
The world of international admissions and studying abroad can be overwhelming and confusing! Let's try to break it down for you...
At Cuesta College, students on an F-1 student visa are international students.
An F-1 student is a non immigrant who is pursuing a full course of study to achieve a specific educational or professional objective, at an academic institution in the United States that has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to offer courses of study to students and has been enrolled in SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System).
DSO stands for Designated School Official. A DSO is on staff at Cuesta College, and is responsible for reporting and updating F-1 student information to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). DSO's can help you with any of the following:
- Working in the United States
- Applying for a driver’s license
- Applying for a Social Security number
- Changing your major, program or degree level
- Changing your education level
- Transferring to a new school or taking a leave of absence
- Taking a break from school
- Traveling outside the United States
- Moving to a new address
- Changing your name
- Requesting a program extension
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is designed to help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State better monitor school and exchange programs and F, M and J category visitors.
Exchange visitor and student information is maintained in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students (F and M visa), exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2).
SEVIS enables schools and program sponsors to transmit mandatory information and event notifications via the Internet, to the DHS and Department of State (DOS) throughout a student or exchange visitor's stay in the United States.
Yes! Cuesta College requires all F-1 students to be covered under a specific international health insurance plan. Cuesta will automatically enroll the student each term of attendance (summer term is optional, and student must self-enroll).
Yes. F-1 students are required to enroll full-time. You must take and complete a minimum of 12 semester credits every fall and spring semester as required by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rules and regulations.
If you are an initial student (new to the country) beginning in the summer term, you are required to enroll in 9 credit hours to be considered full-time.
Students with F-1 visas who enroll less than full-time may become out of status and risk penalties by USCIS, up to and including deportation. Some exceptions apply. See RCL (reduced course load) FAQs.
F-1 students may be eligible to request a “reduced course load” or RCL. Federal immigration regulations limit a student’s ability to be less than full-time (fewer than 12 units), but it may be allowed in some circumstances. If you drop below full-time enrollment without pre-authorization, the ISO (International Student Office) is required to report this to SEVP as a violation of your F-1 status.
RCL's (reduced course loads) may be authorized by a DSO for one of the following reasons:
1. Final Semester RCL (completion of program)
A student may apply for RCL in their final semester if fewer courses (i.e. less than full-time) are needed and required to complete the course of study, such as a Certificate Program, Associate Degree Program, or Transfer Requirements.
You must first see an academic counselor to verify that the current term will be your final term. If it is indeed your final semester, please ask your academic counselor to update your educational plan and to email the ISO requesting the RCL on your behalf. To meet with an academic counselor, please visit our counseling webpage.
If you have already completed all program requirements for your degree and/or certificate, you are ineligible for a final semester reduced course load as the government views your program as already completed. If you find yourself in this situation, please get in contact with a DSO in our office immediately.
2. Medical RCL
A student may apply for RCL if, due to a temporary illness or medical condition, they are unable to be enrolled full-time (or, if necessary as recommended by a medical professional, no course load at all).
A reduced course load for a medical condition can be granted 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.
The student must provide medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist to the ISO to substantiate the illness or medical condition.
The letter requirements are listed below (please share these with your doctor):
- Written on official letterhead
- Include the date the letter was written
- Include the full name of the student/patient
- Explain why it is recommended that the student take a reduced course load or no courses at all due to a medical condition
- Include the specific semester or start and end date for which the licensed medical professional recommends a reduced or no course load due to this condition
- If the student is pregnant and is experiencing a medical complication or condition outside of normal pregnancy or delivery, the medical professional should explain the medical condition and how it prevents the student from studying full-time
- Have an original signature of the licensed medical professional
- Include the address and phone number of the practice/hospital/other medical center as well as the license number of the medical professional.
3. Academic Difficulty RCL
A student may apply for a reduced course load due to academic difficulties during the first semester at Cuesta. Please note that this type of RCL can be used only once and during the first academic term only (no exceptions). A reduced course load for academic difficulties must consist of at least 6 credit hours.
Immigration regulations specify four academic difficulty reasons for which a reduced course load may be approved:
Initial difficulties with the English language
Initial difficulties with reading requirements
Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
Improper course level placement
Yes. Standard SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) regulations limit a F-1 student to only one on-line class per semester. However, the SEVP has extended the guidance originally issued in March 2020 (due to COVID-19) for the 2022-2023 academic year. This enables schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the continuing public health concerns created by COVID-19.
What does this mean for the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters?
- All F-1 students with active SEVIS records need to enroll and complete a minimum of 12 units per semester, to maintain full-time status.
- F-1 students who have been continuously in active F-1 status since March 2020 or before may continue to enroll in all online classes.
- F-1 students who entered the U.S. with an initial I-20 any time after March 2020 should continue to enroll in at least one hybrid or in-person class every semester. All other units can be taken in any format (online, hybrid or in person).
- F-1 students who never entered the U.S. with an initial I-20, are allowed to take all online classes outside of the U.S. and are not required to take a minimum of 12 units until they arrive in the U.S.
Updated guidance can be found here.
When you enter the United States on a student (F-1) visa, you will usually be admitted for the duration of your student status. That means you may stay as long as you are a full time student with a valid I-20, even if the F-1 visa in your passport expires while you are in the U.S. Your F-1 Visa is like your ticket to enter the U.S., so once it expires, if you leave the country, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S.
Your passport must be valid at all times in order to remain in the U.S.
No. For more information about visa applications visit the U.S. Department of State website.
Yes, F-1 students may travel outside of the U.S. while enrolled at Cuesta College. You will need to obtain a travel signature on your original I-20 before departing the U.S. We encourage you to visit the ISO to obtain a travel signature from your DSO no later than three (3) weeks before traveling. If traveling in between semesters, you must register for classes for the upcoming semester before obtaining a travel signature.
Travel updates and regulations should be checked prior to departing the United States. See here for the latest guidance on vaccinations and testing when traveling abroad.
No. Cuesta College does not provide housing to students. However, multiple apartment complexes are located within 5 miles of the college, right off the public transportation/bus route, such as Mustang Village, The SLO, Valencia Student Apartments, or The Academy. In addition, many private parties advertise rooms/units for rent here.
Yes. Disability Support Programs & Services (DSPS) at Cuesta College provides reasonable accommodations for all qualified students with a documented disability. Services range from providing note takers to sign language interpreters, and quiet testing rooms to extended test times. Services are provided free of charge to students.
Learn more about DSPS.
Cuesta College considers all applicants without regard to race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin or disability.
You will need to meet with your DSO to review program extension information and to determine how much time is needed to complete your degree/certificate. You may be eligible for a one-time extension of your program's end date if requested BEFORE the end date on your I-20 form. If you fail to extend the date, you may lose your F-1 status.
As an F-1 student, you must always be aware of your program end date and make sure it does not expire regardless of the institution you are attending.
If you wish to continue your studies, you may need to leave the United States to re-establish student status by re-entering the country with a new I-20 or by filing a reinstatement request with the Department of Homeland Security.
The International Student admissions process is designed for students attending Cuesta online from abroad or in the U.S. full-time on an F-1 visa.
"I enjoyed every moment with you and all the Cuesta team...it was a great experience" - Reumang, Belgium
"The college allows me to access physical and mental health programs, food, study groups, online trivia and much more. Another factor about Cuesta is that you feel part of the community, you always have someone to talk to, be it a teacher, a staff member, a classmate. At Cuesta you are not just another number, you are someone important and what you contribute to the community is valued." - Carolina, Argentina
"Cuesta is a great college, the area around it is beautiful...The teachers are very caring, and will help you if you reach out to them. Class sizes are pretty small, so teachers are able to give you the necessary attention." - Geovanni, Costa Rica
"The college campus is really beautiful...library and facilities are great. The city is very welcoming and safe. There is an active nightlife in the downtown since there is another university in town...There is plenty of stuff to do outdoors: hiking, mountain biking, climbing etc...an unbeatable destination." - Gino, Venezuela