Definition of “Academic Year” for F-1 Students

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued policy guidance specifying the definition of the term “academic year.” as used for SEVP purposes. This is important because many immigration benefits available under the F-1 program are closely tied to how this term is defined.

SEVP Establishes a Uniform Standard

There are numerous references to the academic year within the SEVP regulations, which govern F-1 students. Eligibility for various benefits enjoyed by these students is often tied to the concept of the academic year. Not all colleges and universities that are authorized to participate in the F-1 student program, however, operate under the identical academic calendar structure. To avoid confusion in this area, SEVP has set forth a specific definition in order to create a uniform standard.

Requirements for Academic Year

Under the interim final guidance, effective October 10, 2014, SEVP defines an academic year for an F-1 program of study as a minimum of:

  • Thirty weeks of instructional time for programs offered in credit hours
  • Twenty-six weeks of instructional time for programs offered in clock hours
  • Thirty weeks of instructional time for programs offered that combine credit and clock hours

F-1 Undergraduate Program Requirements

For an F-1 undergraduate program, this corresponds to the amount of instructional time during which a full-time student would complete a minimum of either:

  • Twenty-four semester or trimester credit hours or thirty-six quarter credit hours (for a program measured in credit hours); or
  • Nine hundred clock hours (for programs measured in clock hours)

Standard Systems for an Academic Year

The requirements set forth above generally equate to: two semesters for schools on a semester system, two trimesters for schools on a trimester system, or three quarters for schools on a quarterly system. Other systems are also permitted. Students and advisers at these institutions can determine the needed duration of studies for completion of an academic year under the particular system by carefully reviewing the guidance requirements.


The SEVP guidance is helpful, given the variety of academic calendars that exist within U.S. institutions of higher education. This will help students and school officials to understand when an F-1 student is eligible for benefits such as off-campus employment, and curricular or optional practical training.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.