Unit Minimum & Maximum

This page covers unit minimums and maximums within a semester. If you are looking for information on the overall unit minimums to graduate, see the Degree Requirements page. If you are looking for information on the overall unit maximum for your time at UC Berkeley, see the Unit Ceiling and Semester Limit page. 

Overview

College of Letters and Science (L&S) students take a wide range of unit loads, depending on what works for them. For a Fall or Spring semester, you may take:

  • a minimum of 13 units 
  • a maximum of 20.5 units 

There may be times when it makes sense to take fewer or more units depending on your goals, time constraints, commitments, and other factors. This page will help you understand semester unit loads and how to request an exception to go above or below a limit.

If you are considering taking fewer than 13 units in a semester, it is important that you plan ahead and gain approval from the appropriate offices to avoid negative implications to your registration, financial aid, and/or visa status.

Unit Minimum and Maximum FAQs

Typical Unit Load

If a student came in with no transfer units and took no summer semesters, it would take a freshman student 15 units per semester to reach the total 120 unit minimum by the end of their 8th semester. This is why 15 units a semester is considered a typical unit load for L&S students.

That does not mean you need to, or should, take 15 units each semester. It is common for unit loads to change over the course of your at Cal, starting with fewer units while you adjust to UC Berkeley and identify major options, then building on that if you feel comfortable doing so. You might feel comfortable with lower unit loads or you might feel comfortable with higher unit loads. It is important to identify an ideal unit load for you that helps you reach your academic goals. Even students taking lower unit loads may still be able to graduate in their planned EGT term by using transfer units or using summer sessions.

For more help planning for your academic goals, see our Create a Long Term Program Plan page.

Reduced Course Load (taking below 13 units): Overview and Eligibility

You are required to take a minimum of 13 units each semester, unless you have an approved Reduced Course Load (RCL), which allows you to take fewer than 13 units. 

Eligibility

If you meet one of the following criteria, you are eligible to take a reduced course load. 

  • Paid employment (15 hours or more per week): Unit minimum allowed based on amount of hours worked (see form)

  • Eligible through Disabled Students Program (DSP): Unit minimum determined by DSP

  • Parenthood: Minimum of two courses totalling six units

  • Graduating Senior (in EGT semester only): Minimum of one course, or number of units needed to graduate

  • Major Honors Program: Minimum of two courses totalling six units

  • Approved late drop that puts a student below 13 units

If you meet one of the above criteria, see the next FAQ for the procedure to request an RCL. 

If you do not meet one of the above criteria, but feel that you have a medical, personal, or family circumstances that warrant consideration of an approved RCL, you may meet with an L&S College Adviser to discuss your options and the best course of action.

Unapproved reduced course load

If you take fewer than 13 units in a Fall or Spring semester without approval, you will receive a warning email if it is the first time. If you take another unapproved RCL, you will receive a hold on future registration. If this occurs, you will need to meet with an L&S College Adviser to remove the hold. 

Tuition

Students with an approved RCL are still considered full-time students that pay full tuition and fees (unless approved for a rare tuition reduction currently only available for DSP students who qualify based on disability. DSP students should discuss tuition reductions with the DSP office. As of Fall 2020, L&S does not review requests for tuition reductions. Questions about tuition reductions can be answered by the Office of the Registrar).

Reduced Course Load: Procedure

If after reading the Overview and Eligibilty information above, you wish to pursue requesting a reduced course load, see the procedures below.  Petitions and other supporting documentation for an RCL must be submitted by the add/drop deadline during the fourth week of the semester to L&S College Advising. See the table below for specific instructions. 

If you are planning to request an RCL, plan ahead and gain approval from the appropriate offices to avoid negative implications to your registration, financial aid, and/or visa status.  

  • Students that receive financial aid should confirm with a Financial Aid Adviser whether their aid package will be impacted by a reduced course load. 

  • Students declared in simultaneous degrees will need approval from both colleges for a reduced course load. 

  • International students should contact Berkeley International Office to determine whether their visa status will be impacted by a reduced course load. 

  • Student athletes should contact their Athletic Studies Center Adviser to determine whether they may enroll in a reduced course load.

StatusAction
Paid Employment (minimum: depends on work hours per week, see form) Submit completed "Employment Verification for Reduced Course Load" form to lspetitions@berkeley.edu
Disabled Students Program Recommendation (minimum: units as recommended by DSP) Confirm that DSP has included you on their RCL list or submit DSP recommendation letter to lspetitions@berkeley.edu
Parenthood (minimum: two courses totaling six units) Submit the Reduced Course Load online form
Graduating Senior in EGT Semester (minimum: one course or number of units required to graduate) Submit the Reduced Course Load online form
Major Honors Program (minimum: two courses totaling six units) Submit the Reduced Course Load online form and email departmental verification of major honors status to lspetitions@berkeley.edu

Unit Max: Waitlisted Units

The unit maximum of 20.5 includes both enrolled and waitlisted units. 

Students sometimes ask if their unit maximum can be raised even though they are not intending on taking over 20.5 units because their schedules are filled with waitlisted courses. Because requests to exceed the unit maximum are not considered until the third week of instruction*, this strategy does not usually make sense for students. For more information on navigating waitlists, see the SIS Enrollment FAQ page. 

*Spring 2021 requests will be reviewed earlier due to the remote learning environment. Please see the "Enrolling in more than 20.5 units" FAQ below. 

Enrolling in more than 20.5 units

During the first two weeks of instruction, you should attend all courses you are planning to enroll in and ensure that there are no overlaps between lectures, labs, and discussion sections. If you have met those criteria, then you may request permission to enroll in more than 20.5 units (the unit maximum) during the third week of instruction. If approved, students still must add the course themselves before the add/drop deadline. 

  • If you are undeclared: You may meet with an L&S College Adviser to request an approval for additional units beginning the third week of instruction. Note: In most cases, approvals are granted only to students with a demonstrated history of strong academic performance with high-unit course loads.
  • If you have declared your major: Meet with your Undergraduate Major Adviser (UMA) to request permission to enroll in more than 20.5 units. 
  • Note: If you are declared in simultaneous degrees in two different colleges, you will need approval from both colleges to exceed the unit maximum. 

Spring 2021 Policy/Procedure

  • Undeclared students who have a 3.3 GPA or higher may request to exceed the 20.5 unit max through an online form on our Forms and Petitions page. To accommodate the remote format of classes, L&S will review these early for the Spring 2021 semester, starting January 25, 2021. 
  • Undeclared students who have a GPA below a 3.3 will need to meet with an L&S Adviser to request to exceed the unit max. You may make these appointments starting January 25, 2021. 
  • Declared students will still need to contact  their Undergraduate Major Adviser (UMA) to request permission to enroll in more than 20.5 units.