Courses: Course Load

As a student admitted to full-time study, it is your responsibility to make certain that your course load conforms to academic requirements, including the requirement that you enroll in at least 4.0 course credits each semester, except when expressly authorized to enroll in an underload by your academic dean (see below). This policy is strictly enforced.

Normal Load

A normal course load is defined as four (4.0) course credits and, as noted above, you are expected to enroll in at least this many course credits each semester (see however “Enrollment in an Underload” below). The use of partial credits in fulfilling a normal course load can have adverse consequences and should be carefully considered. The use of partial credit in constituting a normal course load could preclude your eligibility for Dean's List and Dean's List with Distinction. It could also compromise your application to graduate and professional schools.


After the first semester of enrollment at Duke, students are free to enroll in a course overload of between 4.5 and 5.5 course credits, but during their registration window, they may register for no more than 4.5 credits. Only after the drop/add period begins can you increase your course load to as many as 5.5 course credits without your academic dean’s permission. Note however that first-year students can enroll in no more than 4.5 cc in the first semester of enrollment at Duke, though this maximum can be increased with special permission of the student's academic dean. This policy is in place to insure that new students do not take on more academic work than they can safely handle and to give them time to adjust to all aspects of college life.

Permission from your academic dean is required for an overload of 6.0 course credits. A course load of 6.0 academic courses is considerably more demanding than one of 5.0 course credits. In determining whether to approve an overload to 6.0 course credits, your academic dean will carefully consider your academic history, including your grades and the number of courses you've taken in the past. Under no circumstances will students be allowed to register for more than 6.0 course credits.


You are permitted to be in an underload, defined as a course load of between 3.0 and 3.75 course credits, only if expressly authorized to do so by your academic dean. A student who enrolls in an underload without his/her academic dean's authorization will be blocked from registering for courses in  the next semester until the last freshman window has closed and drop/add has begun.

Changes to Underload Policy for Spring 2021:
An underload (3 to 3.75 courses) approved by a student’s dean and Director of Undergraduate Studies for Spring 2021 will not count towards the student’s academic career limit of underloads. 
Students experiencing unusual stress or circumstances due to the pandemic may be allowed by their dean to take a withdrawal to underload in Spring 2021 that will not count towards the student’s academic career limit.

The number of semesters you may be in an underload cannot exceed two semesters during your time at Duke (see below for important details), though this limit excludes withdrawals for documented medical conditions or other extraordinary reasons known to the academic dean. A student in an underload is still considered a full-time degree candidate at Duke. Please note further that if authorized to enroll in an underload  you may not include an audited course among the credits that comprise the underload.  

In short, there are only two possible enrollment patterns involving two underloads:

  • one withdrawal to an underload + one enrollment in an underload, or
  • two enrollments in an underload

Two categories of underloads may be authorized:

Withdrawal to an Underload

During the semester, your academic dean may permit you “for compelling reasons” to withdraw from a normal course load to an underload. Such a withdrawal to an underload is possible only prior to the final four weeks of classes in a semester.  Students are permitted to withdraw to an underload only once in their academic career. The only exception to this policy is when a student is granted special permission to withdraw from a course to an underload for medical reasons (see "Course: Withdrawal" for details). Medical withdrawals are subject to the same deadline as all other course withdrawals, i.e., a date four weeks prior to the last day of classes. Students on academic probation are expected to remain in a full course load during their semester of probation and will be permitted to withdraw to an underload by their academic dean only in compelling circumstances.
Withdrawal from a course in the summer is not subject to the underload policy (but see Summer Session for applicable policies).
Note: if you are a scholarship student contemplating withdrawal from a course to an underload, you should check the conditions of your award to ascertain whether  you are bound by scholarship regulations governing your course load each semester; your scholarship administrator must be consulted.

Enrollment in an Underload 

Under certain specific circumstances, students with a strong academic record may start a semester enrolled in an underload of between 3.0 and 3.75 course credits. This is permitted as many as two times in a student’s Duke career. To enroll in an underload, you must meet the following criteria for eligibility:

  • have declared a major;
  • have a GPA of at least 3.0 and not be on academic probation;
  • be enrolled on campus at Duke—enrolling in an underload is not permitted when you are studying abroad or otherwise away from Duke;
  • for a 1st underload semester: have already passed at least 16 courses;
  • for a 2nd underload semester: have passed at least 20 courses prior to the 6th semester or 24 prior to the 7th semester (excluding AP, IPC, and PMC credits but including transfer credits) or 31 prior to the 8th semester (including AP, IPC, PMC and transfer credits).
  • and all three (3) courses in an enrolled underload must be 1.0 credit courses and must be taken for a letter grade, except that a course may be taken on the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grading basis if (and only if) it is offered only on this basis.
  •  request to enroll in an underload by 5 pm on the last day of drop/add.

If you meet these requirements and wish to start a semester enrolled in an underload you must receive certification from the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the major that the underload will not inhibit completion of major requirements and secure permission from your academic dean.   A form is available for this purpose and can be found here. Currently the online underload request form is not working, if you would like to request an underload please email your major Director of Undergraduate Studies and your Academic Dean.       

The number of semesters any student is permitted to be in an underload cannot exceed two, though medical withdrawals are not counted in this number. Thus, if you withdraw from a course to an underload, which (as noted above) is permitted only once in your Duke career, you will be permitted to enroll once in an underload, provided you have met the conditions described above. If you do not withdraw from a course to an underload in your undergraduate career, you may enroll in an underload twice, provided you meet the conditions described above. In short, there are only two possible enrollment patterns involving two underloads:

  • one withdrawal to an underload + one enrollment in an underload, or
  • two enrollments in an underload

Seniors needing only 3 courses to graduate may enroll in an underload only in accordance with one or the other of these two patterns. Seniors who anticipate that they will need fewer than 3 courses to graduate must apply before the first day of classes in the last semester for part-time degree status, which is not affected by or a part of the underload enrollment policy described here.

Note: Merit scholars at Duke are permitted only one underload in their Duke careers. Exceptions to this rule will be made only in extraordinary circumstances and must be authorized by the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows.

Cautions Regarding Enrolling in an Underload

When considering whether to enroll in an underload, please note that you:

  • will be ineligible for Dean’s List and Dean’s List with Distinction that semester;
  • may not use half- or quarter-credit courses to enroll in an underload of 3.0 course credits;
  • may not withdraw from a course during the underload semester; and
  • must pass at least 3.0 course credits in order to meet semester continuation requirements and avoid dismissal for academic reasons.

Please also consider whether a semester of enrollment in an underload might affect:

  • your scholarship or financial aid—check the conditions of your award;
  • your subsequent application to graduate or professional school—consult your graduate or pre-professional school advisor.

See also: