If you are not required to take additional courses to satisfy the requirements for completion, but continue to enroll for administrative purposes, you are considered to have completed your course of study and must take action to maintain your legal status in the U.S. by applying for optional practical training or applying for a change of status to another non-immigrant category.
Temporary Absence from the U.S.
You will be considered a returning student after a temporary absence of less than five months provided that your current I-20 contains valid travel signatures that are not more than six months old.
If you have been outside the U.S. for more than five months, you will need a new I-20 document and you will need to be enrolled for another full academic year before being eligible for optional practical training.
If you choose to participate in a study abroad program, you will most likely be outside the U.S. for more than 5 months.
While you will need a new I-20, the time you spent on the study abroad program counts toward your eligibility for Optional Practical Training.
Data Collection Abroad by Graduate Students
Unfortunately, graduate students who need to travel abroad to collect data for their graduate research do not currently enjoy the same benefit as do students participating in a study abroad program. Students engaged in data collection must give some thought to their future goals with respect to practical training.
An absence from the U.S. of 5 months means that the student must obtain a new I-20 indicating it is for initial attendance. As a result, the student will not be eligible for any sort of practical training until he or she has been in the U.S. for a full academic year.
Students wishing to preserve their eligibility for these benefits should think about planning their research trip in such a way as to include a trip back to the U.S. for a consultation with their academic advisor every 4 and a half months, if possible.
Make Normal Progress Toward Your Educational Objective
Although you have been admitted for the duration of status or "D/S", you do not have the ability to remain in the U.S. indefinitely as a student. At some point, you must be able to demonstrate normal progress towards a degree.
This is particularly important for those pursuing graduate study that entails considerable research and writing for a dissertation. "Normal progress" is fairly easy to determine in the context of coursework required for a degree, but becomes more difficult to determine in the context of thesis or dissertation research.
Changing Majors or Changing Educational Level
If you decide to change majors, you must inform the Office of International Programs so that a new I-20 can be issued.
Likewise, upon completion of one degree program, you may decide to pursue another, higher degree at Notre Dame.
In the event that you are admitted to graduate study, a new I-20 should be issued for the duration of that program. You will once again be required to follow appropriate application/admission procedures for the new program.
You will be required to establish that you have the financial resources for the new course of study. Again, your international student advisor should be consulted as early in the process as possible.