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Course Load

It is your responsibility to be certain that your course load conforms with academic requirements. The minimum course load in the fall or spring term is four semester courses. Seniors may request permission from their Academic Deans to take an underload of three courses for their last semester.

Normal Load

A "normal course load" is defined as four (4.0) course credits-specifically four 1.0 credits-- and, as noted above, you are expected to enroll in at least this many course credits each semester.


You may register for 4.5 credits during your normal registration window, and can then increase your course load to as many as 5.5 credits in Trinity College and 5.0 in Pratt during the drop/add period; however, Freshmen may not exceed 4.5 academic credits in their first semester.

Permission from your academic dean is required for an overload of 5.5 or 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 your course load in previous semesters. 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 authorized to do so by your academic dean. The number of semesters you may be in an underload cannot exceed two semesters during your time at Duke,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.

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.

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.

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. After this deadline, withdrawals to an underload are only permitted for documented medical reasons. If granted permission to withdraw from a course to an underload for a reason other than a documented medical condition, you should not expect to receive permission to withdraw to an underload in a subsequent semester.

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 be eligible for this, you must meet the following conditions:

  • have declared a major;

  • have a GPA of at least 3.0 and not be on academic probation;

  • be enrolled at Duke-enrolling in an underload is not permitted when you are studying abroad or otherwise away from Duke;

  • have passed at least 16 courses before a first underload semester;

  • before a second underload semester, have passed at least 20 courses prior to the 6th semester or 24 prior to the 7th semester (excluding AP credits but including transfer credits) or 31 prior to the 8th semester (including AP, IPC, and PMC credits).

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 permission from your academic dean. An Underload Enrollment Authorization Form [PDF, 368 kb] is available for this purpose.

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 no more than two times, provided you meet the conditions described above. In short, there are only two possible enrollment patterns involving underloads:

  • One (1) withdrawal to an underload + one enrollment in an underload, or

  • Two (2) enrollments in an underload

Seniors needing only three (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 three (3) courses to graduate must apply no later than the last business day before the first day of classes in that final semester for part-time degree status, which is not affected by or a part of the underload enrollment policy described here.

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 adviser.

Last updated: January 30, 2017