Reduced Course Load

SEVP Guidance Update

Due to COVID-19, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) may release guidance that provides additional enrollment flexibility for F-1 students. ISSO will provide additional information on exceptions for F-1 Students on our COVID-19 Updates webpage



A Reduced Course Load (RCL) is requested when a student wishes an exception for the full-time enrollment requirements (outlined above).
Reasons for a RCL include:

  • Academic reason
  • Graduate student engaged in research
  • Final semester
  • Concurrent enrollment
  • Medical reason

IEOP and Non-Degree Eligibility

IEOP and non-degree students may only request an RCL based on an illness or medical condition.

Full-Time Enrollment

Immigration regulations require F-1 students to be enrolled full time every Fall and Spring Semester. Summer is a vacation period and enrollment is not required unless it is your first or final semester. If it is your first or final semester, you must be enrolled full time during the summer. 

 UndergraduateGraduate without AssistantshipGraduate with AssistantshipIEOP
Fall/Spring12 credits9 creditsDetermined by department20 clock hours*
(If Summer is first or last semester at ISU)
6 credits4.5 creditsDetermined by department18 clock hours*
(If continuing student)
Enrollment is not requiredEnrollment is not required

Enrollment is not required by regulations; Check with Graduate College for their policies, if on an assistantship

If enrolled Spring I and II, enrollment is not required
*Regulations state 18 clock hours, but IEOP policy requires 20 clock hours. 


Summer Enrollment

Students must be enrolled full time in summer if: 

  • First semester at ISU (applies to both initial and reentry students)
  • First semester in new academic level
  • Final semester in program
  • Spring II was first term at ISU (applies to IEOP students only)

Online Enrollment:

You may not have more than one online class count toward full-time enrollment, and no more than 3 credits of that course may count toward full-time enrollment. 

  • Undergraduate Scenarios (fall or spring semester):
    • 9 credits on campus + one 3-credit online course = full-time enrollment.
    • 11 credits on campus + one 1-credit online course = full-time enrollment. 
  • Graduate Scenarios (fall or spring semester):
    • 6 credits on campus + one 3-credit online course = full-time enrollment. 
    • 8 credits on campus + one 1-credit online course = full-time enrollment. 

Online Enrollment in Summer

If you are a continuing student, you can enroll in as many online courses as you want. If summer is your first or final semester, you must be enrolled full time (see chart above), and only one course, not to exceed 3 credits, can count toward your full-time enrollment.

Other Course Restrictions

The following courses are not included when determining full-time enrollment: 

  • Audited courses
  • Courses dropped after the semester has begun
    • Receive a mark of an "X" or "W"
  • More than one class (not to exceed 3 credits) taken online or through distance education for determining full-time enrollment

Reasons for an RCL

  1. Academic Reason: Student has a valid academic reason for a RCL. Acceptable academic reasons are below:
    • Initial difficulty with the English language
    • Initial difficulty with reading assignments
    • Difficulty with American teaching methods
    • Improper course level placement
  2. Graduate Student Research: Graduate student is engaged in the equivalent of a full course load while working on research for a creative component, thesis or dissertation. This reason cannot be used by students in coursework only master’s degree programs. Must be enrolled in research credit (599/699) or defense course (691B).
  3. Final Semester: Student is in final semester and requires less than a full course load to complete degree requirements.
  4. Concurrent Enrollment: Student is concurrently enrolled at another U.S. school. Concurrently enrolled students must have half of full-time enrollment on-campus at Iowa State University. Combined credits from both schools must equal to full time (as described above).
  5. Medical Reason: Student has an illness or medical condition that prevents him/her from taking a full course load. 

Unacceptable Reasons for RCL

Students are not eligible for an RCL solely for the reason of financial difficulties. 

Limitations on RCL

Some RCL types can be used multiple times and some RCLs can only be used once per education level. Review the chart below: 

Academic Reason:Only one per education level
Creative Component:Available multiple times
Thesis/Dissertation:Available multiple times
Final Semester Reason:Only one per education level
Concurrent Enrollment:Available multiple times
Medical Reason:Available for 12 months at each educational level


Minimum Enrollment Requirement for RCL Type

RCL Reason Minimum Number of Credits
Academic ReasonUndergraduate Student:
Graduate student without assistantship:
Graduate student with assistantship:
6 credits
4.5 credits
Determined by the department
Creative Component
 Determined by department, but no fewer than 1 credit
Final SemesterUndergraduate student:
Graduate student without assistantship:

Minimum 1 credit on-campus credit
Minimum 1 credit on-campus course credit

Concurrent EnrollmentUndergraduate student:
Graduate student without assistantship:
Graduate student with assistantship: 
Minimum 6 credits at ISU (12 credits combined from both schools)
Minimum 4.5 credits at ISU (9 credits combined from both schools)
Determined by department
Medical Reason As recommended by physician (0 credit is possible)


Cystart Request


Students can submit an RCL request as soon as they have registered for classes. Students should have a reduced course load approved by the end of the first week of classes. 



RCL requests can be submitted through an electronic process in Cystart. Students can log in to Cystart using their ISU NetID and password. Complete the Reduced Course Load e-form under the F-1 Student Services tab. 


ISSO Processing

It will take ISSO up to 10 working days after there is a check mark in all boxes on the Cystart Reduced Course Load page. ISSO will send an e-mail to the student's ISU e-mail address when processing is complete. ISSO recommends sending an e-mail to if an e-mail has not been received within 10 working days. 


Approval Notification

When a student is approved for a Final Semester RCL, the student’s I-20 is shortened to the last day of the semester in which they will finish their degree requirements. After the RCL is approved in Cystart, the student will receive an email notification of the RCL approval and that the new, shortened I-20 is ready for pickup.


On-Campus Employment and RCL

In most cases, students are still eligible for on-campus employment during the semester when authorized for an RCL. If a student drops to 0 credits, they may not be able to continue on-campus employment per university policy.


Tuition and Fee Adjustment

Depending on when the drop occurs, tuition and fee assessment may be adjusted. Please refer to the Registrar's Tuition Adjustment Deadlines webpage. 


Required Documentation

  • Concurrent RCL: Proof of registration at another school if concurrently enrolled
  • Medical RCL: Documentation from medical provider recommending the medical reduced course load
  • Research RCL: If conducting research abroad, letter of support from Faculty Adviser


Concurrent RCL, Proof of Enrollment

  • Name of the course(s)
  • Credit hours assigned to the course (or each course)
  • Method of instruction (on campus/in person, WWW/online, videostream/ICN)
  • Method of grading


Medical Reason, Letter from Medical Provider

Only the following can write a letter recommending a medical RCL:

  • Licensed medical doctor in the U.S.
  • Licensed doctor of osteopathy in the U.S.
  • Licensed clinical psychologist in the U. S.


The medical RCL letter must include: 

  • Typed on physician or clinic’s letterhead
  • Confirmation that you have a medical condition necessitating a RCL
  • Recommend you have a RCL
  • Indicate the semester(s) for which the physician recommends a RCL
  • Specifies whether the doctor is licensed as an Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.), or Clinical Psychologist


Immigration Consequences

Failure to apply for a reduced course load within the time period noted above may result in: 

  • Violation of F-1 nonimmigrant status
    • Must apply for reinstatement or depart U.S. and return on new I-20 to regain F-1 status
  • Must immediately stop working on campus
  • Any authorized off-campus work will be automatically terminated
  • Lose eligibility for all other benefits of F-1 nonimmigrant status
  • Lose eligibility to change status, for example from F-1 to F-2, F-1 to H-1B, etc.

Disclaimer: This Frequently Asked Questions is intended for general information and guidance. As this information can quickly become outdated or may not apply to your situation, please consult with an International Student Advisor in the International Students and Scholars Office regarding your individual questions.