Immigration regulations require J-1 students to be enrolled full time during the academic year. A Reduced Course Load (RCL) is requested when a student wishes an exception for the full-time enrollment requirements.

Reasons for a RCL include:

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

Non-Degree Eligibility

Non-degree students may only request an RCL based on an illness or medical condition.

Full-Time Enrollment

  Undergraduate Graduate without Assistantship Graduate with Assistantship
Fall/Spring 12 credits 9 credits Determined by department
(If Summer is first or last semester at ISU)
6 credits 4.5 credits Determined by department
(If continuing student)
Enrollment is not required Enrollment is not required

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

Summer Enrollment

  • First semester at ISU (applies to both initial and reentry students)
  • First semester in new academic level
  • Final semester in program

Online Enrollment

Online courses cannot count toward full-time enrollment for J-1 students. Students who are enrolled full time on campus may enroll in additional online courses.

Online Enrollment Exceptions

The following scenarios may be exempt from the online enrollment policy: 

  • Graduate students on assistantship
  • If the online course is required for program of study, students may apply to have it count toward full-time enrollment.

Students should contact ISSO@iastate.edu to see if their additional online enrollment will meet immigration requirements. 

Other Course Restrictions

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

  • Online courses
  • Audited courses
  • Courses dropped after the semester has begun
    • Receive a mark of an "X" or "W"

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 (681B).
  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

  • 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 Numer of Credits
Academic Reason Undergraduate 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 Semester Undergraduate student:
Graduate student without assistantship:

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

Concurrent Enrollment Undergraduate 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 reccommended 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. 


This is an electronic process completed through Cystart. The link for Cystart can be found on the ISSO homepage. Log in to Cystart using ISU NetID and password. Once in Cystart, select J-1 Student Services and complete the Reduced Course Load e-form.

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. If this e-mail is not received in 10 working days as previously noted, the ISSO recommends contacting the office by e-mail at isso@iastate.edu to request the status of the application.

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 that prevents you from registering full time
  • Indicates the date of diagnosis
  • Indicates the semester when the physician recommends a RCL
  • Specifies the date by which you will be expected to return to full-time studies
  • 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 J-1 nonimmigrant status
  • Must immediately stop working on campus
  • Any authorized off-campus work will be automatically terminated
  • Lose eligibility for all other benefits of J-1 nonimmigrant status
  • Lose eligibility to change status, for example from J-1 to F-2, J-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.