Reduced Course Load, or Registering Below Full-Time

F-1 & J-1 students are required by federal law to register full-time every fall and spring semester during their programs of study. Full-time registration is considered to be 12 s.h. for undergrads and 9 s.h. for graduate students.

Note that exchange students and other non-degree students on F-1 or J-1 student visas cannot qualify for a reduced course load and must register full-time.

In some situations, F-1 & J-1 degree-seeking students may qualify to enroll below full-time. The reasons are very limited, and generally relate to first-year adjustment and academic situations. The reasons include:

Academic Difficulty: Below are the options to qualify for Academic Difficulty; use of only one option is permitted - once an Academic Difficulty option is used, the rest are no longer available:

Initial Difficulty - If a degree-seeking student is in their first year of study in the U.S. and is experiencing:

  • initial difficulty with the English language, or
  • unfamiliarity with American teaching methods, or
  • initial difficulty with reading requirements


Improper Course Level – Can be used once at any time during an academic program when a student has registered for a course that is too advanced or difficult for their level. Students must still take at least 6 semester hours.

Other reasons:

  • Undergraduate or Master's degree candidates in their final semester of study. This option may only be used once per degree level. Students must graduate in the semester for which they received ISSS authorization.
    NOTE: In their final semester, international Bachelor's or Master's degree students cannot be registered for courses that are related only to minor, and/or certificate, and/or online courses only.
  • Students who are experiencing serious medical issues may also seek limited permission to drop below full-time, not to exceed 12 months.

All of the above permissions to reduce course load require input from the Academic Advisor, ISSS approval, and reporting to the SEVIS system. An updated I-20 must be printed for any of these reasons.

Full-Time Equivalency: Other students who may qualify for a reduced course load are students whose enrollment is considered "Full-Time Equivalent." These students include:

  • Students participating in the TAPE courses (Grad). These courses earn no credit but are considered equivalent to 3 s.h. by the ISSS. Ex. a graduate student is registered in one TAPE class at 0 s.h. (considered equivalent to 3 s.h.) plus 6 s.h. of academic coursework. Consequently, the student's enrollment may be considered full-time equivalent.
  • Graduate degree-seeking students who hold an assistantship and are registered for a minimum of 6 s.h.
  • Graduate degree-seeking students who have completed or will complete all course work during the current semester and are making normal progress on a required thesis/dissertation or who take comprehensive examination.
  • Students participating in a full-time on-campus clinical program in Dentistry
  • Students enrolled "concurrently" at the UI as well as another institution (commonly Kirkwood Community College) - see the details below.

All of the above permissions to reduce course load require input from the Academic Advisor and ISSS approval.

Concurrent Enrollment at Another College or University

Students may also wish to take a course or two at a nearby college and apply that credit to the degree program at the University of Iowa. This is called concurrent enrollment. Typically this is an option used by undergraduate students who enroll at Kirkwood Community College. Students must have been enrolled at the UI for a minimum of one semester to qualify. Students must still be enrolled in a minimum of 6 s.h. at the University of Iowa plus sufficient hours at the other school in order to total at least 12 s.h. Students must also arrange to have the credit from the other school transferred to the UI as soon as the semester is over; failure to do so may result in termination of status for failure to maintain full-time enrollment.

Long Distance Education/On-Line Classes

For F-1 Students: Only one on-line or distance education class (up to 3 s.h.) can be counted each semester toward full-time equivalency, or towards 12 s.h. for undergraduate students or 9 s.h. for graduate/professional students. The class is considered “on-line” or “distance education” if it does not require the student’s physical attendance in a classroom for classes, exams, or “other purposes integral to completion of the class.” These include courses offered “principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission, including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, satellite, audio conferencing, or computer conferencing.”

For J-1 Students: J-1 students cannot count any online course toward full-time enrollment.

If it is the final semester (whether fall, spring, or summer) and a full course load is not needed, students are not permitted to take only an online class. At least one in-person course must be taken during the final semester. The class must also be a semester-long class, not an off-cycle short course.

How to Request part time authorization

Students who wish to receive authorization to register below full-time, or who are engaged in concurrent enrollment at another college or university, must request ISSS permission by following the instructions below:


  1. Login to your iHawk account (click the blue login button) using your HawkID and password. Go to "Other Services" and complete the e-form "Part-Time Authorization for Academic Reason." Be sure you enter the correct email address for your academic advisor.
  2. Once you complete the e-form, your academic advisor will need to review it. Your advisor will receive an email message from ISSS which will provide a link to review your request. Your advisor will be asked to comment on your request.
  3. If you are advised by the Academic Advising Center, you must make an appointment to meet with your advisor before they will approve the e-form request.
  4. If you are advised elsewhere, your advisor may also prefer that you schedule an appointment to meet with them; it is a good idea to inform your academic advisor that he/she has been sent an email from the ISSS that will need to be reviewed and approved.
  5. After your advisor comments on your e-form request, ISSS will review your request. Once your request is approved, we will send you a confirmation email stating that we have received and processed your request. If the approval requires making a report to the SEVIS system you will also be notified that you may pick up your newly updated I-20.

Note for Academic Advisors: If you are unable to read the full reasons on iHawk, they are as follows:

  • Academic Difficulty: First year of study in the US and having trouble adjusting because of academic difficulty
  • Enrolled in Iowa Intensive English Program (IIEP) courses
  • Enrolled at an improper course level (i.e. coursework is too advanced for the student)
  • Bachelor's or Master's student in final semester of study (is graduating this semester)
  • Has a Graduate Assistantship and is enrolled in at least 6 s.h.
  • Graduate student done with coursework and preparing for comprehensive examinations
  • Graduate student done with coursework completing Thesis/Dissertation
  • Enrolled in TAPE (Teaching Assistant Preparation in English) Program
  • Participating in full-time clinical program in Dentistry
  • Student is concurrently enrolled at another institution in credit that will transfer to the UI

Summer sessions

Registration during the summer session is not required unless it is the first semester of study (including return after absence) OR a student has changed to a new degree level which becomes effective during a summer session. In these cases, 6 s.h. is considered full-time for undergrads and 5 s.h. for graduate students (3 s.h. for those with an assistantship)..

Study Abroad or Research Abroad

If you will be absent from the U.S. for an extended period of time, but will be registered in an official study abroad program OR you will be maintaining your registration at the University of Iowa while doing research/working on your dissertation, your SEVIS record will not be terminated, provided you continue to maintain status and agree to meet certain requirements.

For students conducting research abroad, you must maintain full-time enrollment or be authorized for part-time enrollment by ISSS each semester you are absent (12 s.h. for undergraduates and 9 s.h. for graduate students). If you pursue part-time enrollment, you must submit the appropriate part-time authorization e-form in iHawk no later than the second week of the semester

You are encouraged to e-mail at least one month prior to returning to the U.S. to confirm your SEVIS record is active and you will be able to return successfully.