Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study that may be used after the completion of the student’s course of study. Unlike CPT, the work does not have to be an “integral part of an established curriculum.” Its optional nature allows it to be used for any employment that is directly related to the major area of study, and which is a level commensurate with the student’s degree level.

Below are some conditions of OPT: 

  • Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at an INS approved school for one full academic year before being eligible for OPT.
  • A total time of 12 months may be used for OPT and must be completed within 14 months of completion of studies.
  • Employment must be directly related to and commensurate with the level of the student’s course of study.
  • Only full-time OPT can be requested.
  • Prior use of full-time CPT for one year or more eliminates eligibility for OPT.

How do I apply?

Complete an I-765. The code for Optional Practical Training for question #16 is (c) (3) (b).

Include a copy of your I-20 ID with requested OPT dates indicated and copies of all prior forms of I-20 ID you have ever been issued.

A cover letter from yourself describing the type of Practical Training and the employment you propose to do. Explain why and how you believe this training will assist you in your home country.

Describe how the proposed employment is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with the level of study.

A letter of certification from the chairman of your academic department or from your academic advisor. You should show your proposal letter to your academic department as a basis for the academic department letter to be written. This letter should be addressed to the Assistant Dean of Students and include the following information: 

  • Indication that your proposal letter has been reviewed.
  • A brief description of your degree program and how the proposed Practical Training is directly related to your academic program and commensurate with your educational level.
  • An explanation of the importance of Practical Training to complement your program of study. 
    $410.00 money order or cashier’s check payable to Department of Homeland Security.
  • Two legible photocopies of your identification/signature pages from your passport.
  • Two legible copies of your passport expiration page.
  • Two legible copies of your I-94, front and back. (You may have to darken copier setting so the red date stamp will be clear).
  • Two legible copies of your previous EAD (if applicable).
  • Two passport type photos are required for the Optional Practical Training application. Write your name on the back of the photo with a pencil and leave in sleeve provided. Walgreen’s on Merrill Road takes passport photos.

What if I begin Optional Practical Training before I have received approval from US Citizenship and Immigration Service and before I have received my EAD?

Any employment prior to receiving written authorization would be considered illegal. You may not engage in any type of Practical Training until you have received both approval from USCIS and your EAD card.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is structured training that is a regular part of the curriculum whether required or optional.  Examples include cooperative education, internship, practicum, work-study, etc. An application for CPT must be submitted to the International Student Advisor and be approved before you can begin work.  CPT is job specific, employer specific and date specific.  Prior to being granted work authorization for CPT, you must have a specific job assigned through work-study programs such as cooperative education, required internship, or practicum.  In addition, employment pursuant to CPT must be directly related to your field of study and commensurate with the level of study.  Below are some conditions of CPT: 

  • Student must receive internship credit for the work experience.
  • Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at an INS approved school for one full academic year before being eligible for CPT.
  • Available only while student is in F-1 status, before completion of the educational objective.
  • Must continue to maintain a full course of study in F-1 status during the period of employment. 
    May be granted in increments of the start and end date of the semester.
  • Can be approved for part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (over 20 hours).

Use of full-time CPT for one year or more eliminates the eligibility for Optional Practical Training.

Application Process

You may not begin employment until your application has been approved by the International Student Advisor and you have received your new I-20.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Curricular Practical Training?

The Department of Homeland Security authorizes practical work experience under certain circumstances for international students. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) allows for training that is required for a degree program or optional but integral to a degree program. Activities that are “recommended” are not eligible for CPT approval.

Who is eligible for CPT? 

International students must meet two criteria in order to participate in CPT:

  1. SEVIS eligibility: Students must be in F-1 status in the United States for a minimum of one academic year. Graduate students who are required to begin immediate CPT for their degree program are exempted from the one academic year requirement.
  2. Academic eligibility: A student’s degree program must allow for a CPT experience. Students must register for an internship/practicum or Co-op course (typically consisting of one to three credit hours or be enrolled in a course that requires an internship experience) and pay the appropriate tuition fees. Students should consult the course catalog entry for their program of study and meet with their Academic Advisor to determine if their degree program allows for CPT. Students who wish to undertake training that does not fulfill a degree requirement but is directly related to the major field of study should consult with an International Student Advisor about Optional Practical Training (OPT).

How many hours a week can I work during CPT? For how long can I work?

Students may train part-time or full-time. USCIS defines part-time as 20 hours or less per week. Full-time is defined as over 20 hours per week. Because CPT is based on a course, it cannot be authorized beyond the start and end dates of the academic term. Students may NOT begin work before the authorized start date and must end work before the authorized end date. 
Please note: Students who have completed a total of 12 months of full-time CPT are ineligible for OPT. Part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT.

Do I need permission to begin CPT?

Yes. Your internship/practicum/Co-op Advisor or your Academic Advisor must certify that your degree program allows for CPT, that the proposed training experience is appropriate, and that it is relevant to your course of study. Additionally, an International Student Advisor must update your I-20, which authorizes your employment in SEVIS. You may NOT begin employment until an International Student Advisor updates your I-20 and you have it in hand.

Where can I work using my CPT?

Employment is only allowed at the specific site listed on the I-20. Any off-campus employment without prior authorization is a serious violation of F-1 status.

How and when do I apply for CPT?

Students must make an appointment with an International Student Advisor before classes begin for any semester in which they wish to participate in CPT. Several weeks in advance is suggested. However, students should begin the process of arranging for such a work experience as soon as they know they are eligible for CPT. Students must bring the completed Curricular Practical Training form to the appointment.