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CPT vs OPT? For international students, the difference between OPT and CPT is an important question before finding an internship or job. While the opportunity to work with a top employer is one of the most appealing reasons for studying in the US, the complex immigration regulations and rules for international workers can make applying for an internship or job challenging. Read our CPT vs OPT guide to learn everything about optional practical training (OPT) and curricular practical training (CPT) including the difference between OPT and CPT, OPT CPT meaning, and more.
“In both cases [of OPT and CPT], you want to work with your school’s career services office, in addition to your school’s DSO [designated school official],” said Raven Tukes, former director of Shorelight’s Career Accelerator. “Your career service advisors will help you search for a job or internship opportunity, while the DSO will help you gain approval for that job or internship. You are not alone in this!”
Remember, finding employment opportunities on a student visa requires planning and paperwork, but it is worth it to gain professional experience in your field of study.
What Is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) status allows international students with a F-1 student visa to gain work experience through employment training and paid internship programs directly related to your major area of study. When you attend your degree program, your designated school official (DSO) will authorize CPT in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) and it will be printed on your I-20 form — it is your proof to show that you are eligible for CPT employment. For more information, you can contact your DSO.
Remember, your CPT will require a letter from your employer, and your employment will be applicable only for a specific period. However, you are also required to complete your CPT before graduation.
With CPT, you can work:
Full time for 20 hours or more per week
Part time for 20 hours or fewer per week (if you work full time for 12 months with CPT, you will not be eligible for OPT)
What Is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) status helps international students with a F-1 visa gain work experience after graduation. Your Designated School Official (DSO) will recommend OPT in SEVIS and provide you with a I-20 form with the DSO’s recommendation. OPT applies for both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.
To be authorized for your employment, you are required to mail a completed “Application for Employment Authorization,” known as Form I-765, to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If your Form I-765 is approved, your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will be sent via USCIS.gov. You will not be allowed to work until the start date on the EAD.
As a F-1 student, you can be eligible for OPT in two different ways:
Pre-completion OPT—You can apply to pre-completion OPT after completing one academic year at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified college, university, conservatory, or seminary. Pre-completion OPT authorizes you to work part time (20 hours or fewer per week) or full time before your program end date.
Post-completion OPT—You can apply to post-completion OPT after completing your studies. If you are eligible for post-completion OPT, you may work part-time (20 hours or fewer per week) or full time. However, if you are a student who already participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct your pre-completion OPT time from your post-completion OPT authorization time.
What Is 24-Month STEM OPT Extension?
If you are a student who obtained a degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) field approved by DHS.gov, you can request an extension of 24 months for your OPT.
You can apply for the 24-month OPT extension if you meet the following conditions:
Currently working in a Post-Completion OPT period
Obtained a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level STEM degree from a SEVP-certified college or university
Wish to work (or are currently working) for an employer who uses the E-Verify program
You and your employer have signed Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students”
Refer to the 24-month STEM extension guide to learn more.
What Is Cap-Gap Extension?
As a F-1 student, if you wish to maintain your F-1 visa status after the completion of the academic program or OPT, you can request to extend the period to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and the start of your H-1B status.
The H-1B status is a temporary employment authorization that allows you to work in the US for up to six years. To grant the H-1B status, your employer may submit a petition to USCIS on your behalf.
Refer to the Cap-Gap Extension guide to learn more.
What Is The Difference Between CPT and OPT?
While there are many differences between OPT and CPT, it is most important that international students know when they are eligible for each.
CPT must be completed before you graduate from your program.
OPT can be completed before or after you graduate.
“In addition to the government’s rules, make sure you are aware of your school’s CPT and OPT deadlines,” said Tukes. “Some schools have a specific time frame for which you can apply for CPT and OPT. So, in addition to the government’s rules, you’ll need to check with your school’s DSO to confirm all CPT and OPT application deadlines.”
What is the difference between CPT and OPT? Our chart below offers an at-a-glance guide to understand the OPT CPT difference.
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