Work in America CPT vs OPT - Differences F1 Work Options

Working CPT vs OPT in America as Student

In CPT| OPT| On-Campus by Kumar274 Comments

Everyone, who want to come to US or who are already here as a student, wonder : can I work legally as a student on visa in USA outside of my camps ? If so when ? How can I work after I graduate( before I find employer to sponsor my work visa) ? We are all excited to work and make money…significant number of us are here to work and make those dream dollars 🙂  If you are a student on F1 visa, firstly you can work on-campus. Check out On campus vs off campus jobs , pay ? Besides on-campus employment, you can work after 9 months ( or even before in selected cases) after entering US. You can work using couple of options under practical training options, which are called Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and  Optional Practical Training (OPT) . Lets look at the basics of these and then look at the differences as well.

What is Curricular Practical Training ( CPT) :   CPT is primarily given to students to work and gain experience of their field of study, while they work.  Most of the schools allow students to work on CPT after 2 semester or 9 months( one academic year i.e, Fall & Spring) after entering US.  You have to work with the academic department or your specific school within the university to get CPT.  Typically you get credit for working in CPT, it means that it will be part of your degree requirement credits for award of the degree. You can look at it as legally working for a potential employer who is giving you an opportunity to prove yourself, while you are studying. Typically it is called Co-op or Internship for employers when they offer you the job. You can get paid when you work on CPT. You might have to work with the career services at your school too sometimes for processing of the paperwork.  Some schools do not allow CPT if you not in the local city. You can only work in CPT until you graduate. You will need to work with the DSO( Designated School official) or International student Adviser to process your CPT application and issue you a new I-20 indicating the same.  You should not work more than 12 months (full time) in CPT. If you do so, you will not get your OPT. So, be careful ! Also, sometimes, based on the program curriculum your DSO may authorize CPT during first semester, you need to check with your DSO.  There is so much fraud around first semester CPT schools, be careful !

Optional Practical Training (OPT): OPT is meant to give an opportunity for students to work in their field of study.  It is typically given for 12 months for all degree holders, with an option to extend for 17 months for STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics ) Degree holders.  There are two types of OPT called pre-completion OPT and post completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT is something that can be utilized by students to work in their area of study before the graduation. Whereas, post-completion OPT is to work in their area of study after graduation.  If the student chose to use pre-completion OPT, the respective amount of time is deducted from 12 months OPT time period. You can work part time up to 20 hours on pre-completion OPT, when school is in session and you are enrolled full time and full time during summer breaks.  If you choose to use pre-completion OPT, you will lose that amount of time from the overall 12 months OPT. It will be 1 months for 2 months of part time OPT( Fall and Spring terms) and 1 month for 1 month of full time OPT ( summer terms)

Typically, most of the students use OPT after graduating from school. Pre-completion OPT is used only when there is no chance to work on CPT.  To utilize OPT and get Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you will have to fill an application form and send to USCIS. You can apply for OPT 120 days before the start date of the intended employment.  Plan your OPT and  apply on time so that you are in OPT after you graduate. You will lose your status in US if you don’t have OPT started within 2 months grace period. You can work for anyone in OPT, there are no restrictions, but it must related to your course field. It is an option that US Govt provides to international students for finding their right employers. General OPT is given for 12 months duration, if you have not used it before graduation and work on CPT full time for 12 months . In 2008, USCIS announced a new set of rules stating that if you belong to STEM Category you can get an extension for another 17 months for a total OPT of 29 Months. This was primarily given to accommodate the F1 students who were not selected in H1B visa lottery for that year. Read this article for full info: New OPT rules for from USCIS for 29 Months

What are the main differences between OPT vs CPT:

  • Major difference is that you get credit for CPT and the credits you earn is typically counted to your degree program. For instance, if you enroll in 1 credit part time CPT for Fall, Spring and Summer, overall you get about 3 credits and it adds up your degree requirement total credits.  Whereas, there are no credits awarded for OPT.
  • CPT can only be utilized as part of the degree program and when you are enrolled in school full time. Whereas, OPT can be utilized when you are in school using pre-completion OPT option and after graduation using post-completion OPT option.

Did you work on OPT or CPT? What has been your experience? Any thoughts to share on these ?

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Comments ( 274 )

  1. Sandy

    Hey! Thanks for article…My question is can we have the same employer in both CPT and OPT. I have red some article called “Bridge CPT” . Can you please explain me the meaning of that??

  2. Siddharth

    I am a prospective MBA candidate from India. I understand that every year more than 300000 students graduate with advanced degrees in US. Also, H1B is accepted only for 20000 candidates. Considering this wide gap, I would like to know the following:

    1. What percentage of international students, whose H1B gets rejected because of the random selection system, return to their country?

    2. If the OPT period for STEM category students can get extended by 17 months, does that mean chances of acceptance of H1B for non-STEM students get bleaker every year?

  3. Arthur

    So When a company said it do not provide sponsorship, does it means that I can not use my CPT to work for them? I heard that when using CPT, school will provide sponsorship, so I can work for any company?

    1. administrator


      When an employer hires you on CPT, no sponsorship is required. When filing a visa like H-1 or L-1, only then sponsorship is required. If you have CPT, then you can tell employer that you ave work authorization.

  4. Fred

    I am in entering my third year at Wayne State University pharmacy school, I have applied for PRE-OPT employment card during the month of February. I understand that I have 12 months to use it after the date I receive the card.

    If for example I receive the card sometime in May of this year (May 2016) I am eligible to use it till May of next year (May 2017). My question is:

    During my fourth year I start doing my rotations for 8 months in the States, I know that Canadian students are put on CPT visa during their rotation period. In the case of someone who has PRE-OPT employment card expired in May 2017, would I be eligible to apply for CPT or would that be an issue?

    Thanks in advance

      1. Suprit Bagga

        What if I do full time cpt for 8 to 9 months amd 3 months part time.. does it affect my opt period? Can they reduce my opt period?

        1. administrator

          Suprit Bagga,
          Technically, it should NOT. I suggest you speak with your DSO and do proper assessment to avoid any issues. In my experience, for the most part, CPT is done as one credit and for part time during regular course load, unless people are exploiting it like in some degree mills kinds of Universities.

    1. administrator

      There is nothing called CPT visa. You arrive in US and can work on CPT after certain amount of time. We do not advise on schools here.

    1. administrator

      As said above, there is no such visa and it cannot be good or bad…Read the article again, it gives you the basics of CPT and OPT.

  5. Arun

    I am having experience in IT. If I have F1. and studying in USA. after how many months I can apply for work visa. is there any other visa other H1B. I know I can apply for H1B directly, but for student is there any other visa to extend your stay in USA

    1. administrator


      There are 2 visas to work in US – H-1B and L-1B. L-1B has it own requirements like having worked for the employer for at least 1 year outside US in previous 3 years – and this may limit the eligible companies to 1 or 2.

      H-1B can be filed by an employer only when the cap is available. So if you have an employer, they can file H-1B in April 2016 for a Oct 2016 start date.

  6. Chang

    I have graduated from my studies and will begin my OPT work soon. Can I buy and sell stocks and forex as full time job after I got my own SSN?

    1. administrator


      Your full-time needs to be related to OPT. In the spare time, you can buy and sell stocks, but not at the expense of OPT.

  7. me

    hello, does anyone knows of coleman university? is it good?
    it offers cpt from day it a fraud?
    whcih university are good and provide cpt from day one?
    is it legal? will finding job will be eassy?

  8. vivian

    I hold F1 visa without cpt. whether i can apply for internships in other countries. Further if one misses the deadline for CPT whether possible to take US internships

    1. administrator

      CPT is something that can be availed as F1 student in US to work and get credit. Usually CPT is given to study full time and work part time for credit in the same area in US and in the same city…Again, this varies by school and they may offer your CPT to work in other states in US as well if you are taking all online courses…You need to speak to DSO at your school to get clarity and also speak to your academic department on the rules.

  9. Dharma

    Hi ,
    I am a student US and looking to take my CPT in my last semester , would there be any complications or query while filling for H1.
    Kindly advise…..

    1. administrator

      Pro, you may do it as a side activity that acts as passive income, but not as full time job for your f1 status. You will need SSN for the same.

  10. Surya kiran

    Hey guys ,

    Need you help..!!!

    Is work and study visa safe in Usa (f1-cpt).
    I heard we can work 40hours a week and study in the weekends.

    Do we get or convert h1b after completing 2 years of master under CPT visa category.

    Please let me know your concerns.

    1. administrator

      Surya Kiran, It is not work and study visa. It is Study visa called F1 visa. Some schools offer CPT from day one as part of curriculum. You need to be very careful with these kinds of schools as there is so much fraud involved. If your goal is to just work, maybe you should consider applying for H1B or transferring visa L1 visa…

  11. reddy

    I did my CPT for 8 months during my masters and then transferred to OPT. Since my H1 was not picked, can I plan on going back to F1 student and continue my current job on CPT?

  12. Hiren

    Hi Hiren patel
    I am study In here MBA IT on F1 status but I have already MS Cs degree in London also I have BTech Ce in India degree so we able to apply for H1B in this term .. Or we can wait for cpt Ya OpT ?????

    1. Kevin Hart

      Hiren patel you are able to apply for H1B. Go ahead and apply as there are limited picks yearly do it ASAP and start earning big. all the best

  13. Pankaj

    Hi All,

    I am holding H1B and wife is on H4.
    My wife is holding following degrees:
    PhD in Finance, MBA,, B.Com.
    She is having 8 years of experience in Teaching as Associate Professor.

    Please let me know, how she can be eligible to become Lecturer in USA.


  14. Vanessa

    Hi, Im Vanessa and I have a few quetions, I came to Nyc with f-1 visa, I got visa for 5 years but my courses lenght is just a month and a half. I am attending a language school to practice my English but I want to stay longer in the U.s becasue i would like to finish a course in hospitality such as waitering, chef or computer science or personal training (not sure which one yet). Even though i got my visa for 5 years if i dont attend a school right after the one im completing will i lose my status?
    Also how and where do i have to go to extend my status, do i have to ask the school i want to apply to? Or how does this work im really uninformed.
    Since the information you gave is for people that are attending college or getting a degree, what are my options if i only want to finish a course that will give me a title for a job? And can i also work if im attending the school? How?

    If you can help i would really aprreciate thank you!!

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