Some of you may have heard about CIP codes for your degree, but may not have paid much attention to it or bothered to worry about its importance. It is very important to pay attention to the CIP code before you join a program as it decides the STEM OPT extension eligibility. In this article, we review the CIP code details, how to find it on I-20 and its importance for STEM OPT.
What is CIP Code ?
CIP is an acronym for “Classification of Instructional Programs”. CIP Codes are given by National Center for Education Statistics ( NCES). These CIP Codes are given by NCES to track, assess and report fields of study and program completions activity. Currently, schools use CIP-2000 codes. You can check CIP codes and details by field of study at NCES CIP Website
Where to find CIP Code on I-20 ?
CIP Codes are not explicitly listed on your initial I-20, when you are offered admission. It only comes into picture when you start to utilize your OPT period. When you apply for OPT, the DSO ( international student adviser/ Designated school official) will issue you a new I20. It will be of 3 pages and you can find the CIP Code on the third page top next to ‘primary major’ Check the below screen shot.
Bitter Experience on CIP Code for 24 month OPT Extension
One of my very good friends, who received a Masters degree last year, is currently working on OPT. Originally, his degree was NOT listed under STEM Designated degree (STEM Designated Degree Program list is a complete list of fields of study that DHS considers to be science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM)) for 24 month OPT extension .
As you know, recently, DHS added about 94 degrees to STEM Designated degree programs… looking at the newly added list of degree programs, especially the description of the degree program related to his field, he was excited that he took most of the courses that are required for the degree and he should be qualified for 24 month OPT extension. He approached the DSO and showed the newly added degree programs, his transcript and degree program description, guess what ? DSO said that the Masters degree he received does not fall under STEM Designated degree as the CIP Code does not match.
My friend went to the Graduate school and talked to them, they said the same news. He approached the department head and explained that he has taken most of the courses required for the program and asked why the degree is not classified under that CIP Code. The department chair agreed to the fact that he has taken most of the courses, but he said that unfortunately, graduate school has classified it under different CIP code and changes to it has to come through them. Also, he said that it is a very lengthy process as a committee has to approve the CIP code change. He mentioned that school may not really go for a CIP code change unless needed. The reality of fact is that, CIP codes are quoted by Universities when they apply for program accreditation and structuring program fees, etc. In any case, it is not easy to change CIP Codes, unless the school thinks, it needs a change.
Check CIP Code for Degree before you take classes
Based on above experience, we can conclude that CIP codes are critical for deciding the STEM Designated degree classification and 24 month OPT Extension for international students. Before you join any degree program at any school, you need to check with the graduate school and your department the CIP Code tied to your degree program.
You need to cross check with the full Official list of STEM Designated degrees and make sure your degree is listed in there to qualify for the 24 month OPT extension. If you do not check CIP Code and assume certain things, you can run into issues at the end of your OPT to file extension…
Do you have any similar OPT extension experience to share ?