CPT vs OPT: What is the difference between CPT and OPT?

Updated on

08-05-2024

CPT vs OPT: What is the difference between CPT and OPT?

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The major difference between CPT and OPT is that CPT provides practical experience during your degree program, while OPT allows students to pursue employment either before or after completing their studies. International Students who travel to the USA for their education usually worry about job opportunities. In the US, two programs are available for international students: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). Students with a valid F-1 visa who are enrolled in a full-time one year course are eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) where they can take up internships related to their major, while students who have completed their first academic year are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) allowing them to work in various jobs related to their field of study. The duration of the CPT program cannot exceed more than 12 months whereas OPT program can extend up to 24 months.

Students always tend to get confused between these programs when they try for work opportunities. In this article, you will get to know a detailed overview of CPT vs OPT, the application process, eligibility, and the document required.

Table of Contents

Understand the Benefits of CPT and OPT for international students in the USA

The benefits of CPT and OPT is gaining authorization from relevant authorities is necessary for international students to engage in co-ops, internships, or part-time/full-time employment. This authorization is typically granted by the school's international office or USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services) in the form of OPT, CPT, or on-campus employment.

What is Curricular Practical Training? (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training is a program in the United States that allows international students with a F-1 visa gain practical work experience related to their field of study while pursuing the degree. CPT is typically an integral part of their curriculum and is designed to provide students with hands-on training and practical knowledge.

Generally, students must have completed one academic year (two semesters or three quarters) as a full-time student before they can apply for CPT. The number of hours you can work on CPT depends on whether the employment is part-time or full-time. Part-time CPT allows for up to 20 hours of work per week, while full-time CPT allows for more than 20 hours per week. Additionally, engaging in full-time CPT for 12 months or more can make you ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

The application process for CPT

The Application process for CPT may vary slightly depending on the institution's policies and procedures. The general procedure is given below.

  • Consult with your Designated School Official (DSO): Schedule a meeting with your DSO to discuss your intent to apply for CPT. They will guide you through the specific requirements and procedures at your institution. The CPT application process and its completion may take about 7 -10 days. Hence it is advisable to apply for CPT at least 2 weeks before the work commences.
  • Secure a Job or Internship Offer: Find a job or internship opportunity that is directly related to your major field of study. It should align with the practical training component of your curriculum.
  • Obtain a Job Offer Letter: Once you have secured a job offer, request a letter from your employer on official company letterhead. The letter should include details such as the position title, a brief description of job duties, the start and end dates of employment, the number of hours per week, and the location of work.
  • Complete CPT Application: Fill out the CPT application form provided by your institution. This form may require information such as your personal details, academic program, employment details, and the academic advisor's recommendation.
  • Prepare Supporting Documents: Gather the necessary supporting documents, which may include your job offer letter, a copy of your academic transcript, and any other documents required by your institution.
  • Submit Application to DSO: Submit your completed CPT application and supporting documents to your DSO. They will review your application, verify the information, and evaluate your eligibility for CPT.
  • Receive CPT Authorization: If your application is approved, your DSO will issue you a new Form I-20 with the CPT authorization. This document serves as proof that you are authorized to engage in CPT.
  • Start CPT and Maintain Status: Once you have received your CPT authorization, you can begin working. It's important to comply with the authorized dates, hours, and any other conditions specified on your CPT authorization. Additionally, maintain your full-time student status and continue making progress toward your degree.

Eligibility for CPT

  • F-1 Student Status: To be eligible for CPT, the student must be enrolled as a full-time student in an accredited U.S. educational institution on an F-1 visa.
  • Completed one academic year: The student should have completed one academic year as a full-time student before applying for CPT.
  • Academic Requirement and relevant job offer: The academic program must offer an opportunity for practical training as part of the curriculum. The training must be directly related to your major field of study. It's important to note that CPT requires authorization from your designated school official (DSO) and must be approved before you can begin working.

Documents required for CPT

The following documents required for CPT:

  • CPT Application form
  • Job offer letter
  • An academic transcript showing completed coursework and academic standing
  • Proof of enrollment as a full-time student in an accredited U.S. educational institution.
  • Form I-20 signed and endorsed by Designated School Official (DSO).

What is Optional practical training? (OPT)

Optional Practical Training is a program in the United States that allows international students with a F-1 visa to gain practical work experience related to their field of study after completing their degree. OPT provides an opportunity for students to apply the knowledge and skills they acquired during their academic program in a professional setting.

Students are generally eligible for up to 12 months of OPT, which can be used either pre-completion (before completing the degree) or post-completion (after completing the degree). It's important to note that OPT requires authorization from USCIS, and you cannot begin working until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.

Types of OPT

  • Pre-completion OPT: OPT Program begins before completing the degree. This period is deducted from the 12 months of eligibility later.
  • Post-completion OPT: OPT program begins after completion of the degree. This is the most preferred option by the international students.
  • STEM OPT: Some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degree holders may be eligible for a 24-month extension of their OPT, resulting in a total of up to 36 months.

The application process for OPT

The application process for Optional Practical Training (OPT) involves several steps. Here is a general outline of the process:

  • Determine OPT Eligibility: Ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria for OPT, including having completed a degree program at an accredited U.S. educational institution and maintaining valid F-1 student status.
  • Complete Form I-765: Fill out Form I-765, providing accurate and up-to-date information about yourself, your educational institution, and your OPT request. Be sure to select the appropriate OPT category (pre-completion or post-completion) and sign the form.
  • Review and Organize Documents: Review your application materials to ensure accuracy and completeness. Organize the documents in the required order as specified by the application instructions.
  • Application Timing: You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before completing your degree and up to 60 days after completing your degree. The application must be submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • Submit OPT Application: Submit your OPT application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application can be filed either online through the USCIS website or by mail.
  • Track Application Status: Once you have submitted your application, you can track the status of your OPT application on the USCIS website. USCIS will issue a receipt notice confirming the receipt of your application.
  • Receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD): If your OPT application is approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. This card serves as proof of your work authorization and contains important details such as the start and end dates of your OPT period.
  • Start OPT and Maintain Status: Once you receive your EAD card, you can begin working within the authorized dates. Make sure to comply with the regulations and reporting requirements of OPT, such as reporting any changes in employment, address, or immigration status to your educational institution's international student office.

Eligibility for OPT>Eligibility for OPT

  • F-1 Student Status: To be eligible for OPT, the student must be enrolled as a full-time student in an accredited U.S. educational institution on an F-1 visa.
  • Completed one academic year: The student should have completed one academic year as a full-time student before applying for OPT.
  • Not have completed 12 months in CPT: Students should not have completed 12 months or more in CPT. Then he is not eligible to take up OPT.

Document required for OPT

Gather the necessary documents for your OPT application. The specific documents required may vary but typically include:

  • Completed Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization).
  • Copies of your current and previous Forms I-20.
  • Passport-style photographs.
  • Copy of your passport identification page.
  • Copy of your most recent F-1 visa page (if applicable).
  • Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) (if applicable).
  • Copy of your academic transcript or evidence of degree completion.
  • Check or money order for the OPT application fee (payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security).

What are the Differences between CPT and OPT for International Students?

In the below table, find out the differences between the CPT and OPT programs on a various basis.

Basis CPT OPT
Purpose CPT can be taken by F1 students to gain work experience before their graduation. OPT can be taken by students to gain work experience in the same stream after their graduation.
Requirement Working on CPT is part of a student’s course completion. OPT is not related to the student’s course completion.
Course offered When enrolled after completing one full academic year. After completion of graduation.
Approved by Should get approval from ISS and the academic department Requires approval from USCIS
Application method Online Offline- Paper
Employment duration CPT can be taken up to 12 months OPT can be taken up to 12 months and can be extended to 24 months
Part-time (or) full-time In CPT, students can work part-time for 20 hours per week and full-time for 40 hours per week during summer. OPT is taken full-time after graduation
Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Not required in CPT After getting approval for OPT
students should get EAD from USCIS
Application fee No application fee Should pay an application fee of $410 to USCIS
Employment type Students can work with any employer in the US Employers who are listed on the I-20 and registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) can participate in the CPT and OPT programs.

What is a 24-Month Stem OPT Extension?

Students who have earned a degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) field approved by DHS.gov can apply for a 24-month extension of their OPT. This extension provides an opportunity for temporary training directly related to the student's program of study, enabling them to acquire the necessary work experience to better comprehend the practical application of their field.

Students must fulfill the below conditions to be eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension.

  • Currently employed under Post-Completion OPT status
  • Must hold an F1 International student status
  • Holding a STEM degree at the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral level from a SEVP-certified institution
  • Seeking employment (or already employed) with an E-Verify participating employer
  • Completed and signed Form I-983, "Training Plan for STEM OPT Students" with your employer

What is Cap-Gap Extension?

The gap refers to the duration between the end of an individual's F-1 status and the beginning of their H-1B status. The cap-gap extension enables certain F-1 students to extend their F-1 status to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and the start of H-1B status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the U.S. during the gap until they transition to H-1B status on October 1st.

H-1B status provides temporary employment authorization, allowing individuals to work in the US for up to six years. To obtain H-1B status, an employer can submit a petition to USCIS on behalf of the individual.

Frequently asked questions

1. Can one apply for CPT and OPT together?

Yes, you can apply. But, remember that if you take up CPT for 12 months full- time you are not eligible to apply for OPT. However, it is possible to apply for OPT even if you take up part-time CPT for more than 12 months. It is also noted that CPT can be authorized until the last day of the final quarter.

2. Can I work in the USA for longer than the set deadline with an OPT?

International Students can get only 12 months of employment in an OPT. Students who wish to work longer can get H1-B Visa or if you hold a STEM degree you can also extend your duration to 17 months or more.

3. Can you study while on OPT?

Applying to OPT when you are studying is used only when you have fewer chances on CPT. Usually, students apply to OPT after their graduation. It is advisable to plan and apply so that you are in OPT after your graduation. Students should keep in mind that they will lose their status in the US if they don’t begin their OPT within the grace period. Students should at least apply for OPT 120 days before the start date of their employment and not extend it till the deadline.

4. Can you apply for an OPT or CPT extension after they expire?

You can reside in the US for 60 days after the OPT expiration if you have completed the training. But if F1 students have entered this grace period, they are not allowed to apply for an extension. Hence, it is always advisable to apply for OPT extension before it expires.

5. What is meant by OPT Cap-Gap Extension?

If a company wishes to retain the student for a longer period or if a student desires to extend their stay beyond their F1 visa, they would need to apply for an H-1B visa. The Cap-Gap Extension enables students to remain in the US during the transitional period between the end of their F1 OPT or OPT STEM work authorization and the beginning of their H-1B status.

6. What is the difference between OPT and CPT?

A key difference between CPT and OPT is CPT is mainly intended for internships undertaken before graduation, whereas OPT allows individuals to pursue employment either before or after completing their degree.

7. Is CPT compulsory for F-1 students?

Students should make sure to submit the CPT application at least two weeks before the start date of their internship or employment to ensure timely authorization for work. If the application is submitted later than this timeframe, the authority cannot guarantee authorization by the requested start date. It is also necessary that F-1 students must possess their CPT I-20 on their first day of employment.

About Author Sruthi Krishnan

Sruthi Krishnan, an accomplished MBA graduate with an unwavering passion for writing is a recognized expert in Study Abroad Services. With years of experience in the overseas education industry, she specializes in preparing test materials for a wide range of exams, including IELTS, TOEFL, GRE, SAT, PTE, and more. Her expertise extends to providing comprehensive guidance on crafting Statements of Purpose (SOPs), Letters of Recommendation (LORs), and various aspects of study abroad, from exam preparation to admissions procedures. She's an expert in helping study-abroad aspirants through informative articles for study destinations like Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, and more. Her passion for writing has led to the creation of numerous articles that serve as valuable resources for students making critical decisions about their international education journeys. 

Kanan International is a study abroad consultancy that offers reliable services, products, and solutions for students and education institutions. We support students throughout their study abroad journey, ensuring a hassle-free experience. Our expertise and commitment to excellence make us the go-to partner for expanding global horizons. The company provides coaching for IELTS, GRE, TOEFL, and SAT exams and services like visa consultation, accommodation, scholarship assistance, and education loans.

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