What are CPT and OPT? Differences Explained
Explore the essentials of Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 visa students in the US.
CPT (Curricular Practical Training) allows F-1 international students in the US to gain practical experience in their field of study as part of their degree program by working in a role related to an integral part of their curriculum.
OPT (Optional Practical Training) allows F-1 students, who have typically already earned their degree, to work in their field of study for up to 12 months, with the possibility of a 24-month extension for STEM students.
Full-time CPT that lasts 12 months or more disqualifies students from OPT eligibility at the same education level.
While CPT is specific to one employer and must relate to the student's major and curriculum, OPT offers flexibility to work in any job related to their field of study.
CPT jobs can offer academic credits and each job must be authorized by the school, whereas OPT doesn't require approval by your school or a specific job offer.
Obtaining US work authorization can be a complex endeavor for international students. However, two critical programs, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT), offer avenues to valuable work opportunities. This article demystifies what CPT and OPT are and outlines their fundamental differences.
What is CPT?
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a type of work authorization for international students in the United States on F-1 visas who have completed at least a full academic year of study. To qualify for CPT, that year of study must be completed at a certified Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) school. CPT allows students to gain practical experience in their field of study through employment opportunities, such as internships or cooperative education programs. For students to be eligible for CPT, the work experience must be an integral part of the established curriculum of their academic program and directly related to their major area of study. CPT can be either part time or full time and must be authorized by your school's International Student Office before you can start working. It's a valuable opportunity for students to apply their classroom learning in a real-world setting.
Eligibility and Requirements for CPT
- To qualify for CPT, students must have completed one full academic year at a SEVP-certified school unless they are graduate students whose programs require immediate CPT.
- The training must relate directly to the student's area of study and be a necessary part of the school's established curriculum.
- CPT authorization is specific to one employer and a particular time period and must be authorized before the student can begin work.
- If students engage in 12 months of full-time CPT, they become ineligible for OPT at the same education level.
What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a program that allows international students studying in the United States on F-1 visas to work temporarily in a job related to their field of study. Students can participate in OPT either during an academic program (pre-completion) or after earning a degree (post-completion). Post-completion OPT is the most common, providing the opportunity to gain practical experience for up to 12 months after graduating. Additionally, students in STEM fields may qualify for a 24-month extension. To participate, students must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the work must be related to their field of study.
Eligibility and Requirements for OPT
- Students are eligible for OPT after completing their first academic year.
- OPT does not require a job offer for application; USCIS provides authorization, and students receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
- Unlike CPT, OPT is not employer specific and allows students to work in any job related to their field of study. It does not need to be part of the student's curriculum or result in academic credit.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) offers international students several key benefits:
- It allows students to gain practical work experience in their field of study, providing a platform to apply and expand the knowledge acquired in academic settings. This hands-on experience is invaluable in developing professional skills and understanding industry standards.
- Working in a professional environment enables students to build a network of industry-related contacts, which can be crucial for future career opportunities.
- CPT enhances a student's resume by showcasing their ability to apply academic learning in practical situations, making them more attractive to potential employers.
In many academic programs, CPT experience can also contribute towards academic credits, integrating practical work experience with academic achievement. CPT is:
- An integral part of the curriculum.
- Either full time or part time.
- Unrelated to OPT eligibility, unless it lasts more than 12 months.
Differences Between CPT and OPT
- Students need to complete CPT before they graduate. CPT authorizes full-time employment.
- Students can participate in OPT either during their studies or after the completion of an academic program.
Type of Work:
- CPT work usually takes the form of study internships, practical training, or co-op positions; it must be part of the student’s curriculum.
- OPT offers more flexibility, allowing any work related to the field of study, not just an internship or co-op.
Eligibility for STEM Extension:
- Only OPT offers a STEM extension, which provides an additional 24 months of work authorization for employment opportunities in eligible fields.
Impact on Future Eligibility:
- Participating in full-time CPT for 12 months or more can affect eligibility for OPT.
Understanding CPT and OPT is crucial for international students in the US looking to gain work experience in their field of study. These programs offer them valuable opportunities to enhance their education and career prospects.
To get Curricular Practical Training (CPT), you must first ensure that you are eligible, having completed at least one academic year at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school as an F-1 student. Then, you need to find a job or internship related to your major area of study. Your Designated School Official (DSO) must confirm that the work qualifies for CPT. Once your DSO authorizes CPT in the SEVIS system and provides a I-20 form indicating the authorization, you can start working under the CPT program.
The benefit of Curricular Practical Training (CPT) lies in its ability to provide international students with the opportunity to acquire practical knowledge and hands-on experience in their field of study. It allows students to apply theoretical knowledge gained in the classroom to real-world professional settings. This experience is invaluable for enhancing employability and understanding industry demands. Additionally, CPT can be an integral part of the academic curriculum, potentially offering academic credit while also offering insight into the American work culture and environment. This blend of educational and professional development is particularly beneficial for students looking to establish careers in the US or internationally.
Students on an F-1 visa can apply for OPT after completing their first academic year. OPT is open to undergraduate, master's, and Ph.D. students. Additionally, students with degrees in specific STEM fields are eligible for a 24-month extension beyond the standard 12 months of OPT, providing them with an extended period to gain practical experience in their field of study in the United States.