Study in US: Difference between CPT and OPT

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Piyush Kohli
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Jun 29, 2021 18:53 IST

The most common question in mind of every student going to US for studying is the work opportunities that are available there. There are two options open for any international student in US – CPT and OPT. CPT is for internship purposes and OPT is for post-study work. However, there exists a lot of confusion among the students regarding these two programs. Since the regulations of both these are really similar, that confusion is bound to exist. Below we provide some points of difference between the CPT and OPT programs.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training gives international students authorization to gain employment training and to do paid internships. Students have the opportunity to work full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours) or less per week, earn in US dollars, and gain work experience in their area of interest. CPT must be completed before graduation as candidates are allowed to do part-time or full-time jobs. One significant point to note is that if you work full-time for 12 months in CPT, you will lose your eligibility for OPT.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training is temporary employment that is directly related to F-1 students' major area of study. OPT allows international students with an F-1 Visa to work up to 12 months in relation to their area of study. Eligible students can apply for OPT employment authorization before completing their studies (pre-condition) or after completing their studies (post-completion). Although students are allowed to work for 12 months, however, students with a STEM degree are allowed to extend it to 17 months. Moreover, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.

Difference between CPT and OPT

The main difference between the CPT and OPT is the period for which the candidate is eligible to work. OPT can be completed before or after graduation, CPT must be completed before graduation. Another major difference is that CPT is required for a candidate's major and if not candidate must receive course credit whereas for OPT a candidate has to earn course credit.





CPT allows an F-1 student to work in a company to get practical experience before graduation

OPT allows an F-1 student to gain practical experience in the same field after completing graduation


Working on CPT is part of a candidate’s degree requirements

OPT is not related to a candidate’s degree requirements

Duration of employment

CPT can be done for up to 12 months

Duration of OPT is 12 months which can be extended up to 24 months

Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

The student does not get EAD from USCIS in CPT

Student working on OPT will get EAD from USCIS after getting approval for OPT

Application fee

CPT does not have any application fee

A student working on an OPT should pay an application fee of $410 to USCIS

Working part-time or full-time

CPT can be either part-time or full time and is usually done 20 hours part-time during school and 40 hours during summer

Generally, OPT is done full time after graduation

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

  • CPT allows you to intern in the US during your course period. To work as an intern you need to first find an internship, then the college has to issue a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to the interning student.
  • CPT may only be used before completing one’s studies as it is supposed to be undertaken during the curriculum.
  • You don’t need a different visa for CPT, you can complete your CPT on F1 visa.
  • Technically speaking, employment or experience must be integral to the established curriculum of the degree program and is seen as supplementing the existing understanding of the curriculum.
  • A student must be registered for a course related to employment or experience and vice-versa.
  • CPT is supposed to be semester-specific; CPT is only authorized on a semester basis i.e. fall, spring, or summer CPT. Its duration is from one semester up to 364 days.
  • Students can work either part-time (20 hours/week or less) when college is in session or full-time during summer break.
  • CPT is employer-specific i.e. a student can work only for those employers listed on the student’s I-20 and SEVIS.
  • International Student and Scholar (ISSS) authorizes CPT by issuing a new I-20 with CPT recommendation.
  • The processing time of a CPT is 5 to 7 business days, as is a fairly quick process.
  • Employment is only permitted for the duration of dates in the CPT recommendation on the I-20 and in SEVIS.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

  • OPT is a one-year work permit given to students after completing a degree program in the US. You have to find a job within 90 days after graduation.
  • OPT may be used during one’s studies (PreCompletion OPT) and after completing one’s studies (Post-Completion OPT). Pre-Completion OPT allows you to work legally before graduation, in case you have finished the entire duration of your CPT period.
  • Technically, the job must be directly related to one’s major field of study.
  • No course registration required.
  • OPT is not semester-specific.
  • Pre-Completion OPT may be part-time (20 hours per week) when college is in session, full-time during school breaks (winter or summer) or completely full-time (when working on one’s thesis/dissertation). Post-Completion OPT may be authorized for full-time employment.
  • OPT is not employer-specific and the student can work for any employer as long as the position is related to their field of study.
  • International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and USCIS both must authorize OPT. ISSS issues new I-20 with OPT recommendation. USCIS then issues Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. Read more here
  • Processing times for OPT may vary, but it generally takes between 1 to 3 months.
  • Employment is permitted during the validity dates on the EAD card, after that, you will have to apply for H1 visa (work visa).
  • USCIS requires a $380 application fee to issue the EAD card.
About the Author
Piyush Kohli
Study Abroad Expert

With a plethora of knowledge of the education domain, Piyush Kohli has been involved with study abroad for over 5 years and counting. He comes with prior experience on the complexities of the study abroad applicatio... Read Full Bio


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