Optional Practical Training (Initial 12 Months)

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an opportunity for F-1 international students to participate in professional, temporary employment that is directly related to their major area of study, but not a part of the academic curriculum.

Video : What is OPT


To be eligible for OPT, you:

  • Do NOT need a job offer to apply
  • Must be in legal F-1 status
  • Must have completed two full time semesters* (Fall & Spring; Summer does not count)
    • *Approved Study Abroad counts if completed one full time semester in US prior to studying abroad
  • Must NOT have been previously authorized for 12 months of Full-Time CPT at the same degree level
  • Must NOT have been previously authorized for 12 months of OPT at the same level, or any OPT at a higher degree level

Note: Intensive English / AEC only students are NOT eligible for OPT.

How Much OPT Do You Have?
  • Eligible for 12 months of full time authorization with each higher level degree:
    • Bachelors – 12mo
    • Masters – 12mo
    • PhD – 12mo
  • Unused periods of eligibility from lower level degrees cannot be accumulated for use with later degrees at a higher level.
  • The 12 months may either be used entirely within one period of eligibility or split between any of the periods for which the student is eligible; however, each segment will require a separate application. ex: 12 months (1 app); split 5 months & 7 months (2 separate apps)
  • Part-time OPT (available for pre-completion only) is deducted from the total amount of available full-time OPT at one-half the full-time rate (e.g. 4 months part time = 2 months full time).

*See the separate section on a possible 24-Month STEM OPT extension for students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees.

When Can You Engage in OPT?

Definitions (in immigration terms):

  • —Pre-completion OPT = before completion of degree
  • Post-completion OPT = after completion of degree (some exceptions: see below for thesis/dissertation/final project graduate students)
  • Part Time (PT) OPT = employment of 20 hours or less per week
  • Full Time (FT) OPT = employment of more than 20 hours per week

Pre-Completion OPT

Post-Completion OPT

Fall/Spring Semesters*

Annual Vacation or Official Break

PT Only

PT or FT

FT Only

Thesis/Dissertation or Equivalent Students  (ex. Masters thesis/final project, PhD)

Pre-Completion OPT

Post-Completion OPT

Pre required coursework completion

Post required coursework completion*

[but still working on thesis/diss.]

Post degree completion

Fa/Spr Semesters*

Vacation or Break

PT Only

PT or FT

PT (as pre-comp) or FT (as pre/post-comp)

FT Only

*Note: Students in situations where * is marked must continue to enroll in a full course of study while on OPT.


Types of Employment Allowed

The job/training must be directly related to major

Employment options include paid and unpaid options: 

Paid employment  Students may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full-time.

  • Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). Students, such as musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student’s degree program
  • Employment through an agency. Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.

Unpaid employment  Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Importance of Your I-20 End Date for Post-Comp OPT

If your current I-20 end date is in a future semester, the end date will be shortened to reflect the expected date of your graduation as indicated on your academic advisor recommendation form:

  • Spring graduate: 5/31/20YY
  • Summer graduate: 8/1/20YY
  • Fall graduate: 12/31/20YY

For graduate students completing all degree requirements within the first two weeks of a term, the I-20 end date will reflect the date established by Graduate Studies by which no enrollment is required that term. (i.e. 06/11/2019 for Summer 2019).

IMPORTANT: If you do not complete your degree by your new I-20 end date, you must apply for a program extension prior to the expiration of your new OPT I-20. Failure to extend is a violation of status. There is an exception (see below) for students working on a thesis, dissertation or equivalent.

In all cases, you cannot work on campus past your I-20 end date unless you have seamless OPT approved and the work is directly related to your degree.

Thesis/Dissertation/Final Project (or equivalent) Students

Choosing Pre-Completion or Post-Completion

Students who have completed all of their required course work excluding their thesis, dissertation or equivalent have the option of applying for either Pre-Completion or Post-Completion OPT.

Weighing the Pros & Cons

Pre-Completion OPT Post-Completion OPT
Pros :
  • Unemployment rule does not apply
  • May receive an I-20 extension
  • May request Part Time or Full Time
  • Can continue on-campus employment until end of program
Cons :
  • Not eligible for STEM extension
  • Not eligible for H-1B cap-gap extension
Pros :
  • Eligible for the H-1B cap-gap extension if applicable.
  • Can apply for the STEM extension if eligible.
Cons :
  • 90-day unemployment rule applies
  • Only granted Full Time (must work at least 20 hrs/wk)
  • On-campus work permission ends with new I-20 end date (unless seamless OPT is approved)
  • Cannot extend I-20 if degree not completed before end of OPT

If applying for POST- completion OPT while continuing with thesis/dissertation or equivalent:

  • I-20 end date will be shortened to the day before the requested OPT start date
  • On-campus work permission ends with new I-20 end date
  • Must continue to enroll in a full course of study until you complete your degree
  • Must complete degree before the end of OPT (i.e. cannot extend I-20)​


When and How Do I Apply?  I've Applied, Now What?

STEM OPT Extension  H-1B Cap Gap OPT Extension

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