What is the Difference Between OPT and CPT?

What is the Difference Between OPT and CPT?

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One of the most commonly asked questions by international students is, Can I Work in the USA While Studying? Fortunately, the answer is yes, but with some limitations. International students are allowed to work off-campus after completing their first academic year through specific programs. Two of those programs are Optional Practical Training and Curricular Practical Training.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a program that temporarily allows international students with an F-1 visa in the United States to work up to 12 months in relation to their major of study. F-1 visa students are eligible for OPT after completing their first academic year. OPT can be completed both before or after completing your studies, but it’s important to remember that you are only allowed to work 12 months total.

International students with an F-1 visa who have completed degrees in certain science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are eligible for a 17-month extension for post-graduation completion of OPT employment. Beginning May 10th, 2016 students may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-graduation OPT employment. This will replace the 17-month extension.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a program that temporarily allows international students with an F-1 visa to gain practical experience directly related to their major through employment, paid or unpaid internships, or cooperative (co-op) educationIt must be part of an established curriculum. CPT must be completed before graduating. In addition, CPT can be part-time (20 hours or less a week) or full time (20 hours or more a week). Although, if you work full-time for 12 months in CPT, you will lose your eligibility for OPT.

What’s the Difference Between OPT and CPT?

The major difference between OPT and CPT is the time period in which you are eligible for these programs and the type of work allowed in each program. OPT can be completed before or after graduation, while CPT must be completed before graduation. CPT employment is part of your major curriculum that allows students to work in a paid or unpaid internship, practicum, or cooperative (co-op) education program. CPT must be required by your major and if it not, you must receive course credit. Only certain employers participate in CPT. Alternately, OPT is not employer specific and allows work, not an internship or co-op, and you do not need to earn course credit.


Brianna Burrows is a freelance marketing specialist and alumna of Northeastern University. She specializes in event management, social media management, and content branding. She can be reached at briannaburrows@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter here.