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What Is the Difference Between CPT and OPT in the USA?

Dreaming of getting a US degree this year? Well, the most crucial question that knocks on every aspirant’s mind while going to the USA is what type of jobs would they find there. So, two available options for every international student in the States - CPT and OPT, where CPT allows for paid internships while OPT is for jobs after graduation. For more details, check out the blog and pick out how CPT is different from the OPT program!

Benefits of CPT and OPT in the USA

Students, looking to work in the US after or during graduation can take the advantage of CPT or OPT program. It is no doubt that US is considered as the most favourable study abroad destination among foreign aspirants. Hence, taking advantage of both CPT and OPT offer different benefits to international students. Hence, we will check out each one of them!

Discover the Benefits of CPT and OPT in States | Gradding.com 

Advantages of CPT:

Here are the pros of opting for a CPT visa or Curricular Practical Training:

  • Skills Development & Experience in Real World: CPT focuses more on providing practical experience. The motive of this program is to train students to apply their theoretical knowledge in real-world scenarios. Thus, it allows them to develop practical skills, gain real-life experience, and learn how to implement the concepts learned in the classroom in real scenarios.
  • Career Development & Exploration: Opting for a CPT visa could be a wonderful decision since it enables students to indulge in different career paths and fields. Moreover, the students even gain insights into whatever field of study they are learning in the classroom and much capable of identifying their strengths and interests. Hence, it will help them make informed decisions about their future and that’s how they can work to improve their career goals.
  • Cultural and Global Exposure: International students will have the privilege to immerse themselves in global opportunities and learn new cultures and the professional environment of the host country. Hence, it enables them to learn different perspectives, work practices, and various cultural norms. At last, all of these contribute to their personal & professional growth.
  • Networking Prospects: CPT enables international students to build connections and professional networks within their industry of interest. Hence, through proper interactions with colleagues, professionals, and supervisors, students can easily broaden their connections. At last, it helps them secure a good job opportunity.

Advantages of OPT:

Optional Practical Training or OPT is even an outstanding option for international scholars seeking to get an education in the US. Here are the main benefits of opting for an OPT program in the country:

  • Gain Work Experience: With OPT, a student can work in the US after completing graduation for a certain period. Hence, it enables them to gain required practical work experience in their field of study. Moreover, this experience allows them to stand out and apply to multiple companies right after graduation within the US.
  • Financial Stability: Without applying for a work visa, students can work within the US and support themselves financially. OPT allows international students to become economically stable, and even it can help pay the education loan taken for their studies.
  • Extend Stay in the Country: OPT allows every international student to stay in the country and find a job right after getting a graduation degree. Hence, they can stay in the USA for an additional 12 to 36 months. This opportunity enables them to gain valuable work experience and explore different career paths for a stable income job in the future.
  • Link to H-1B Visa: With OPT, international students can even apply for H-1B visa. It is a non-immigrant visa in which a US employer can hire any foreign worker in any speciality occupation. So, after completing your degree, work in a related field of your study program, gain the necessary work experience and apply for an H-1B visa after qualifying the requirements.

It is necessary to know the course you’re studying is meeting the required eligibility criteria that will give you a bridge to an H-1B visa in future. Hence, we’ve curated separate sections of CPT and OPT for students who are seeking to get a degree in the US!


Wandering to Grab Details on CPT and OPT in USA?

Furnish yourself with the data about the US’s CPT and OPT Program, Eligibility, Requirements, and more from the best study abroad platform; Gradding.com. Connect With Our Experts!

What Is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

Those international students carrying an F-1 visa in hand can enrol for a Curricular Practical Training program. CPT authorizes international students to gain employment training directly related to their subject areas and to work in paid internships. Meanwhile, note that it’s an integral part of their course curriculum. It is specifically designed to provide students with a path to gain relatable work experience, hands-on training, and practical knowledge. To apply for a CPT program, a student must have completed one course a year or two semesters as a full-time student. Moreover, here are the steps to apply for a CPT program while studying in the US as a full-time student. Lastly, this visa allows students to work full-time or part-time while studying at the university. While talking about CPT visa validity, students can work for 12 months holding CPT either during the summer break or the academic year.

Also Read: An Ultimate Guide on MBA in USA for International Student

Application Process for CPT

Remember application process for a CPT program varies depending on the institution’s policies and procedures. The general process to apply for a CPT program is as follows:

1. Schedule a Meet with Your DSO

DSO or Designated School Officials are responsible for approving every international student's CPT application. Hence, quickly fix a meeting with your institute DSO and let them know your intent to apply for CPT. The application process and its completion can take up to 10 days to come up with a response. So, it’s advised to apply for your CPT at least 2 weeks before your work start date.

2. Look for an Internship or Job

Once you’ve completed 1st academic year of your study program, start searching for an internship or job which directly links to your study program. Remember, it must align with the practical training component of your study curriculum.

3. Receive a Job Offer Letter

Once you’ve managed to secure a job or an internship, make sure to request an offer letter from your employer or hiring manager of the company. It must be printed on the company’s official letterhead. Additionally, ensure your letter contains the following details, such as your job position, a brief of job duties, start & end dates of the job, number of working hours per week or fortnight, and location of work.

4. Fill Out CPT Application Form

Next, complete the CPT application form provided by your university. You will need to add information such as your personal, employment, & academic program details, and academic advisor’s recommendation.

5. Gather Supporting Documents

Once you filled out the required details on the CPT application form, prepare all the necessary supporting documents. These papers may include your employment offer letter, academic transcripts copy, and any other relevant documents required by your university.

6. Submit CPT Application to DSO

Finally, submit your CPT application along with the attached documents to your Designated School Official (DSO). Once they get your application, they will start reviewing it, verify the details provided, and analyze your eligibility for the CPT program.

7. Get Your CPT Authorization

Once your CPT application is approved, you will be issued a new I-20 Form with the CPT authorization. Meanwhile, these documents will work as proof that you’re an authorized candidate to work in your related study program in the USA.

8. Start Your CPT Program

Receive your CPT authorization? Then, start working in the relatable field in the country. While working it’s important to follow the necessary conditions. For instance, to comply with the authorized dates, working hours and any other regulations as mentioned on your CPT authorization. In addition to these, ensure maintaining your full-time student status and continue getting good scores in your enrolled course. Further, to apply for this CPT program, you must check your eligibility. For that, look for the next section and check out if you meet the requirements to apply for CPT.

Eligibility for CPT

Here are the basic requirements for a CPT program in the USA for international students:

  • The primary condition is to be enrolled as a full-time student in an accredited US educational institute on an F-1 visa.
  • Secondly, the student must have completed one academic year to be eligible to apply for a CPT program.
  • The training you will be doing as part of your CPT must be directly related to your study program. Also, your academic program must offer an option to apply for the CPT as a part of your course curriculum.

Further, let us dive into the required documents or paperwork for a CPT program in the States.

Required Documents for CPT

The following documents must be prepared before applying for a CPT:

  • Job Offer Letter
  • CPT Application Form
  • An academic transcript received from the university of 1st academic year of your course.
  • Proof of your full-time enrolled student in a US-accredited institution.
  • Form I-20 duly signed by Designated School Official (DSO).

As you know, the CPT program can only be enrolled after completing one year of your academic program. But, the OPT training has opposite conditions. Scroll down and learn!

What Is Optional Practical Training (OPT) ?

OPT or Optional Practical Training is a benefit available for all international students who hold an F-1 immigration status in the US. It is available for students who are enrolled in, or completing a degree program in the US. The main role of OPT training is, it allows the students to gain industry work experience from 12-24 months.

Moreover, in the case of OPT visa validity, eligible students could receive up to 12 months of authorized OPT either before (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) their academic studies.

Remember, this training program requires authorization from the USCIS or US Citizenship and Immigration Services hence you cannot begin working in the country until you receive your EAD card.

Furthermore, let’s talk about the process of applying for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.


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Gradding.com has Come to Solve All Your Doubts on the various OPT Types, Visa Validity, and Which One is More Suitable for You in America. Worry Not, and Spread Your Wings!

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Application Process for OPT

Here’s the step-by-step process for an OPT application:

1. Meet OPT Eligibility Criteria

Ensure you are meeting the required eligibility criteria for an OPT program. It includes completing a degree from an accredited US educational institution and maintaining an F-1 student visa status while staying in the country.

2. Complete I-765 Form

Next, carefully fill out the I-765 form. Provide accurate, up-to-date information about yourself including, personal, academic, your university, and lastly your OPT request. Ensure you’re selecting the right OPT category, i.e. pre-completion or post-completion and duly sign the form at the end.

3. Organize the Documents

Once completed the application, gather all the supporting documents required for your OPT application. Further, arrange the documents in the correct order as specified in the application instructions.

4. Application Timeline

Remember you can apply for your OPT up to 90 days before completing your university degree or up to 60 days after completion of the course. Meanwhile, your OPT application must be submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

5. Submit Your Application

Further, submit your prepared application to the USCIS. Make sure the OPT application must be filled out either online via the USCIS website or through official mail.

6. Track Application Status

Once you have submitted your application and paid the required charges, the USCIS will issue a payment confirmation via the receipt of your OPT application. Then, you can even track the status of your application on the USCIS website.

7. Receive Your EAD

If your OPT application is approved by the USCIS, they will issue you an EAD or Employment Authorization Document card. This card is proof of successful authorization of your OPT which contains important details such as the start and end dates of your OPT period.

8. Start Your Job

Once you get your EAD card, you’re now eligible to work in your related study field within the authorized dates. Remember to stick to the USCIS guidelines of your OPT including, reporting any changes in your work profile, address, immigration status, etc. Further, we will talk about the eligibility requirements to apply for an OPT program to study in USA.

Eligibility for OPT

To be eligible for an OPT training, international students must:

  • Hold a valid F-1 visa.
  • Be full-time enrolled in an academic course for 1 year in an accredited US institution.
  • Have degree program accredited and SEVP-certified US institution of higher education.
  • Be planning to work in an industry that is directly related to their enrolled degree program. (Remember a job offer letter is not required to apply for an OPT training)
  • Not have used their CPT of 12 months or full-time.

Now, the next step is the required documents to apply for OPT training in the US. Let’s find out in the next sub-section!

Required Documents for OPT

To apply for OPT, gather all these documents before your application. However, the required papers might vary, but they typically include:

  • Your completed Form I-765, is an application for employment authorization.
  • Copies of your Form I-20 (previous and current)
  • 2 passport-sized photographs
  • Current and updated passport identification page copy
  • A printout of the Form I-94 (arrival or departure record)
  • Any previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) (if applicable) copies
  • Academic transcript or degree completion evidence (if received) copies
  • Copy of stamped F-1 visa on your passport
  • Money order of your OPT application fee

We’ve only studied 2 types of OPT programs. But, mainly there are 2 more OPT training programs available for international students - STEP OPT Extension and Cap-Gap OPT Extension. If you’re an F-1 student visa holder, studying a degree program in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM), you may be eligible for the STEM OPT Extension. Let us read more about the program in detail!

Types of OPT

As an F-1 visa holder, you can be eligible to apply for an OPT program in 2 different ways:

1. Pre-Completion OPT

Once you have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time course for one year at a university or college, you may be able to apply for a pre-completion OPT program. Also, your institution must be certified by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enrol all F-1 student visa holders for a pre-completion OPT training. So, once you’re authorized to participate in a pre-completion OPT program, you might be allowed to work 20 hours or less per week while your classes are running. However, you could work full-time during any vacation.

Also Read: An Ultimate Guide to Know Part Time High Paying Jobs in USA

2. Post-Completion OPT

After graduation, international students may be eligible to apply for post-completion OPT. Where they can work part-time for at least 20 hours per week or full-time. Further, there are some restrictions applied on pre-completion OPT. Let’s find out below! IMPORTANT:

  • Firstly, if you’ve already received part-time pre-completion OPT for one year, the total time reserved for full-time OPT would be reduced by 6 months, i.e. 50% of the last authorized year at the same education level. Hence, you will only be entitled to work for 6 months in the case of full-time post-completion OPT employment authorization.
  • Secondly, if received one year of full-time (40 hours per week) pre-completion OPT, the total time of overall time remaining from the previously authorized year of the OPT program would be reduced by one year. That means 100% of the last year at the same course level.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about the process of applying for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

What Is STEM OPT Extension?

If you are a student holding an F-1 study visa and obtained a STEM degree in the US approved by DHS.gov, you’re eligible for 24 months of temporary training in a related STEM course. On May 10, 2016, this 24-month extension replaced the old 17-month STEM OPT extension. Eligible F-1 students who have completed their STEM courses and participate in a regular post-completion OPT have the opportunity to apply for a STEM OPT extension.

Criteria for Getting a 24-Month STEM OPT Extension

To be eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student visa holder participating in a regular post-completion OPT must:

  • Completed a degree in an eligible STEM course from SEVIS or Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school. The program is considered accredited when the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to the US government or USCIS.
  • Work under the employer that is enrolled in the USCIS E-verify employment eligibility verification program.
  • Choose an employer that provides formal training and learning objectives under students' STEM OPT extension program.
  • Follow the rule of working 20 hours per week for every international student.
  • Be in a period of Post-Completion OPT.
  • Have a qualifying STEM degree at the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate level.

Now, what next? After completion of the STEM OPT extension period, move back to your hometown. No, that’s not the scenario, right? Well, after completing any academic or STEM program in the US, you can be eligible to apply for a work visa. Sounds exciting, right? The good part is it allows you to stay in the country for up to 6 years. Let us read more about it!

What is Cap-Gap Extension (F-1 Visa Holders)?

As an F-1 visa holder, if you have completed your OPT or academic program, and wish to maintain your F-1 visa status, then you can go for a Cap-Gap extension. Hence, you can appeal to bridge the gap between the end of your F-1 visa status and your H-1B visa status. The H-1B is a temporary visa or employment authorization that permits you to do a job in the US for up to 6 years. Meanwhile, to get H-1B visa status, your employer needs to file a petition to the USCIS on your behalf.

  • Eligibility for a Cap-Gap Extension:

To be eligible for a Cap-Gap extension in the US:

  • The employer must submit a petition on behalf of the student to USCIS to change the student’s F-1 visa status to H-1B.
  • H-1B petition must request for an October 1 start date. That means the H-1B visa status begins in October, so make sure to get the permit before October 1.
  • Student’s academic program end date / Post-Completion STEM OPT end date must be after filing a petition for H-1B visa status, i.e. between April 1 and September 20th.

With OPT and CPT full form in US, typesand their description, there might be a little confusion developed in your mind, like both visas hold the same value. But if you notice, there are some differences between both of these. Let us find out in the next section!

Also Read: A Complete Guide on Student Visa for the USA and Criteria

Differences Between CPT and OPT in the USA

The primary difference between OPT and CPT is the time for which the candidate is eligible to work in the US. CPT can only be done before graduation, while OPT can be completed before or after graduation. Another major difference is that with a CPT visa students have to work in the areas that are directly related to their degree while OPT doesn’t relate to the course requirements. Here are the more key differences between CPT vs OPT that students should be aware of:

CPT can be taken by the F-1 student visa holders to gain practical experience related to their study area before graduation. OPT allows students holding F-1 visa to gain practical experience before or after completing graduation.
CPT full form is Curricular Practical Training OPT full form is Optional Practical Training
CPT is a part of student’s degree program, OPT is not a part of degree program.
Requires consent from ISS (International Social Service) and the academic department. Requires permission from USCIS (US Government)
CPT training can be done for up to 12 months. Duration of OPT training is 12 months and it can be extended up to 24 months depending upon the study program.
Not required in CPT training. After receiving approval for OPT, an EAD will be offered by USCIS.
CPT holders can work part-time for 20 hours and full-time during summer vacations for 40 hours / week. OPT visa allows to work full-time right after completing graduation.
No application fee for CPT. Applicants will have to pay $410 to USCIS.
Are allowed to work with any employer across the USA. Can only work with the employers who are featured on the I-20 list and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

Hopefully, we’ve got you covered, on how CPT is different from the OPT program. Further, let’s discuss the visa rules for both CPT and OPT in the upcoming section!

CPT and OPT Visa Rules

For international students, it’s necessary to have information on the CPT & OPT visa rules set by the US government. Hence, we’ve curated this section to give you a brief on what you should be taken care of while holding this visa and working in the USA.

CPT Visa Rules

Here are the visa rules that apply to CPT holders:

  • CPT can only be authorized to international students on a semester basis, i.e. fall, spring, or summer CPT.
  • CPT is employer-specific, which means a student can work only under employees who are listed on Form I-20 and SEVIS.
  • It generally takes 5-7 business days for ISSS to process CPT. Hence, it is a fairly quick process.
  • ISSS is responsible for authorizing CPT by issuing a Form I-20 with CPT recommendation to the applicant.

OPT Visa Rules

Let us talk about the OPT visa rules after completing a degree program in the US:

  • It is a one-year work permit that allows international students to find a job within 90 days after graduation in the USA.
  • OPT is not semester-specific, unlike CPT.
  • Pre-completion OPT may be part-time, full-time or completely full-time (when the student is working on a thesis/dissertation). While post-completion OPT could be authorized for full-time employment if a candidate got an opportunity within the US.
  • Processing time of OPT is longer than CPT. It generally takes 1-3 months.
  • There is an application fee of USD 410 to enrol for the OPT program which is directly submitted to USCIS.

Further, let’s talk about the CPT and OPT opportunities for international students in the US!

How Can Opportunities for OPT and CPT Be Increased?

From the above sections, it’s been concluded that OPT and CPT provide incredible opportunities and options for international students. In addition to this, the practical experience they have learned and experienced in their on-the-job training can truly increase the benefits of these 2 temporary employment authorizations in the US. Next, let us discuss how these opportunities can be increased for international students:

  • By learning work business etiquette, and corporate culture, students can easily delve into an organization's policies and do their best to achieve goals and growth for the company.
  • By attending all corporate events and professional development opportunities, students can build a network.
  • To build a professional portfolio, enrolling on any volunteer projects could be a great idea.
  • Lastly, work done under CPT and OPTtraining is considered as practical learning, meaning you should not be afraid of making mistakes. Hence, this period will give them more confidence to learn, practice, and develop themselves.

Also Read: Know About the Intakes in USA: Types and Guide

Hopefully, you must have understood both OPT and CPT, their eligibility, process, etc. with this blog. There are several points where students get confused about applying for OPT and CPT at the same time. However, just like OPT and CPT in full form, the process and duration of both of them are different. For that, we’ve mentioned in the blog how CPT differs from OPT. Meanwhile, for more information on how to study in the USA, courses offered, etc., feel free to reach out to Gradding.com and book a one-on-one session with our experts.


Q.1 What Is OPT and CPT Full Form in the US?

OPT full form in the US is Optional Practical Training while CPT is abbreviated as Curricular Practical Training.

Q.2 Can a Student Apply for Both CPT and OPT Together?

Yes, you can! However, it should be noted that if you work full-time for 12 months on CPT, you won’t be able to apply for an OPT program in the USA.

Q.3 What Is the Duration of CPT and OPT Program?

With a CPT visa in hand, you can either work part-time or full-time which is directly related to your study program. While, with an OPT visa you’re allowed to work full-time after graduation.

Want to Know About OPT and CPT Programs?

Refer to Experts at Gradding.com to Know About OPT and CPT in the USA!

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