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CPT vs. OPT- What’re the Major Differences?

CPT vs. OPT- What’re the Major Differences?

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Understand the major differences between CPT and OPT in the USA for Indians. Choose between CPT and OPT for international students. Also, know about STEM OPT Extension.

vishakha Bhagia
Updated on:  27 Oct 2023  | Reviewed By: 
| 3.89K | 8  min read

Students going abroad have to take care of their finances, and part-time work is a panacea for the minor financial problems faced by an Indian student in the US. The tuition fee at American universities is way too high, and so is the living cost compared with the Indian living expenses. Students do a lot to save money while studying abroad by sharing rented apartments, living in affordable localities, etc., but the living cost still remains high. Banks do include the cost of living in their loan scheme, but it comes with a cap in almost all cases, and it might not suffice to take care of extra expenses. So, those expenses that are not covered in the bank loan can be taken care of by working part-time while studying.

Indian students are allowed to do part-time work, but a student must understand certain rules and restrictions before planning to do a part-time job in the US. CPT and OPT are available options for international students to work as interns or post-study work, respectively. Since both options have several overlaps students, don’t know which one to choose and at what stage in their career. We will focus on all the important aspects so that there might not be any confusion after reading this article. 



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What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

CPT or the Curricular Practical Training status helps students on an F1 visa work part-time and earn enough to take care of the living expenses at the study time. The CPT status helps students in getting some real insights into the industry and helps improve their outlook. CPT allows students to get paid internships and learn from the experts in the industry, but the internship must be directly related to the subject in which the student is pursuing a course.

At the time of admissions at a university in the US, students are assigned a Designated School Official (DSO) that authorizes the students to work in the CPT and gain some practical insight. The DSO mentions all the details in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS), and it is mentioned on the I-20 form issued by the university. This makes the students eligible to work as an intern in the course of their studies. DSO is the nodal authority for the CPT, and any confusion on this can be directly communicated for redressal.

Read more about: What is an I-20 Form?, and its importance.

The CPT always needs a letter from the employer under whom the student is expecting an internship. The internship period must be specified and can’t be an indefinite period. The CPT must be concluded before the conclusion of the course for which the student has enrolled in the university. With CPT, a student can work either full-time or part-time. If a student chooses to work full-time, they can work for more than 20 hours or more per week, while in part-time work, students have to work for 20 hours or less per week. One of the contention with working full-time is that students working full-time for 12 months automatically become ineligible to work in the OPT, i.e., for post-study work. 


What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT or the Optional Practical Training (OPT) status helps students get work post completion of the studies. Since the US is home to the world’s top companies, it becomes the first choice of every student to take up the job and get first-hand experience in the field of study. The courses offered at US universities are always crafted in a way so that the graduates are ready for their parent industry. OPT helps students work after completing the course, and this also comes under the DSO or the Designated School Official. The DSO mentions the OPT in the I-20 form and makes the student eligible to take up a job in the US after completing the studies. The OPT status allows students from bachelor’s and master’s courses to take up jobs in the US

Read more about: Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students

The DSO gives the recommendation on the SEVIS, and students become eligible for taking jobs. The employment process starts with the job seeker sending a mail to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) an Application for Employment Authorisation. The Application for Employment Authorisation is also known as the I-765 form. Once the I-765 form gets approval from the USCIS authorities, the student gets an EAD or the Employment Authorisation Documents. EAD has a date on it after which the student can start working in the US after the completion of the course. No employer can give any work under the OPT before the start date mentioned on the EAD. 

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What are the eligibility criteria for OPT? 

Students are allowed to work either as Pre-Completion OPT or Post-Completion OPT. Students going to the US on an F1 visa have these options, and we will discuss both in detail.

Pre-Completion OPT- Once a student completes one year at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified university or educational institution, they become eligible to apply for pre-completion OPT. It helps students get part-time and full-time jobs before the completion of the program for which the student has enrolled in a university. 

Post-Completion OPT- Students can apply for post-completion OPT right after the completion of their studies. This allows students to take up part-time or full-time jobs. The work duration is limited to 20 hours or less per week for part-time work, and full-time work is also allowed. But USCIS makes some deductions in the number of working days before allowing for post-completion OPT if the student has already worked in the pre-completion OPT.


What is the difference between CPT and OPT?

Criteria Curricular Practical Training Optional Practical Training


International Students on an F-1 visa who have enrolled for a course of more than one year

International Students on F-1 visas who have enrolled for a course of more than one year

Participation Timings

At the time of pursuing the course

It can happen before or after the completion of the course.

Do students need to have a job before getting approval from the DSO?

Yes. Students need to have a job in their hands before getting approval.

  No. There is no need to have a job in hand before applying for OPT.  

Official Responsible For Authorizing

  DSO is responsible for authorizing the CPT.  

DSO forwards the letter to USCIS, and then the officials at USCIS approve the OPT.

Types Of Employer

The employer must be specified and related to the field of study.

   No. There is no need to have an employer directly related to the field of study.  

Application Fees

There is no application fee for CPT.

Applicants have to pay for OPT, and the charge is $410 payable to USCIS.

Documentation Needed

I-20 form issued by the university and authorization from the DSO.

Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) issued by the USCIS.


CPT is allowed for 12 months

OPT is allowed for 12 months, and it can be extended up to 24 months.


One of the most crucial differences between the CPT and OPT is the work duration, and this distinction makes all the difference. OPT gives students more flexibility than the CPT since the CPT somewhat gives an internship opportunity while OPT lets students take a full-time job for a straight one year. However, it is always advised to carefully use the CPT and OPT timings since these are learning opportunities. The CPT timing for full-time work must be used cautiously as it will make a student ineligible for OPT if the full-time work in CPT touches a 12 month period. CPT and OPT also help students in majors as CPT is a prerequisite for major’s and in the absence of it, the candidate should score credit. OPT, on the other hand, makes it compulsory to earn course credit. 

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What is STEM OPT Extension?

Students pursuing a degree in any STEM course or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math courses can get an extension of 24 months for the OPT. This extension is given keeping in mind a great deal of work experience needed to properly understand the subjects and their applications in the real world. The extension is given only for those cases which the Department approves of Homeland Security. 


What are the criteria for getting a 24 month STEM OPT extension?

Students must be fulfilling these criteria for getting a 24 month STEM OPT extension:

  • list items The Student must have completed a bachelor, masters, or doctorate program from a certified college or university in the US. 
  • list items The student must be in the STEM OPT period and mustn’t have exhausted the time period.
  • list items The employer employing the applicant must be using the e-verify program. 
  • list items The employer and the employee must have signed the “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students,” also known as Form I-893.



What is Cap-Gap Extension For F1 Visa Holders?

Several students wait for an H1B visa that gives students a temporary stay permit for working in the US. The students who see further job prospects or have a sense of assurance that they will need an H1B visa have the option of extending their F1 visa until the H1B visa is issued. The employers can apply for an H1B visa on behalf of the employee to the USCIS for extending the F1 visa until the time of issuance of the H1B visa. 

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Some more info on OPT and CPT

There are several instances wherein a student might get confused about applying for OPT and CPT simultaneously. There is a provision to apply for OPT and CPT at the same time. A student can work part-time for more than a period of twelve months on CPT, provided the full-time work mustn’t be twelve months on a CPT. In case a student works twelve-month full-time on CPT, they automatically become ineligible for OPT. Students should choose between the OPT and CPT depending on the type of course and the need for an internship. If a particular course doesn’t give much weightage to an internship, then there is no point in wasting CPT timings, and the focus should be on OPT. 

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