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What’s the Difference Between CPT and OPT?

If you’re an international student looking for opportunities, you’ve heard the terms CPT and OPT used quite a bit. Both are different types of work authorizations for international students. And although the type of work you’re doing could be exactly the same, there’s a key difference in your work status that will influence your employment future in the US.

Curricular = While You Study

CPT, or curricular practical training, is an internship. It could be paid or unpaid but it usually takes place while you’re still an enrolled student. It’s more like a class that takes place outside of the classroom. You can seek out CPT after successfully completing two semesters/quarters (though this requirement varies depending on schools). OPT, or optional practical training, is a proper paid job situation for graduates, though in some cases you may begin working part-time while you study.

Unique Work Permits

Once you’re authorized for CPT, you’ll receive an updated form I-20 reflecting your modified employment status. OPT, however, requires a separate EAD, or employment authorization document. OPT is a proper job, not connected to a student’s coursework like CPT. As such, it requires unique paperwork to legally permit you to work in the US. However, OPT boasts unique flexibilities.

Work For Anyone

You do not need an existing job offer to receive OPT authorization, nor are you required to work for a specific employer once you receive authorization. Since CPT is technically a course in your program of study, you must have an existing job offer that is related to your field in order to receive it. That will be the only employer for whom you’ll be authorized to work through CPT.

Whether you’re seeking CPT while you study or OPT after you graduate, it’s worth checking in with a campus official to discuss your options, including how many hours you’re committed to working and future career plans. Every college campus has online resources with detailed information on their unique CPT and OPT requirements. Read these and make some decisions before connecting with a real live person to maximize their helpfulness.