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Differences Between CPT and OPT

If you are an international student looking for job opportunities, you have probably heard of the terms CPT and OPT. These terms are different types of work authorizations for international students. The type of work you are doing could be exactly the same, but there is a key difference in your work status that will influence your employment future in the U.S.

CPT, Curricular Practical Training

CPT is an internship. It could be paid or unpaid, but CPT usually takes place while you are still an enrolled student. You can usually seek CPT after successfully completing two semesters or quarters, although this requirement varies for certain schools.

Under CPT, your internship is considered to be related to your coursework. You must have an existing job offer that is related to your field in order to receive it. You can only file for CPT after receiving a job offer. Your employer will then authorize you to work through CPT. Once you are authorized for CPT, you will receive an updated I-20 form that will reflect your modified employment status.

OPT, Optional Practical Training

OPT is a proper paid job for students after they graduate from college. In some cases, you may begin working part-time while you study. Keep in mind that your OPT hours are limited. If you spend your OPT time working part-time, your total amount of time allowed is being used.

You will need a separate Employment Authorization Document to apply for OPT. OPT is a proper job that is not connected to a student’s coursework and as such, requires unique paperwork to legally permit you to work in the U.S.

OPT does boast unique flexibilities as it is considered a job, unrelated to college. Because it is not related to your coursework, you do not need an existing job offer to receive OPT authorization.


Whether you are seeking CPT while you study or OPT after you graduate, it is worth checking in with a campus official to discuss your options. You should have an idea of how many hours you are committed to working and your future career goals. Every college campus has online resources with detailed information on their unique CPT and OPT requirements.

In the next lesson, learn more about How to Apply for OPT.


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