CPT vs OPT – How are they different?

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What is OPT? 

OPT stands for Optional Practical Training which allows international students pursuing a degree in the United States with the F-1 Visa to work for a time period extending up to 12 months.

Optional Practical Training can be completed either before or after the completion of the student’s degree. In certain cases, where the students have completed their degrees in particular fields of STEM, ie. science, technology, mathematics, and engineering; the duration of the OPT can be extended for up to 24 months. This allows students to work for 3 years post their degree.

What is CPT?

CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training and it allows international students studying abroad to work alongside pursuing their courses, resulting in feasibility to gain practical on the job experience before they graduate. Some universities even allow Day 1 CPT where F-1 visa holders could be eligible for CPT from the first day of their first semester.

To know more about CPT in detail, you can refer to our detailed blog here.

What is the difference between CPT and OPT

One of the commonly asked questions by students wanting to pursue education in the US, is the difference between CPT and OPT, as they both cater to paid employment regulations for international students.

Even though there are various differentiating factors between CPT and OPT, in order to understand them with clarity, we have listed down the primary differentiators in CPT vs OPT below:

  1. Basic Difference between CPT and OPT

    The main difference between CPT and OPT is that CPT is always used to work while studying a program whereas OPT is typically used after graduation.

    CPT needs to be completed before the completion of the degree. OPT, on the other hand, can be completed either before the graduation, or after.

  1. Authorization   – CPT vs OPT

    CPT is authorized by the university with details included on a students I-20.

    OPT on the other hand needs to be approved by USCIS and students will receive an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card.

  2. Authorised Duration and Extensions – CPT vs OPT

    Since CPT is more of an integral part of the curriculum, and not solely for the career, the duration of the CPT would depend on the student’s course, and on how integral the employment is to the student’s curriculum. Once the duration is filed for, and authorised, a student cannot start the work prior to the date mentioned, and all work must be completed within the prescribed or allowed time frame.

    CPT can be authorized for the length of a degree or certificate program but needs to be renewed either on a semester or annual basis depending on University Policy.

    OPT on the other hand is authorized for 12 months with the option for certain students with a STEM designated program being able to apply for a 24 month extension to add to the first 12 months of OPT totaling 36 months. 

    As a general rule, OPT can be obtained for a period extending upto 12 months, which can be utilised before or after the completion of the degree. This means the pre-completion OPT is subtracted from the time available post-completion OPT.

    In certain cases, where the students have completed their degrees in particular fields of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering, the duration of the OPT can be extended for up to 24 months. 

    One can also apply for an extension in case of expiration of the OPT. The extension should, in ideal circumstances, be applied for before the expiry of the authorised OPT.

    Another exception to the general permitted duration is for STEM students only wherein, if they meet the eligibility requirements, they can apply for a 24 month extension on post-completion OPT, and it is available only twice in a lifetime.

  1. Application Process  – CPT vs OPT

    In case CPT, a student needs to apply to International Student Services, and follow the processes in a place in their university. They require an I-20 form, along with a CPT authorisation from their university. The overall application takes around 10-15 days for processing.

    For OPT, one needs to apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with an Employment Authorisation Document. The time taken for processing an OPT application is longer than CPT, wherein an application to  the USCIS may take around 3-5 months.


  1. Application Fee  – CPT vs OPT

    CPT does not require a processing fee.

    OPT requires a ISS $550 application fee to the Department of Homeland Security and some universities have an additional fee which varies by school.

To read more frequently asked questions about Day 1 CPT, visit the website here.


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