Difference Between OPT and CPT for International Students


Cyril Zachariah
Updated on Aug 08, 2022 04:01 PM IST

Are you planning to study and work in the US? Here is something you will find useful before you begin your journey in the US. Find the crucial information about the two training programmes OPT and CPT that allow you to work while studying and even after you complete your studies in the US.

OPT vs CPT: Difference Between OPT and CPT for International Students

If you have planned to study in the US, you must have come across the terms OPT and CPT for international students. Moreover, you must have even questioned how you could work in the US while completing your degree studies.

The United States has been one of the top study-abroad destinations for international students, especially Indian students, enrolling in programmes across disciplines and degrees in some of the top universities in the US and the world. And one of the top questions we receive about studying in the US is, Can I work while studying in the US?.

Working while studying in the US or even after completing their studies has been the biggest doubt for many students and different countries pose different requirements and different restrictions, some completely denying international students the right to work while studying.

However, the US allows students, on a particular visa to work while studying, through 2 practical training programmes known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), and Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Keep reading to learn which US student visa you should be considered among the two training programmes, the regulations and guidelines for each training programme and the differences between OPT and CPT.

If you are applying for a US student visa, then check out the following links to learn everything you need to about student visas and working on such visas.

H-1B vs EB-5: Which Visa is Ideal to Study or Work in the US?

Tips for a Successful US F-1 Visa Interview

Financial Requirements for a US Student Visa

Documents to Carry for Your F-1 Visa Interview

Difference Between OPT vs CPT

Now that you know what an Optional Practical Training, full form for OPT and a Curricular Practical Training, full form for CPT, is, let us narrow down the differences between the two and hopefully help you understand which could be the better option for you. Listed in the table below are the major differences between CPT and an OPT for international students planning to study in the US.





Candidates pursuing their undergraduate or graduate-level studies can apply for 12 months of OPT.

Candidates who have enrolled in a Masters programme that requires them to work as part of their curriculum must apply for the same.


All interested candidates should be studying under an F-1 visa in the US.

Candidates who wish to work while studying to gain practical experience concerning their major of study can apply for an OPT.

Students graduating with a STEM degree at the undergraduate level or higher and are looking for more training in their respective fields can apply for an extension which can lead to a 24-month extension.

All interested students should be studying under an F-1 visa in the US.

Candidates in a Masters programme, requiring them to gain work experience as part of their curriculum should apply for a CPT.


An OPT for international students usually lasts for 12 months.

In case of extension, students will be able to extend their OPT programme by 24 months provided they complete the necessary processes.

Students in CPT employment should complete their training before the completion of their programme.

Work Authorisation

OPT students will need to receive an Employment Authorisation Document from USCIS before they begin working.

The DSO of the student will first provide the student with a new I-20 Form, that will prove that the student has been recommended for OPT-type employment.

Once completed, the student will have to fill and submit an I-765 form, i.e. Application for Employment Authorisation to USCIS and pay the necessary fee, which, if accepted, will lead to an Employment Authorisation Document from USCIS.

CPT students may not need any authorisation, however, their DSO (Designated School Official) should authorise the same.

The DSO will also provide the student with a new I-20 form, which proves that the DSO approves of CPT-type employment for the applying student.

CPT students will also need to provide a signed cooperative agreement or letter from their employer.

Application Fee

Since you will need to send a form to USCIS, there will be an application fee.

No application fee will be required in this case.

Working Hours

OPT students will be able to work 20 hours or fewer per week, while their school is in session.

Students will be allowed to work 20 hours or more per week if their school is not in session at the time.

CPT students can work full-time (20 hours or more per week) or part-time (20 hours or less.

Note: CPT Students employed full-time should try to keep their employment under 12 months if they wish to also work under an OPT.

Students employed part-time under CPT need not worry about this.

Have more queries about CPT and OPT? Register with us and speak to our study abroad experts to receive the best possible answers to your queries.

What is OPT?

The full form of OPT is Optional Training Programme, which is a flexible training programme designed for those with an F-1 visa to work in the US for up to 12 months. However, there are certain restrictions and guidelines to the programme that should be satisfied by anyone who wishes to work while studying in one of the top study abroad destinations.

Some of the guidelines that go along with OPT are as follows:

  • Students should find work that is in relation to their major or programme of study.

  • Students will only be eligible for an OPT after completing the first academic year of their programme.

  • Students who receive an OPT will only be able to work for 12 months in total.

An additional benefit of applying for an OPT is that students can work under OPT both, during their studies and after completing their studies. In both scenarios, students will be able to work part-time, i.e. 20 hours or fewer per week, or full time before the programme ends. However, it should be noted that if classes are in session, students will only be allowed to work 20 hours a week.

During the process of filling out to work while studying in the US, international students must contact their Designated School Official (DSO), who will provide them with the information and steps to begin working while studying. As per US Government regulations, international students are required to fill out an Application for Employment Authorisation form to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who, upon successful application, will send an Employment Authorisation Document.

What is CPT?

The full form of CPT is Curricular Practical Training and is a more rigid training programme, compared to OPT, for international students, that allows them to work while studying. However, as the name suggests, the work or internship, which can be paid or unpaid in nature, must be part of the curriculum of the programme the student is studying. Similar to OPT, there are certain regulations and guidelines that an interested student must satisfy.

To successfully be able to work under a CPT in the US, here are the regulations you need to satisfy:

  • Gaining practical experience should be part of the curriculum of the programme, where the work should be directly related to the programme itself.

  • The work or internship should be completed before the student graduates from the programme.

  • Similar to OPT, students will only be able to work part-time (20 hours per week) or full-time (20 hours or more per week).

One of the benefits of a CPT is that students can also apply for an OPT, however, students must ensure that they do not work full-time for 12 months. If you do so, you will lose your eligibility for an OPT.

If you are looking to work under a CPT, then it is recommended that you connect with your DSO (Designated School Official) who will help you through the entire process. Your DSO will help you apply for a CPT within the first semester if your curriculum requires it, however, some processes and forms need to be completed first.

As part of the deal, you will need to get a signed cooperative letter or agreement from your employer. Additionally, as mentioned above, you should ensure that your full-time employment does not reach 12 months, as that will lead to automatic ineligibility for an OPT at a later date during the programme. Nonetheless, if you are employed part-time, you will still be eligible for OPT.

Want to Know More About OPT vs CPT?

How Can I Extend My OPT Duration?

If you have applied for an OPT but wish to extend the period, then the US Government offers international students the opportunity to extend their OPT validity. However, this option remains available only for students studying STEM courses in the US, thus, this option is commonly known as the STEM OPT extension. Listed below is what you need to know about the STEM OPT Extension.

24-Month STEM OPT Extension

The 24-month STEM OPT extension will only be available for all F-1 students who are presently under a regular-period OPT, and can apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension if they meet the following criteria.

  • Students must be participating in the regular period OPT.

  • Students should have received their undergraduate or graduate degree in any one of the STEM fields, i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics.

  • The STEM degree should be granted by a SEVP-certified university or college.

  • Your choice of the employer should be a user of the E-verify programme.

  • Form I-983, which is the Training Plan for STEM OPT Students should be signed by you and your prospective employer.

Once you are found eligible for the extension, your DSO will verify that Form I-983 is complete and will store it with your student record. Subsequently, the DSO will also offer a new I-20 form signifying their recommendation for this type of employment. Students will then be required to fill out the I-765 form, requesting approval for employment authorisation, which if accepted, will lead to you receiving the I-766 form.

As per the US federal regulations, international students are allowed to continue their work on an expired OPT EAD or Employment Authorisation Document for a duration of 180 days provided the following conditions are maintained:

  • Candidates should be in a period of post-completion OPT.

  • Candidates should have in a proper and timely manner applied for the 24-month STEM OPT extension with the USCIS.

Thus, provided you have met all the conditions that have been mentioned above, you will receive a 24-month extension which will help you gain more training or work experience in the field of your studies.

OPT vs CPT: Which is Better for Indian Students?

To truly understand which option, i.e. OPT or CPT, is better for Indian students, it is important to be 100% sure of the programme they wish to pursue and what is required for the completion of the programme. Additionally, finding internships or paid jobs in every field of education can be a difficult task.

Therefore, if you are unsure of which course you wish to pursue in the US, then we recommend speaking with our study abroad experts who are dedicated to helping you narrow down the best course for you, depending on your interests, skills and qualifications.

However, a simple technique to confirm which practical training programme is better for Indian students, answering the following questions can help in choosing between CPT and OPT:

  • Is work experience part of my degree/programme curriculum?

  • If yes, do you plan to be employed during your studies and/or after graduation?

If your answer to the first question is 'no', then opt for an OPT, as one of the main requirements to receive a CPT is for work experience to be a part of your degrees curriculum. If the answer to the question is 'yes', then CPT is the path for you. However, as mentioned above, you can still apply for an OPT, but should you? For this answer the next question in line.

If your answer to the second question in the list is seeking employment during studies, then you probably do not need to apply for an OPT afterwards. However, if your answer is to continue your employment after your graduation, then you will need to meet the criteria that allow you to apply for an OPT after you have applied for a CPT.

Interested in learning more about studying in one of your dream locations or universities outside of India?Write to us at abroad@collegedekho.com and get your queries resolved by our team of counsellingexperts.

Confused About Studying and Working in the US?


Do I need to find work before applying for an OPT?

No, international students on an F-1 visa are not required to have a job before applying for an OPT. OPT is an F-1 visa work benefit allowing international students to gain professional experience during a period of 12 months in the relevant field. It should be noted that international students will only be given 90 days of unemployment before they are deemed in violation of their F-1 visa.

Who is eligible for an OPT in USA?

To be eligible for an OPT in USA, applicants must satisfy the following eligibility requirements, i.e. be a full-time student for at least one academic year by the time of application, hold an F-1 student visa in the USA at the time of application and have not applied for and used an OPT for the same degree level previously.

Is CPT better than OPT?

While there is no parameter where we can properly judge which practical training programme is better, both the CPT and OPT programmes are designed to provide you with valuable work experience as an international student. While one allows you to work as part of the curriculum and the other allows you to work either during or after studies, both allow you to gain experience beneficial in creating lucrative careers.

Can I change from CPT to OPT?

Yes, the federal rules for international students working in the US stipulate that they can change to OPT from CPT provided they meet the necessary requirements. CPT students will stand ineligible for OPT if they had been employed in a full-time CPT for 12 months or more. However, if you are employed in a full-time CPT for less than 12 months, you will still be eligible for an OPT.

Can I extend the duration of OPT in USA?

Yes, according to the current federal rules, all international students will be eligible to extend their OPT for 24 months, if they studied a STEM course and are participating in a regular OPT period. Moreover, students must be participating in the post-completion OPT, gain a STEM degree from a SEVP-certified university and sign a “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students” with their employer’s signature as well, among other requirements.

Can I work more than 20 hours per week under OPT?

Yes, international students are allowed to work over 20 hours per week under OPT, however, the type of job role and OPT chosen will influence this opportunity. For instance, Pre-completion OPT dictates that students can work more than 20 hours per week if school is not in session, while, in the case of Post-completion OPT, they can work over 20 hours per week if they are authorised for it.

Will I get paid while working under CPT in USA?

Yes, all international students with an F-1 visa can get paid for their work, provided they are employed in such type of a job. Since gaining professional experience under a CPT is usually done primarily for the sake of completing the degree, some companies may tend not to offer paid job roles. Nevertheless, several companies offer valuable job experience along with paying students undertaking the roles.

What does CPT in USA stand for?

The full form of CPT is the Curricular Practical Training programme, similar to the OPT programme being offered to F-1 visa holders only. Unlike the OPT programme, those opting for a CPT programme must first ensure that they are required to gain practical/professional experience as part of their curriculum. Additionally, international students will only be able to complete their internship or practical training during their studies.

What is the full form of OPT?

The full form of OPT is the Optional Practical Training programme, which is offered to international students with an F-1 visa. According to the federal regulations, F-1 visa holders will be able to work part-time or full-time under the OPT programme in the US up to 20 hours per week. The OPT programme is chosen by students wishing to gain professional experience rather than being required to do so.

Is CPT and OPT the same thing?

No, CPT and OPT are two different programmes made available to international students in the US. While both the practical training programmes are designed to allow international students to work either while studying or after their graduation. CPT is designed to allow international students to work only during their studies as part of their curriculum, OPT is designed to allow them to work both during and after their studies.

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