Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to your major field of study. If you want to work off-campus as an F-1 student, one way to do so is to be approved for OPT. And remember, once you are authorized to work, you must first have a Social Security number in order to be paid. You cannot begin work on OPT until you receive your approval in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and it is within the dates listed on your EAD.

You are granted one 12-month period PER DEGREE LEVEL.
One for Bachelor’s, one for Master’s and one for Ph.D. For example, someone who obtains two master’s will only be given ONE period of OPT for their degrees.
OPT is very flexible:

The job can be for any company or organization anywhere in the U.S.

The only restrictions are:

  • Job must be within your field of study.
  • Job must be appropriate to your degree level.
  • For example, if you are a Ph.D. in Accounting, a job as a data entry clerk would not satisfy requirements. Also, if you are studying Computer Science, a job as a fashion stylist would not work.
  •  Rule of thumb for deciding: If anyone from USCIS asks how your OPT work relates to your field of study, you must be able to rationally explain it.

Who can apply for opt

  • You must have been a full time student for at least one academic year.
  • You must currently be in F-1 status.
  • You must be in good academic standing and be making normal progress toward finishing your degree.
  • You must not have used more than 12 months of OPT in the past at your current degree level.
  • You do NOT need to have a job offer in order to apply for OPT.

OPT Duration

You can get a maximum of 12 months of OPT for each degree level you complete. If you are studying within certain fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) you may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT.

When you can use OPT

You can use your OPT:

  • before you finish your program (this is called Pre-Completion OPT)
  • after you finish your program (this is called Post-Completion OPT)
  • or a combination of the two, as long as the total amount of OPT does not exceed 12 months.

When can you use your OPT?

You can use it pre-graduation or post-graduation; however, in 99% of the cases, students decide to use their OPT after graduation. This gives them the opportunity to work a complete year anywhere in the US at a company of their choice, which looks best on a resume. Sometimes, OPT is also used as a bridge to a possible H-1B visa.

Applying for OPT

Contact the university’s International Student Office to discuss the application process with the DSO.

How long does it take to get OPT

You need to plan ahead in order to be able to use OPT. It takes around 3-4 months to get approved for OPT. It takes this long because:


  1. You need your academic department to sign off on a request form (1-2 weeks depending on your department).
  2. You need the OGS to prepare a new I-20 for you recommending the OPT (up to 2 weeks).
  3. You need the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to approve your application (up to 90 days)