HomeEducational StagesInternshipWhat to Know About Curricular Practical Training

What to Know About Curricular Practical Training

Prospective international students may have come across terms like OPT, for Optional Practical Training, and CPT, for Curricular Practical Training, while researching U.S. universities. For those who hope to gain work experience while studying in the U.S., it’s important to have a solid understanding of these training options.

Here’s what prospective international students need to know about CPT, a type of off-campus employment authorization in which the work must be related to a program of study and must be completed before graduation.

CPT program eligibility. Experts say international undergraduate students who hold F-1 immigration status are eligible for CPT after they have been enrolled full time in a degree program for one full academic year. The one-year requirement does not apply to graduate students in F-1 status if their graduate program requires participation in CPT.

“There are consistent general eligibility requirements, such as maintenance of valid F-1 status and practical training directly related to the degree program. However, federal regulations on CPT are quite vague, so it is up to each institution to develop its own CPT policy and procedure that match institutional policies and procedures,” says Samantha McCabe, assistant director for SEVIS compliance with the University of Wisconsin—Madison‘s International Student Services. SEVIS refers to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which is used by the U.S. government to maintain information on international students.

Portland State University has a few programs that require practical experience as part of the degree, says Christina Luther, director of the school’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services. Therefore, she says her office requires students interested in CPT opportunities to register for at least one academic credit during each term they are engaged in their practical training experience. “This is not explicitly required by the Department of Homeland Security, but in order to be on the safe side, we require it,” Luther says.

“Avoid comparing your friend’s experience at another U.S. institution, or even your own experience at a previous U.S. institution, because the CPT policies and procedures are likely to differ,” McCabe says.

Application process. Experts advise that each university may have varying application procedures, but the process typically begins when a student secures a work offer and then must complete the school’s CPT application. Different types of work experience are covered by CPT, such as an internship, co-op or practicum.

“We ask students to allow three to five business days for ISSS to review and process a CPT request if the request is complete,” says Laura Buhs, assistant director with the University of Denver‘s International Student & Scholar Services.

Luther says CPT applications often require follow-up. For example, she says offer letters may not contain required details, such as whether it is for part-time or full-time employment, name and address of the employer, work location and duration of an internship. Luther says her office often gets incomplete offer letters, which can delay employment authorization.

“So, we recommend that they apply two weeks before their internship begins,” Luther says.

Vietnamese national Minh Doan, who is pursuing a master’s in accountancy at the University of Denver, says the CPT process has been easy and straightforward. Although his graduate program did not require an internship, he participated in one for credit. He says the CPT process didn’t require a lot of application materials and that it took only a few days to receive approval.

“The fact that CPT is handled by individual universities rather than by the bureaucratic system of the government genuinely affects the efficiency of the process,” Doan says.

McCabe says the application processing time at the University of Wisconsin—Madison is about 15 business days due to the school’s large population.

“It is always a good idea to review your ISS office policy on CPT to determine allowable CPT dates, course enrollment requirements and other relevant information so that all parties are prepared – student, employer, career/academic adviser and ISS,” McCabe says.

Impact on OPT eligibility. Experts say students can use as much CPT time as is required for their degree program. However, if students use a total of 12 months or more of full-time CPT, they are not eligible for Optional Practical Training.

OPT is a type of training that provides a 12-month work period for students on an F-1 visa to complete before or after graduation. Pre-completion OPT allows international students to hold a job during their studies, while post-completion OPT, the more popular option, allows them to work part time or full time after graduation.

“Per a federal regulation, students who do not exceed 365 days of full-time CPT are eligible for OPT, assuming they have met all other requirements,” Buhs says.

McCabe says full-time CPT is defined as more than 20 hours per week and notes that part-time CPT does not affect a student’s eligibility to apply for post-completion OPT.

“However, it is important to understand that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reviews and adjudicates OPT applications, so it is ultimately their decision to authorize OPT,” McCabe says.

Luther says she has heard reports of USCIS counting part-time CPT authorizations along with full-time CPT authorizations toward the 12-month limit, but so far has not seen any OPT denials resulting from this.

“Because USCIS seems to be regarding CPT authorizations much more strictly, we are cautioning students about using too much CPT while they are within their programs of study,” Luther says.

Based on his experience, Doan encourages prospective international students who plan to pursue work training become familiar with CPT.

“Thanks to the simple nature of the CPT process, the student can focus completely on getting an internship,” Doan says.

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


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