Own Your Journey

Season 5 Episode 04: Navigating the U.S. Work Experience – CPT vs. OPT for International Students

“Hello, everyone. You’re listening to the IgowithIGHO Podcast, bringing you guests with first-hand experience in studying abroad and seasoned personalities excelling in the workforce. We want you to own your journey and be the best you can be.
Now presenting your host, Igoo Kelly Ekakite.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the IgowithIGHO Podcast, the number one podcast in study abroad where inspiration meets action. Today’s topic is navigating the US work experience, CPT versus OPT for international student.
Now as an ex-international student, I’m so excited about this particular topic because this is my own alley. Now in this episode, we will go into the world of practical work experiences that’s available to international students in the US here. Now for this particular experience, there are two types.
The curricular practical training called CPT and the optional practical training called OPT, the Optional Practical Training. So remember the words CPT and OPT. Now as an international student, understanding the nuances of this program is crucial for making informed decisions about your own career path.
Now, because whether or not CPT and OPT is the gateway for you to go into the job market. Now join me as we explore the differences between CPT and OPT, the eligibility requirements, the application processes, and the implications for your future career endeavors. When we talk about the curriculum practical training called CPT, we know that it’s a program that allows international students studying in the US here on an F1 visa to gain practical work experience directly related to their field of study.
Now, it typically involves internship, it involves cooperating education or other work study programs that are integrated to your academic curriculum. So that means you have to relate to the course of study that you are ongoing. On the other hand, OPT, the Oceanic Practical Training, it’s another employment authorization program forced to F1 visa holders.
But in this case, it’s an opportunity for practical work experience, and it can be pursued during or after completion. But the question we’ll ask ourselves is why is practical work experience important for international students? For me, I believe it’s important because it offers invaluable opportunities for students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom, the knowledge they’ve gained, what you call the theoretical knowledge in the classroom to real world scenarios, to real world experiences.
And it helps bridge the gap between academic learning and professional practices. And in so doing, it enhances the skills, also helps to build a professional network. So let’s go in depth into what CPT is.
Now, like we said before, CPT is a curricular practical training, and we said it’s a program that permits the F1 visa holders, international students, to engage in practical work experiences. Don’t forget, but then it has to be related to the course of study that they are doing right now. And unlike OPT, CPT work must be an integral part of your academic curriculum.
So it has to relate to what you’re studying in of itself, because you’re taking it during school time, when you’re in classes, and when you’re still taking classes. Now, the eligibility for CPT requires enrollment for at least one academic year. So you must have been in the school for one year before you can even qualify for CPT.
I advise international students that the best time to do CPT is during the summer, so you can have time to work, you know, get experience, and also make money. It’s not all about just sitting and having a good time traveling around the country for summer. Have experience, because it’s important that when you’re done with CPT, OPT is there for you to get experience even more.
But they will ask you, what have you done so far? What experience do you have so far going forward? That’s why CPT in of itself is important.
But the question then is, what are CPT requirements?

Now, to be eligible for CPT, first of all, you must have studied as an F1 visa student for one year, you know, and also you must be enrolled in the service program that USCIS monitors. You also must take part in training that relates directly to your major area of study.
Now, before your CPT request is approved, remember you will have to have secured the training opportunity. That’s you have to get the job first before you get your CPT authorization approved. Now, I advise people to try to apply for at least two weeks before you wish to start working, because the authorization process itself takes about seven to ten days, you know.
But note that your employer will have an agreement with your school and may offer part-time or full-time work. But also if you choose to work full-time for 12 months on CPT, you could do that, but it means that you will lose your eligibility for OPT. However, working part-time on CPT would disqualify you from OPT.
We’ll go on a short break right now. We’ll come back from the short break. We’ll talk about OPT, its requirement, and the differences between CPT and OPT.
We’ll be right back.

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Hi, welcome back for a short break. Now, what is OPT, the Optional Practical Training? We have to go in-depth into it.
Remember, we said it is an employment authorization still that is valuable for international students that have the F1 visa. If your F1 visa is valid or your I-20 is valid, I-20 is also a document that shows your legality here in America. Now, it allows students, as we said before, to gain practical work experience directly related to the field of study.
Now, OPT can be posted in two main forms. Remember, two main forms. The pre-completion OPT, which are caused before the student’s program completion, and the post-completion OPT, which are caused after your program is completed.

Additionally, for those in STEM, the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students, your field may be eligible for two years, that’s 24 months extension of your OPT. So, find out more. But for us, it’s normally one year, an extension, allowing for an extended period of time for you to have more experience here, in the US.

But then, what are the requirements to be eligible for OPT?

First of all, you must have been a full-time student for a minimum of one year. If you want to do the pre-completion OPT, you must have to seek a job that relates to your major or study, like we said before.
And the school has to issue you a new I-20 that shows your OPT on that I-20. Now, once you have this form, you need to apply via USCIS. Of course, that’s the United States Citizenship and Education Services.

You have to fill the form I-765 to get work authorization. Now, it takes a while to get this authorization, so you have to start applying for your EAD three months, 19 days before you graduate. You also need to pay taxes for the money you make from OPT employment, and you have to fill out the W-4 tax form with your employer before you can get your first paycheck.
It’s important to do that, that even if you are working here at OPT, you’ll have to still pay your taxes because you’re right here in America. Now, what are the differences between CPT and OPT? Now, while both CPT and OPT allows you as an international student to engage in meaningful work experience here in America that relates to your course of study, now these programs have differences, you know, between them when it comes to what they stand for and how to get them.
The first one we’ll look at is academic requirement. Now, you can only work on CPT if the internship or other training opportunity is required by your academic program. So it must relate to your academic program as a first requirement.
Now, work through OPT on the other hand, can or should be related to your course of study, but it is not required to end your degree. You don’t need the OPT to end your degree. You do the OPT if you choose to do it pre-completion or you do it post-completion when you’re done with your degree.
Another one is employment timing. Now, CPT must be completed before you graduate because it’s more of an internship thereabouts, whereas OPT can be before after you leave school. It’s up to you, but as mentioned, working 12 months full time for CPT will make you ineligible for OPT.
But remember still, if you work three months in the summer, you’re good for CPT. Then you can also get a full-time OPT. So work part-time CPT to get a full-time OPT.
Another one is authorization requirement. Now, the OPT program requires you to apply for employment authorization through the USCIS, that’s through immigration. But the CPT does not have this requirement.
So CPT is approved by your international advisor. He or she approves CPT for you, unlike OPT where you have to go through USCIS itself. Now, application fees, another reason, the difference we could see between CPT, CPT does not have additional fees outside of your student visa requirement and tuition, whereas submitting an application for OPT through the USCIS requires a fee.
I think it’s up to like $400 or more than that now. So do well to make a query about OPT and how much it costs. Finally, for international students, CPT and OPT serves as a gateway to gaining the hands-on experience in the US job market, which can significantly enhance your competitiveness in the global workforce upon graduation.
Now, these experiences provide opportunities for cultural exchanges, for networking, for friendship, for personal growth, for enriching the overall educational experience for international students. And so to all international students out there considering CPT or OPT, I, for one, would encourage you to take the advantage of these opportunities to gain practical experience, to expand your skillset in order to build connection that could last a lifetime in your field. So I will advise you to embrace the challenges and the opportunities that come with working in a new environment.
And do not hesitate to seek guidance when you need so. From your academic advisor, from career counselors, from immigration experts, and even from all that go with EGLE, we’ll be here to help you along the way. So do want to reach out to all those people that seek “for guidance when you need to.
So I want to hear from you. Please, if you are an international student who has experienced CPT or OPT, if you are an American citizen now, or if you are on H1B, or if you are a permanent residency, and you want an international student, I still want to hear from you. Share your insights, your challenges, and your success stories with us.
Your experiences can inspire, you know, and inform others who are navigating this similar path like you are now. And also to international advisors that want to share their own experience working with international students, do want to reach out to us as well. We would like to hear your own story working with international students, navigating the path to success for them as well.
It will be wonderful to hear from you and to hear the experiences that you’ve been through. Well, I want to thank you all so much for joining me. Don’t forget to subscribe, to rate, and review our podcast on all podcast listening platforms at IgowithIGHO.
Please subscribe to us on YouTube, on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, on… Please follow us on Instagram, and send us a DM. We love to hear from you.
And also, we do put questions on the Spotify link. Please do well to answer those questions. We would like to hear from you as well, too.

Thank you for joining me today. Have a beautiful day.

From IgowithIGHO: Season 5 Episode 04: Navigating the U.S. Work Experience – CPT vs. OPT for International Students, May 6, 2024
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