F-1 Employment Options

As an F-1 student, you may pursue off-campus work through Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training (OPT) after receiving authorization. These pages cover OPT and its three application types.

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT is temporary employment authorization allowing F-1 students the opportunity to gain practical experience in their field of study. OPT is most often awarded upon completion of an academic degree, for a 12-month period.

Types of OPT applications

The following application-types are available under OPT authorization:

  • Post-Completion OPT: The most common type of OPT; it is used after your I-20 and degree are finished. (More on Post-Completion OPT)
  • Pre-Completion OPT: This type, which is used before the end date listed on your I-20 (usually during the summer vacation and), is only authorized if CPT is not an option. (More on Pre-Completion OPT)
  • 17-Month STEM Extension OPT: This extension of the post-completion OPT period is for students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program. (More on STEM Extension OPT)

Eligibility

Before proceeding with the OPT application process, please ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria listed below:

  • Be in lawful full-time F-1 status for full academic year
  • Be in good academic standing with the university
  • Have a valid passport
  • Have not had more than 12-months of full-time CPT
  • Be physically present in the U.S., in F-1 status at the time of application

Apply for Optional Practical Training

Regardless of the type of OPT application, the general process is the same:

  1. Gather the appropriate materials and bring all documents to the IO* during walk-in hours for review. 
  2. Pick up the new I-20’s from the IO* showing the OPT recommendation on the third page.
  3. Mail entire application to USCIS. 
  4. USCIS sends Receipt Notice within 2-4 weeks of filing application
  5. Wait to receive EAD card in the mail. Work cannot begin until you have the EAD and not until the start date listed on the card.

*Note: If you are not in the Evanston/Chicago area you may coordinate the application with your International Student Advisor via email and have the I-20's sent to you using the Document Mailing Request

Next steps

Read about the specifics of the various OPT options, including additional requirements and detailed application instructions.