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. However, you may request pre-completion OPT under certain circumstances.

OPT Application Types


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


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.

*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


  • You can apply for a total of 12-months of OPT per academic level obtained (e.g. bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD).
  • Only access the I-765 form directly from the Forms section of the USCIS website! This is the only way to ensure that you are using the most recent version of the form.
  • An offer of employment is not required to submit the application for OPT.
  • All work while on OPT must be related to the field of study listed on your I-20.
  • You CANNOT begin employment until receipt of the EAD card, and you are permitted to work ONLY during the period specified on the card.

OPT Application Types

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