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CPT Vs OPT: Which is better?


As a student about to graduate, you might find yourself pondering over OPT and CPT. These are important decisions that can shape your career in the USA. What do these terms even mean? How do they differ, and more importantly, which one is the right fit for your career aspirations in the USA? This article isn't just another piece of content; it's a compass to guide you through the intricate maze of CPT vs OPT. We delve deep, unravelling the mysteries of CPT and OPT, offering insights, specifics, and crucial data that light up your path.

Whether it's understanding the nitty-gritty of OPT means or decoding the specifics of CPT means, we've got you covered. Expect to find detailed comparisons, eligibility criteria, and step-by-step guides. So, let's embark on this journey together and discover which of CPT or OPT aligns best with your academic journey and career trajectory.

Meet Riya, a bright student from Bangalore, India, who dreamt of studying Computer Science in the USA. Facing the daunting task of navigating the complexities of work authorisations like OPT and CPT, Riya was overwhelmed. She chose a program with an internship component, aligning with CPT requirements. However, she soon realised she wanted more practical experience post-graduation. After careful consideration and research, Riya applied for OPT, which allowed her to work with a leading tech firm in Silicon Valley. 

What is the Difference between OPT and CPT?

Understanding OPT and CPT can sometimes feel like solving a complex puzzle. OPT and CPT are two forms of work authorisation for international students in the USA under the F-1 visa. They are similar in their goal to provide practical work experience but differ in structure, requirements, and timing. Let's explore these differences to help you decide between CPT vs OPT.


CPT (Curricular Practical Training)

OPT (Optional Practical Training)


CPT is a type of work authorisation for F-1 students, which is an integral part of the established curriculum, including alternate work/study, internship, or cooperative education.

OPT is temporary employment directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study.


Must be enrolled in a study program for at least one full academic year and have a job offer related to your major.

Available both before and after completion of the educational program, but different rules apply.


Can be used throughout your academic program, but limited to 20 hours per week during the school term.

Up to 12 months per educational level, with a 24-month extension for STEM students.

Application Process

Requires a job offer and authorisation from your school’s International Student Office before starting work.

Must apply for an Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) from USCIS and can start work only after receiving EAD.

Impact on Future Work Authorisations

If you engage in full-time CPT for 12 months or more, you are ineligible for OPT at the same educational level.

Utilising OPT does not affect future work authorisations, but the 24-month STEM extension has specific employer requirements.

What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) forms a vital part of the OPT and CPT equation, tailored for students who wish to gain practical experience in their field of study while still in school. Understanding what CPT means is pivotal in your journey towards integrating academic learning with professional development. Let's explore the intricacies of CPT:

Eligibility Criteria

  1. Academic Standing: Must be enrolled in a degree program for a minimum of one academic year.
  2. Course Requirement: The training must be an integral part of your established curriculum.
  3. Visa Status: Applicable only for students with F-1 visa status.

Documentation Necessities

  1. Endorsed I-20: Your I-20 form must be endorsed by your institution's Designated School Official (DSO).
  2. Proof of Job Offer: A letter from the employer detailing the job role, location, and how it's related to your course.
  3. Academic Advisor's Approval: Certification from your academic advisor validating the necessity of CPT for your course.

Key Features of CPT

  1. Work Hours: Part-time (20 hours per week) during academic sessions and full-time (more than 20 hours) during breaks.
  2. Duration Limit: No official limit, but 12 months of full-time CPT makes you ineligible for OPT.
  3. Credit Accumulation: Some institutions might require the CPT to be credit-bearing, which can add to your total academic credits.
  4. Processing Time: Generally faster than OPT, as it doesn't require United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approval.

When contemplating CPT vs OPT, it's crucial to understand that CPT is more structured, requiring direct correlation with your academic program. Unlike OPT, which offers flexibility post-graduation, CPT is deeply embedded within your study curriculum. This distinction is essential when deciding between OPT or CPT.

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a significant part of the OPT and CPT debate, especially for students aiming to extend their learning beyond the classroom into the real world. Grasping what OPT means is crucial for those looking to harness practical work experience in their field of study in the U.S. Here's a detailed breakdown of OPT:

Eligibility Requirements

  1. Duration of Study: You must have completed at least one full academic year in a U.S. educational institution.
  2. Field of Study: The job must be directly related to your major area of study.
  3. Visa Status: Available exclusively for students holding an F-1 visa.

Documentation Essentials

  1. Form I-20: Updated and endorsed by your college's DSO.
  2. Employment Authorisation Document (EAD): Issued by USCIS, this document is mandatory before commencing work.
  3. Proof of Employment: A job offer or a letter from your employer is required within 90 days of starting OPT.

Application Process

  1. Timeline: Apply up to 90 days before and 60 days after program completion.
  2. USCIS Approval: Processing times can vary, generally taking around 90 to 120 days.

Features of OPT

  1. Duration: Standard OPT allows for 12 months of employment, which can be extended for an additional 24 months for STEM graduates.
  2. Work Type: No restriction on the number of jobs, but all must be related to your field of study.
  3. Part-time/Full-time: During studies, OPT is limited to part-time (20 hours/week). After graduation, it can be full-time.

When considering CPT vs. OPT, it's essential to recognise that OPT provides a broader scope of work experience after the completion of your academic program. Unlike CPT, which is integrated into your curriculum, OPT offers flexibility and a more extended period to gain valuable work experience related to your major. This is a critical factor to weigh in when deciding between OPT or CPT.

So, what are OPT and CPT? They're not just options; they're your gateways to connecting academic learning with the professional world. Opting for OPT means you are taking a significant step towards applying your academic knowledge in real-world scenarios, a move that could greatly enhance your career prospects after graduation. Understanding the distinction between CPT vs. OPT is crucial in making this important choice.

What is the OPT Cap-Gap Extension?

In the realm of OPT and CPT, there's a critical aspect known as the OPT Cap-Gap Extension. This provision bridges the gap that could occur between the end of a student's OPT and the start of their H-1B status, ensuring they maintain legal status in the U.S. during this transitional period. Understanding the specifics of the OPT Cap-Gap Extension is essential for students navigating the CPT vs OPT decision, especially those aiming to transition to H-1B visa status.

Eligibility and Key Features of the OPT Cap-Gap Extension

Navigating the eligibility for the OPT Cap-Gap Extension is vital for students considering OPT or CPT. This extension is a crucial factor, especially for those currently on OPT. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Current OPT Status: You must be actively participating in approved OPT or within your 60-day grace period post-completion of studies.
  2. H-1B Petition: An employer needs to have filed an H-1B petition on your behalf, aiming for a change of status effective from October 1 of the following fiscal year.
  3. What are OPT and CPT in this context? They are pathways that could lead to this extension opportunity. The OPT Cap-Gap Extension has several key features:
  4. Extension of OPT: This benefit automatically extends your OPT authorisation until September 30, provided your H-1B petition is filed and received in time.
  5. Continued Work Authorisation: It allows you to continue your employment without interruption during the cap-gap period.
  6. Status Bridge: It helps in maintaining your F-1 status up until your H-1B employment commences on October 1.

The process involves an update of your I-20 by your school's DSO to reflect the change in status, and the H-1B petitioning employer must be registered with the E-Verify program.

For students weighing their options between OPT and CPT, understanding the OPT Cap-Gap Extension is essential. It offers a safety net for those on OPT, enabling a smooth transition to H-1B status without the worry of losing work authorisation or having to leave the U.S. This is particularly relevant for students in STEM fields, who often utilise OPT to gain valuable work experience before moving to H-1B visa sponsorship.

In summary, understanding the nuances of OPT and CPT is crucial for any international student planning to study in the USA. While CPT offers practical training as part of your curriculum, OPT provides broader, post-study work opportunities. Whether you choose CPT or OPT depends on your academic and career aspirations. For expert guidance on navigating these options and maximising your international study experience, reach out to AECC. Our experienced team is here to support you every step of the way, from choosing the right program to ensuring you make the most of your time in the USA.


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