4 Main Differences between CPT and OPT

When you are an international student and you want to gain financial freedom (hashtag workworkwork) and/ or work experience, you have two options: the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and the Optional Practical Training (OPT). Both are quite similar, although there are some differences and restrictions one must know in order to exploit the maximum of both programs.

In two previous articles we already explained the characteristics, requirements, restrictions of CPT and the process of application. So, we are not going to repeat this info now, if you are not familiar with the program, you can go and check the previous posts.

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a program that allows students to be employed (N.B. The work description and duties must be related to the study major) after they finish their first year of studies. OPT can be made before or after graduation, but it is important to know that it could be 12 months maximum. (Remember, you can make CPTs every semester after your first year, but if you exceed the 12 months of work, you won’t be allowed to apply for OPT). This puts two interesting strategies to reflect on:

You finish your first year, and you apply for OPT, you make your OPT and you finish it. Now you can apply for CPTs for a total maximum of 12 months (full-time employment). However, making OPT after your first year could not be as fruitful as after finishing your degree when you will gain much more knowledge to put into practice.

You finish your first year, apply for CPT for one semester only, and then you won’t work till graduation because you won’t lose your right to apply for OPT. This way you can put all your knowledge into practise after you finish your studies, you extend somehow your stay in the States, but you have a big period of non-employment in between your first CPT and OPTs which means less financial resources.

Of course, there are a lot more strategies, but I present you the extremities here. Every one could decide which works best for him, or could find another decision that could reflect his financial and educational needs. Just remember to build your own strategy, to be careful with the deadlines and the time and cycle restrictions, and the relationship between the two programs.

Differences between CPT and OPT:

So, let’s go back to the differences between CPT and OPT. The first big difference between both programs is that one for the OPT application it is not necessary to have a job offer (which you must have in order to apply for a CPT.

The second big difference is the total period of the programs. The CPT’s total cycle is 12 months, and if you work all the twelve months you cannot make the OPT later (as we have already discussed). For the OPT, the period is also 12 months, but for some majors you could have it more, with STEM OPT extension.

Talking about the full-time work option, for the CPT this could happen only during off-session, and for OPT one could perform full-time employment during vacations.

There are some differences regarding employers too. On OPT you have the freedom to choose any employer as long as the employment you will perform is related to your field of study. On CPT however, there are more restrictions, and students could choose employer from the SEVIS and I-20 list.

So, these are the main differences. Knowing both programs is crucial to build the strategy that will work best for you. My advice is to not stick to just one, but to try both programs in order to experience all the employer-employee relations and to take the most of your international studies. The richer the experience, the brighter the future. Good luck!

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