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Employment Overview

Practical Training FAQs

The term “Practical Training” refers to two specific types of employment authorization which enable F-1 students to work off campus to gain employment experience or additional knowledge in their field of study. There are two types of practical training:

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT):
    • Practical work experience that is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with your level of study. OPT can include:
      • Pre-Completion OPT: authorized before completing program of study
        • Full-time or part-time during winter or summer breaks
        • Part-time while classes are in session (no more than 20 hours per week)
      • Post-Completion OPT: authorized after completing all coursework
        • Post-Completion OPT must be full-time (at least 20 hours per week)
        • Graduate students who have completed all coursework and only have their thesis, dissertation or the equivalent to complete may apply for Post-Completion OPT
    • STEM Extension: an additional 24 months of OPT for students with degrees in eligible STEM fields
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT): an integral part of an established curriculum, directly related to the student's major field of study.
    • Work experience required to complete one’s degree program
    • Students must receive academic credit specifically for participating in CPT
    • May include internships, cooperative education programs, thesis research, or independent study

Note: the distinction between Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is that the former enhances or enriches an academic experience, while the latter is required to meet the academic or curricular degree requirements.

  • F-1 students are granted a maximum of 12 months of full-time Optional Practical Training during or following each advancing degree level.
  • Students with degrees in designated STEM fields may eligible for a 24-month STEM extension beyond the initial 12 months of OPT.
  • Part-time OPT accrues at a rate of 50%. If a student works on part-time OPT for 4 months, only 2 months of OPT is deducted from the 12 months of available OPT.
  • There is no time limitation for Curricular Practical Training, however a student who participates in full-time CPT for 12 or more months loses their eligibility for OPT at the same degree level.
Note: USCIS defines part-time employment as 20 hours per week or less, and full-time employment as anything over 20 hours per week.

To be eligible for CPT or OPT, F-1 students must:

  • Have been in active F-1 status for at least one continuous academic year (fall and spring semester)
  • Be in good academic standing as defined by UNCW policy
  • Be maintaining lawful F-1 status, including but not limited to:
    • Keeping your passport and I-20 valid at all times during your program of study
    • Maintaining full-time enrollment
    • Reporting all U.S. address changes to OISS within 10 days of moving