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CPT Guide for International Students: Eligibility, Application, & Authorizations

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work visa usa
By Shorelight Team
Published on April 15, 2021

Learn how to work or get an internship in your area of study in the United States.

A female international student wearing a lanyard and ID smiles for the camera at her job

Want to work or intern in the United States? Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is one way that international students can gain professional training experience in their field while studying in the US. With CPT, international students can hold full- or part-time internships, work/study positions, or other roles, as long as the training happens before the program end date, is central to their course of study, and meets a few other CPT work authorization requirements. Read on to learn more. 

What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

CPT is one of two types of practical training F-1 student visa holders can qualify for while studying in the United States. (The other type is called Optional Practical Training or OPT.) Practical training can be considered an internship or even a paying job that is related to your field of study. CPT provides an opportunity for the types of hands-on experiences that are essential when planning your career.

Several different rules apply to the two types of practical training. For instance, whether you are applying for CPT or OPT, you cannot currently be studying English as a second language. The most important thing to remember is that CPT must happen before you graduate or finish your program. In contrast, OPT can occur before or after you complete your program. 

Learn more about Optional Practical Training >

According to the United States Department of Homeland Security — DHS.gov — the following qualifications help define Curricular Practical Training: 

  • Training relates directly to your major

  • Training is integral to your program curriculum

  • Your Designated School Official (DSO) authorizes your CPT in SEVIS, and updates your official I-20 form

  • CPT occurs before your program end date on your form I-20

  • Each CPT work authorization is for a specific employer and a specific period only

  • You must have a training opportunity offer before CPT can be authorized

  • Your CPT must be officially confirmed before you can start working

  • You can hold more than one CPT work authorization at the same time

  • One year of full-time CPT eliminates your OPT eligibility

How Long is CPT for International Students?

CPT international student visa requirements state that your training must end before the end date on your form I-20. In other words, you retain CPT eligibility as long as you are enrolled full time in your program and actively pursuing your degree. You can hold multiple CPT positions and even more than one simultaneously; however, if you have 12 months’ total CPT employment, you cannot qualify for OPT. 

Have questions about OPT and CPT eligibility? Reach out to a Shorelight advisor

As a F-1 visa holder, you can work full time with CPT authorization. Students must choose between full-time CPT and part-time CPT. Students who pick full-time CPT may work as many as 40 hours a week, while students who choose part-time CPT may work up to 20 hours per week. The choice you make could affect your ability to qualify for OPT after graduation, so make sure you understand your options first. 

Who Is Eligible for CPT?

To qualify as a F-1 student CPT visa holder studying in the United States, you have to meet the following requirements: 

  • Your university is a SEVP-certified institution

  • You are enrolled full time and have been a student for at least one year

  • You are not studying English as a second language

  • You have already received an offer for an internship or job

If you meet these qualifications, you should have CPT eligibility and can apply for a CPT visa in the United States.

CPT Application Process

When applying for CPT, the first thing you need is a job offer letter from your prospective employer. Make sure your letter is signed and printed on the official letterhead of your employer. The letter must also have the following information: 

  • Your name

  • Job title

  • Job description

  • Address of employment

  • Start and end dates of your CPT employment

  • Whether you are working full time or part time

When you have the letter from your employer, you can begin the CPT work authorization and CPT visa application process with your university-appointed DSO. Your DSO will update your I-20 and issue you a new copy with your updated CPT status included. 

Since CPT international student rules only require a meeting with your DSO and since CPT is often a scheduled part of a degree program, many students and officials say it is easier and takes less time to obtain CPT than OPT. That said, it is always wise to plan. Reach out to the DSO at your university before you begin the CPT international student application process, so you know what to expect when you are ready to start applying for CPT. 

CPT Authorization 

Once you are eligible for CPT F-1 visa status, you will receive a CPT international student authorization notation on page three of your I-20 from your DSO. Remember, your CPT work authorization is only good for one employer, over a specific period, and at one particular location. This information — as it pertains to your position — is included in your page-three authorization details. You must adhere to these work specifications to retain your CPT eligibility status. If you see an error or have any questions, you must see your DSO as soon as possible. 

CPT Student Job Requirements

There are several opportunities to qualify for and utilize a CPT visa while studying at a university in the United States. Some programs — such as the Global MBA program at Adelphi University — have professional development opportunities as part of their curricula. As you start to research options for your degree program, look for US university departments that can align with CPT international student opportunities. 

Find more career development opportunities through Shorelight >

To qualify for CPT international student requirements, you must train as part of your program. For example, you may need to hold an internship in your study area as a prerequisite to graduation. Besides, the training must apply to the area of study in which you major.

For example, you would not be CPT eligible if you get a work-study role in engineering, but are studying for a degree in English. While the government says you are allowed to work either full- or part-time, your school may have a policy restricting how much you can work each semester or with a full load of classes. It is important that you understand your school’s policies before committing to a position. 

If you are looking for internship and employment opportunities after you graduate, you may be interested in OPT instead of CPT. 

Have questions about CPT international student requirements, CPT eligibility, or the CPT visa process? Our helpful counselors can provide answers. 

Contact a Shorelight counselor for CPT F-1 assistance >