Optional Practical Training

Undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status can work towards getting practical training to complement their field of study.

This is called Optional Practical Training (OPT). There are two types: pre-completion and post-completion.

New OPT STEM Extention Requirements!

Your major must be eligible for the STEM OPT as determined by the Department of Homeland Security's approved list of majors that appear on the Department of Education CIP Code list of STEM majors.  Read more about the determination of STEM eligible majors at Study in the States .

OPT STEM extension checklist


I-983 Instruction

Maintaining your STEM OPT Extension

Pre-completion OPT

Pre-completion OPT is done before you graduate.

Post-completion OPT

Post-completion OPT is done after you graduate.



Watch opt workshop video/students/international/OPTWorkshop.mp4

Before you apply for post-completion OPT

Understand that

  • You are applying for an Employment Authorization Document commonly known as an EAD card.
  • This card will permit you to accept employment, apply for a social security card, and renew your driver's license.
  • Immigration defines employment as a job, internship, volunteer position, or starting your own business.
  • The employment must be related to your major.
  • You must be in the U.S. in active F-1 status to apply for OPT and that travel outside the U.S. is not permitted while your application is being processed.


    Before you apply for OPT

  • Be absolutely sure that this is your last term or semester.
  • Know that you are eligible to apply for one OPT for each degree level: associates, bachelors, masters, and doctorate.
  • Understand that when you choose a start date for your OPT, the dates cannot be changed, so think carefully about the start date you select when you apply.
  • If you realize after applying that you have to take more courses, you will lose a substantial portion of your OPT as your full-time OPT will be reduced to part-time until you complete your studies.
  • You cannot begin a new course of study while on OPT.
  • You must have a valid passport for at least 6 months.

Know when to apply

  • Your OPT start date must begin within 60 days of graduation. You cannot begin work before your start date or before you get your EAD card — even if you find a job.

The sooner you apply for OPT, the better.

  • Earliest you can apply: 90 days before graduation
  • Start date: Must always be within 60 days after graduation
  • Normal Processing Time: 90 days from receipt of application by USCIS
  • Latest you can apply: 59 days after graduation (avoid if possible)

Prepare for your application appointment

  • We have prepared a checklist of what you need to do before meeting with us to apply for OPT.

You must prepare all the items on the checklist prior to your appointment

If you do not bring all the required items to your appointment, we will have to reschedule your appointment since all items are required to accompany your application.


Application process

1. Meet with us

You will have a one-hour meeting with us. Be on time for this meeting!

We will mail your completed application.

2. Save your receipt

In about a month, you will receive a receipt that allows you to track your application. Keep this in a safe place.

It takes between 90 and 120 days to process and receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.

3. Track your application progress

Your receipt will have a tracking number on it. Use this to track the progress of your application online.

4. Receive your EAD card

Your EAD card will arrive within 120 days, but you can request an expedited card after 90 days.

After you get your EAD card, you can apply for a Social Security card.

5. Start working

You cannot begin work until:
  1. You receive your EAD card
  2. It is the start date you have chosen
Application costs

Cost to apply

The cost to apply is $410.

The preferred method of payment is a money order. Money orders can be obtained at any local grocery store, 7-11, or drug store for a small fee. You will need to exchange cash for the money order.

You can also pay by credit card by bringing a completed Authorization for Credit Card payment form to your OPT appointment. 

Cash is not accepted.


Cost to mail

The cost to mail your application is $7.

You may bring cash or a check or money order made out to Cal Lutheran.


Before OPT

You cannot travel outside the U.S. while you have an OPT application in pending status.

Once you are in possession of your employment authorization document (EAD card), you may travel and return with an employment letter.

During OPT

Travel during your OPT is permitted if you have:

  1. Valid visa
  2. Employment letter from your employer which states when you will return
  3. Signed I-20 from us
  4. EAD card
Maintaining your status

This is your responsibility!

You do not need to come into our office during this time, but you do need to keep us updated. We report this information to Homeland Security.

Let us know:
  • Where you are working
  • Current U.S. address

Update Your Information


Must be related to your degree

Your employment must be related to your degree. Business majors must look for a business-related job, while biology majors need something science-related.

Employment includes:
  • Internship
  • Job
  • Self-employment
  • Volunteering
You are entitled to:
  • 90 days of unemployment
  • 10 days of grace between jobs

Beginning another academic program

You are not allowed to begin another academic program while on OPT.

If you begin a new academic program, then your OPT automatically ends with the transfer of your SEVIS record for the new academic program.

Changing status to H-1b

To change your status from F-1 OPT to H-1b, you must be sponsored by your employer while still on OPT.

Important dates

  • Applications: Accepted starting April 1
  • H-1b start date: October 1

After you apply

After you apply for H-1b, you can continue working on your OPT until a decision is made beyond the expiration of your OPT.

This is called Cap Gap.

We will issue an extended I-20 to reflect the Cap Gap when provided with evidence of a pending application.