University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

F – 1 Students

F-1 Work Options: Terms to Know

Paid, Unpaid and Volunteer Work

Some organizations do not pay college students to work since you are gaining experience and/or academic credit for your employment. It is important that international students understand the difference between paid, unpaid, and volunteer work so you can understand whether you will need work authorization.


Paid work for a company or organization.

Paid Employment

Employment where you receive pay or some kind of compensation. The pay or compensation could include an hourly wage, biweekly or monthly salary, stipend, bonus, tuition, and/or room and board (being allowed to live somewhere without paying rent).

Unpaid Employment

Employment where you receive no money or compensation at all.

ISSS recommends F-1 students who find a job in their major off-campus always get CPT authorization before they start working, even if the job first appears to be unpaid. Employers often offer a bonus or stipend for unpaid employment, and you will not legally be allowed to accept this pay if you have not obtained CPT authorization.


Someone who performs a service without pay. Usually the service is altruistic and the goal is to promote quality of life (for example, packaging food for the homeless; tutoring children in a school; picking up garbage in a public park, etc.). While you receive no pay, you may develop useful career skills such as leadership, teamwork, working with people from different cultures, and more.

WARNING: Some students think they are “volunteering” if they offer to work for a company through a class opportunity. The U.S. government does not consider employment to be “volunteering” any time you are paid (even if you volunteered for the job).