Basics of OPT

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment authorization for international students in F-1 status. 

OPT allows you to work in a job off-campus that is directly related to your major field of study. OPT is limited to 12 months per degree level, and may be used before or after you complete your UMN academic program.

If you are a student in J-1 status, please see ISSS information about Academic Training.

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To be eligible to apply for OPT, you must:

  1. Be in valid F-1 status
  2. Have completed at least one academic year of full-time study in the U.S.
  3. Pursue a job directly related to your major
  4. Complete the ISSS Online OPT Workshop and receive a new I-20 recommending OPT

You are not eligible if you:

  1. Have been authorized 12 or more months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at your current degree level
  2. Were previously authorized for OPT at a higher degree level (if this is your case consult with an ISSS advisor)

OPT Categories


OPT that will be done after you complete your degree program. Most students choose this category.


You may use your 12 months of OPT in sections. Any pre-completion OPT that you receive will be subtracted from your total 12 months. This category is rarely used.

Most students choose to use Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for off-campus work authorization before they complete their degree. Except in rare cases, CPT time is not subtracted from your OPT time.

If you do chose to do Pre-completion OPT, you must know the following:

  • Academic Year. During the fall or spring semesters. The OPT authorization is for a maximum of 20 hours per week. If you have on- and off-campus jobs, the combination cannot exceed a total of 20 hours per week.
  • Vacation Period. For example, over the summer break. The OPT authorization may be part-time (less than or equal to 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week).

Applying for OPT

The first step in applying for OPT is to request a new OPT I-20 from ISSS. Learn more about the application process.

It is also important that you understand the timeline for applying for OPT as it is limited. Applications received outside of the timelines described will be denied.

Post-completion applications

You can submit your OPT recommendation request in MyISSS 100 days before you expect to complete your studies. USCIS will accept your OPT application no earlier than 90 days before and no later than 60 days after your completion of studies date. If USCIS receives your OPT application outside this time span, they will deny it. 

Pre-completion applications

You can submit your OPT recommendation request in MyISSS 100 days before your requested employment start date.

Learn more about the application process.

30-Day Window

The first step of applying for OPT will be for you to request an OPT I-20 from ISSS. USCIS must receive your OPT application no later than 30 days after the "date issued" on your OPT I-20. This requirement applies to post- and pre-completion OPT.

OPT Extension

There are some cases where a student may receive more than 12 months of OPT.

  • If you complete a new degree at a higher level in the U.S., you are eligible for another 12 months of OPT. For example, if you complete a bachelor's degree, receive OPT, then you complete a master's degree, you are eligible for 12 more months of OPT.
  • If you complete a degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) field, you are eligible for a 24-month extension of your OPT.

Graduate Students

I’m a grad student in a Plan A, Plan B, or thesis program. I still have thesis credits remaining. Can I apply for post-completion OPT so I can work full-time?

Yes, this is possible. However, ISSS cautions graduate students with thesis credits remaining, who are considering post-completion OPT, because a program extension is not possible.

  • If you cannot finish your Plan A, Plan B, or thesis by the end of your OPT grace period (60 days after OPT end date), you cannot request a program extension (extension of your I-20).
  • Contact ISSS to discuss your plan with an advisor.
Last updated: March 25, 2022