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Should I participate in OPT while attending school (pre-completion OPT), after graduation (post-completion OPT), or both?

There are a few things to consider: 

  • An F-1 student may be authorized up to a total of 12 months of full-time practical training at each educational level (e.g., undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate). If the student chooses to participate in pre-completion OPT, he or she may not work more than 20 hours per week.
  • During pre-completion OPT, the student’s eligible period of post-completion OPT will be reduced by one (1) month for every two (2) months of part-time pre-completion OPT that is worked when he or she graduates. 
  • Students who graduate with a qualified Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree, and are currently in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree, may apply for a 24-month STEM extension of their post-completion OPT.

Where do I apply for OPT?


What happens if I move after I mail my OPT application?

The U.S. Postal Service will not forward mail from USCIS if the address on the envelope does not match the name on the mailbox. 

How long does it take to get approved for OPT?

Approximately three months from the date USCIS receives your application, times may vary – but always expect approximately three months. 

How long does it take to get the Receipt Notice/Notice of Action (NOA)?

Approximately two-to-three weeks after USCIS receives your application you should received a Receipt Notice/Notice of Action. You might verify with your bank whether your check has been cashed. If so, the NOA is likely on the way.

Can I travel after program completion, but before EAD Card is received?

  • There is a higher risk associated with travel and return while your OPT is pending after the program completion date. If there are any problems with your application, you may not be able to respond to USCIS in a timely manner, which could delay processing of your EAD. 
  • If your OPT application is denied while outside the US, you will not be able to re-enter the US in F-1 status and will not be able to reapply. 
  • If OPT Application is pending (12 month only, not STEM); you must have a valid passport with an unexpired F-1 visa stamp, Signed I-20 Form (within the preceding 6 months), I-797C Notice of Action Receipt from USCIS, and Employment Offer. 
  • If a STEM Extension Application is pending: Travel is NOT allowed after the 12 month OPT has expired and while the STEM Extension EAD is pending. Travel is permitted if you have a valid 12 month EAD card for re-entry along with valid passport with unexpired F-1 visa stamp, Signed I-20 Form (within the preceding 6 months), unexpired EAD Card, Proof of employment. 

What if I travel while on OPT and my F-1 Visa has expired?

If you are traveling abroad and your F-1 visa has expired, you must obtain a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S. When going to your visa interview, bring a valid passport, valid I-20 with travel endorsements from the past 6 months, EAD Card, employment offer letter, and evidence of sufficient funds. Also, check the U.S. Department of State web site for more information about getting a visa and specific requirements at the local embassy or consulate. 

Should I participate in Post-Completion OPT, or Pre-Completion OPT?

For most students, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a better option. It allows for off-campus internship/work authorization in your field of study without using any of the 12 months of OPT time. If you have already used your CPT eligibility, you may want to consider Pre-Completion OPT. 

How much time is allowed for unemployment during OPT?

During OPT authorization, each day that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as one day of unemployment. Students on post-completion OPT may not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment or the student will be out of valid F-1 status. Students who receive a STEM extension are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days of unemployment over their entire post-completion OPT period.

What if I want to begin a new program of study while on OPT?

Beginning a full-time program of study while on OPT is NOT allowed. If a student has been admitted to a full-time degree program while on OPT, the remainder of the OPT (if any) must be forfeited before beginning classes at the new school. In order to maintain F-1 status and remain in the U.S., a student must request a transfer of the F-1 record to the admitted school or request an I-20 for a “change of level” with University of the Cumberlands. 

Can I apply for OPT authorization to start before graduation, if I only have my thesis/dissertation to complete?

You can apply for either pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT. There are advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding which option works best for you.

We recommend you schedule an appointment with your International Student Services adviser to further discuss your options. 

Pre-completion OPT
Pre-completion OPT is only valid while you are a student finishing your thesis or dissertation. The OPT start and end date must fall before your I-20 expires and before you graduate.


  • You are not subject to the 90-day unemployment limit.
  • Your I-20 can be extended if you need more time to complete your thesis/dissertation.


  • If you graduate, you must submit a separate post-completion OPT application and another application fee. 
  • It is challenging to take advantage of the full 12 months of OPT allotted to you because of the dual applications. 
  • You must continue to register full-time (which may or may not be a requirement from your department depending on your funding and/or defense quarter.) 


Post-completion OPT

Post-completion OPT can begin either while you complete your thesis/dissertation or after you graduate. Procedurally, however, the OPT start date can only fall after the I-20 end date, so your I-20 will be shortened to the end of the term in which you submit the OPT application.



  • You will only submit one application and fee. 
  • You are not required to register for the purpose of maintaining F1 status



  • You are subject to the 90-day unemployment limit, an added pressure if you still need to focus on your thesis/dissertation, 
  • The I-20 cannot be extended. If you do not complete your thesis/dissertation within the year, your F-1 status ends when the OPT expires, and you must travel and reenter with a new I-20 to continue your studies. 

How do I qualify for a 24 month STEM Extension to my OPT?

  • You must complete a STEM qualified degree.
  • Pursue employment through an employer that is enrolled n USCIS E-Verify
  • Complete the Form I-983
  • Contact either the Office of Student Services (undergraduate students) or International Graduate Services (graduate students).

What is the I-983 form - STEM OPT Extension?

Study in the States defines the Form I-983 as a way “to ensure you are receiving the academic and training benefits of your STEM OPT extension.” This includes a training plan that will be submitted to the University for the STEM OPT extension recommendation for your SEVIS record. 

How can I find out more about the STEM OPT 24-Month Extension?

Study in the States has a great STEM OPT HUB to provide information – check it out!  
Once you are ready to apply or have additional questions, contact either the Office of Student Services (undergraduate students) or International Graduate Services (graduate students).

How do I notify the University of Employment during OPT?

It is the student’s responsibility to update their employment information via their SEVP Portal. If you do not have access to your portal please contact a DSO.

What is the Cap-Gap OPT?

Cap‐Gap OPT can be granted if student (1) is in a period of authorized post‐completion OPT, and (2) is the beneficiary of a timely‐filed H‐1B petition requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. The Cap‐Gap OPT is an automatic extension of duration of status and employment authorization to bridge the gap between the OPT and start of H‐1B status. The automatic extension of OPT is terminated upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H‐1B petition.