Optional Practical Training: F-1 Students
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work experience that is meant to complement your degree coursework. For this reason, it must be related to your field of study. If you are an F-1 visa holder who has maintained status and who has been in the United States as a full-time student for one academic year or more, you are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT.
Types of OPT
- This is the most common type of OPT and it allows you to work in the U.S. for one year after completion of your degree.
- Though rare, this type of OPT may be pursued full-time before the completion of a degree during vacation periods. Pre-completion OPT may also be pursued on a part-time basis during the school year, provided the practical training does not exceed 20 hours per week. You are advised to apply for this type of OPT only if you are fairly sure that you will have a job during the period requested.
Combining Pre-and Post-Completion OPT
- You are limited to a total of 12 months of full-time employment. You have the option of using OPT before completion of the degree, after completion of the degree, or a combination of both. Any OPT authorized is deducted from the 12 months total that is allowed. For example, if you are authorized for 3 months of full-time summer OPT (pre-completion), you will only be eligible for 9 months of post-completion OPT. Any part-time OPT authorized is deducted from the 12 months at one-half of the full-time rate. For example, if you are authorized for 4 months of part-time pre completion OPT, you will only be eligible for 10 months of full-time post-completion OPT. (Note: in both examples the SEVIS OPT application fee would have to be paid twice; once for the pre-completion and once for the post-completion OPT).
While Clark Career Services staff members are here to assist you, it is ultimately your responsibility to find employment while on OPT. You do not need to have a job offer in order to apply for OPT. You are allowed up to 90 days during the OPT year to seek employment. Please note that you are authorized for only 365 days of OPT, whether you are actually working or not.
You may not begin working until you have received your OPT card (Employment Authorization Document or EAD) from the U.S. government and may only work within the dates specified on the card.
When to Apply
You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before and 60 days after your program completion date (your last day of classes). The current processing time for an OPT application by the U.S. government is 2 to 3 months. For this reason, it is advisable to apply as early as possible.
Special note for the PhD students: Unlike other students, you have some flexibility in selecting your program completion date: final day of classes, dissertation date, or date that final corrections are submitted. Please e-mail Amanda Connolly with any questions about your program completion date.
How to Apply
Prior to applying for OPT, all undergraduate students must attend an OPT workshop. After attending an OPT workshop and applying for graduation, you will assemble the required documents and bring them to ISSO.
Due to the large number of graduate students, we require attendance at an OPT Workshop to learn about the OPT process before applying. Once you have attended a workshop, applied for graduation, and assembled the required documents, please bring your documents to ISSO for further instruction.
Please review the materials on this page. You should attend an OPT workshop in the semester before you plan to go on the job market. During the OPT workshop, ISSO staff will discuss how program end dates work for PhD students and how to select an OPT start date. Once you are ready to apply for OPT, you will assemble to required materials and bring them to ISSO. In addition to the documents listed on the OPT application, PhD students will need to submit a letter from their advisor confirming the scheduled date of dissertation defense. If you have questions about your program end date or how to select an OPT start date, please contact Amanda Connolly.
OPT Workshop Schedule
OPT workshops are offered every month throughout the school year. Click here for the Fall 2016 schedule.
Step 1. Apply for Graduation (Master's degree students only)
Students must apply for graduation at or before the beginning of their last semester. Instructions to apply for graduation online are emailed to students from the Registrar's Office.
Step 2. Complete the OPT application and assemble all of the documents on the OPT application checklist. Bring the OPT application package to ISSO.
Students will receive the OPT application via e-mail after they have attended an OPT workshop. If you have attended an OPT workshop but did not receive the OPT application, you can e-mail ISSO to request the application.
When ISSO processes your OPT application, a new OPT-endorsed I-20 will be prepared for you. This will become your primary I-20, but it is important to keep all of your I-20's.
The ISSO will notify you by e-mail when your receipt notice has been received from the U.S. government and is available for pick-up. With the receipt number, you can then check the status of your application on the USCIS website.
Leaving the U.S. before receiving the OPT card can be risky. It is best to wait until you have the card if you plan to travel. If you travel outside of the U.S. during your OPT year, you should bring all of the documents listed below to gain re-entry to the U.S. United States officials at the point of entry to the U.S. may refuse your entry if you do not have proof of employment.
Passport, Visa, I-94 printout, OPT Card (EAD), OPT I-20 and job offer letter.
While on OPT, Clark University continues to maintain your SEVIS record. Please notify ISSO within 10 days of any changes in your home address or employment.
Please fill out the OPT Employment Reporting Form and e-mail it to ISSO.
At the end of your post-completion OPT year, you have a few options:
You may leave the U.S. You are allowed a 60-day grace period following the end date of your OPT card to pack up your belongings or to travel around the U.S. (You may not study or work during this time.)
You may enroll in another degree program.
You may change to another visa class. Many students are interested in the H-1B visa which the employer must sponsor. Learn more about the H1-B visa here at the USCIS Website.
Extending OPT is possible for those with majors in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Clark majors that are eligible for a 24-month Extension of OPT are: Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Computer Science, Enviornmental Science & Planning, GISDE, MSIT, Math, and Physics. You must be employed at a company with that is enrolled and in good standing with the E-Verify program, and that employer must work with you to create a Training Plan (Form I-983) in order to be eligible for this extension. You can find additional details about the STEM OPT extension in the STEM OPT Hub on Study in the States.
Graduate students with questions about the STEM OPT extension should contact Amanda Connolly.
Undergraduate students with questions about the STEM OPT extension should contact Patty Doherty.