Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit available to F-1 students only that allow students to work off-campus in your field of study to gain practical experience. There are three types of OPT that students may be eligible for: Pre-Completion, Post-Completion, and STEM Extension. All students are eligible for 12 months of OPT if they have completed full-time enrollment for at least one consecutive academic year (two long semesters) and have not participated in more than 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training. The 12 months of OPT are granted once per degree level. Some students are eligible for an extension of their OPT, provided that they meet all requirements. OPT applications are adjudicated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with the recommendation of a Designed School Official and can take up to 90 days to process.

Note: Students who have fallen out of compliance may not be eligible for OPT.

Click here to view upcoming OPT Workshop Sessions

Typically, students that apply for Pre-Completion OPT are applying because they have exhausted all of their Curricular Practical Training (CPT) options, or CPT was not an option. Pre-Completion OPT can only be granted for a period beginning and ending prior to completion of degree. Pre-Completion OPT can only be granted on a part-time basis (less than 20 hours per week) or on a full-time basis (more than 20 hours per week) during annual vacations or for students working on thesis/dissertation only. Time accrued on Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the total 12 months of OPT eligibility.

For more information on how to apply for Pre-Completion OPT, please review the Pre/Post-Completion Optional Practical Training Tutorial

Forms Required for Application:

Form Required to Maintain F-1 status:

Pre/Post OPT Information Seminars: See Event Calendar

Post-Completion OPT is the most common type of work authorization, that begins after completion of degree or after the completion of all coursework for students on a thesis/dissertation track. Applying for Post-Completion OPT enables students to remain in the U.S. after they have completed their program to gain practical training in their field of study. Students generally receive 12 months of full-time OPT, if they have not participated in Pre-Completion OPT or have not exceeded 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training. Students applying for Post-Completion OPT can only apply up 90 days prior to their expected program completion date and up to 60 days after their program completion date. Please contact the ISSS office if you have any doubts as to the start date of your 60-day grace period (i.e. program completion date). Typically, your program completion date will be the "Conferral of Degree" date, which typically coincides with university commencement date. These dates are provided by the Registrar's office in the Academic Calendar.

*All Post-Completion OPT applications must be submitted to USCIS by the end of the 60-day grace period. The ISSS office requires students to submit their application to the ISSS office a minimum of 2 weeks prior to the end of the 60-day grace period.

For more information on how to apply for Post-Completion OPT and how to maintain F-1 status, please review... 

1. Requesting an OPT I-20 Video Tutorial:


View an additional Pre/Post-Completion Optional Practical Training Tutorial via PowerPoint.

2. The OPT Application (I-765) Video Tutorial:

Forms Required for Application:

Form required to maintain F-1 status:

Pre/Post OPT Information Seminars: See Event Calendar

Check case processing times from USCIS: Click here


Select students on Post-Completion OPT can extend their OPT by applying for a 24-Month STEM Extension. To be able to apply for a STEM Extension the student must have a STEM degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics. This degree is typically the last degree conferred, however, students can also apply for a STEM Extension based on a previous degree from a U.S. accredited school and degree must also be conferred within the last 10 years. To apply, students must be a paid employee of an E-Verify company and the employer must also be willing to have a training plan with the student.

For more information on how to apply for OPT STEM Extension and maintain F-1 status during the STEM Extension, please review the Optional Practical Training: 24-Month STEM Extension Tutorial. 

Forms Required for Application:

Forms Required to Maintain Status:

Check case processing times from USCIS: click here

Only Post-Completion and STEM applicants are required to pay this fee. Once you have paid online (with a debit or credit card), print out an electronic copy of the receipt, you won't need to print off a physical receipt. 

Click here to pay online

Q: What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

A: OPT is temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study. The maximum time a student is able to participate in OPT is 12 months per degree level.

Q: What is Pre-Completion OPT?

A: Pre-Completion OPT is employment authorizations granted to students that are still working towards their degree. Time used for Pre-Completion OPT will be deducted from time you can do during Post-Completion OPT.

Q: What is Post-Completion OPT?
A: Post-Completion OPT is work authorization granted after the completion of degree.

Q: Who is eligible for OPT?

A: Any F-1 student who has been continuously enrolled in full-time status for at least one regular full academic year may apply. No practical training is available for students in the Intensive English Program is available. 

Q: When can I apply for OPT?

A: For Post-Completion Applicants, the earliest you can apply for is 90 days prior to the completion of degree and the latest you can apply is by the end of your 60 day-grace period.

Q: How long does it take to get authorization for OPT and when should I apply?

A: It typically takes USCIS 90 days to process OPT applications. Therefore, it is recommended you apply 90 days prior to when you wish to begin working.

Q: Can I apply for Post-Completion OPT without completing my degree first?

A: No, you must be completing your degree in order to apply for Post-Completion OPT; except if you are a Doctorate or Masters Student working on Dissertation or Thesis ONLY and completed all coursework.

Q: Do I need a job in order apply for OPT?

A: You do not need to have employment secured to apply, but you must report employment within 10 days of getting a job, provided that you have been granted OPT.

Q: May I save any of my unused OPT eligibility and use it at a later time?

            A: No, once OPT has been granted there is no way to “save” time for later use.

Q: What type of employment can I accept?

            A: Any employment you accept must be directly related to your field of study. Employment could be paid or unpaid.

Q: I have applied for OPT, when can I start working?

A: You can only start working when you have received an approval of OPT in the form of an EAD card and are able to verify the start and end date on the card.

Q: What is an EAD Card?

             A: An EAD card is an Employment Authorization Document that permits you to work in the U.S.

Q: How many days can I be unemployed while on Post-Completion OPT?

             A: You can be unemployed for up to 90 days throughout your Post-Completion OPT period.

Q: I have found a job, what do I do now?

A: You will need to report employment to the ISSS office within 10 days of receiving a job. You must report employment by submitting the OPT Employment Verification Form (available on our website). Please note that you cannot begin working nor report employment until you have received an EAD card.

Q: I have finished Post-Completion OPT, what happens now?
A: You have another 60-day grace period to: (1) change your status (2) transfer to another school (3) start another program at SMU (3) leave the country.

Q: When are OPT (pre and post completion) Information Seminars?
A: Check out our EventCalendar for upcoming sessions.