cpt vs opt vs stem opt

A Comparison Chart – CPT vs OPT vs STEM OPT

So, do you want to know the difference between CPT, OPT and STEM OPT?

Let’s start with the acronyms, OPT and STEM first, Ok?

  • CPT – Curricular Practical Training
  • OPT – Optional Practical Training
  • STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
  • EAD – Employment Authorization Document (it looks like more a credit card)

OPT and STEM OPT is available for International Students studying in the USA on F-1 Student Visa.


1 Duration 12 Months 24 Months
2 Employment The job must be related to your Degree and major The job must be related to your Degree and major in STEM field.
3 E-Verify Employer does not have to be E-Verified. Employer MUST be E-Verified.
4 Unpaid Work Both paid employment or unpaid training are allowed Requires paid employment as listed on the I-983 Training Plan
5 I-983 Doesn't require the I-983 Training Plan I-983 Training Plan is required to apply for STEM OPT
6 Multiple Jobs Multiple jobs are allowed and each job must be endorsed on your I-20. Multiple jobs with multiple employers is allowed. Each employer, must submit new I-983 Training Plan to the ISSO and obtain an updated STEM OPT authorization on your I-20
7 Change Jobs You can switch jobs with ease. OPT is not employer-specific or job-specific. You can switch jobs. For each new employer or change in job duties, you must submit a new I-983 Training Plan to your DSO and get an updated STEM OPT authorization.
8 Hours of Work To maintain the status on OPT, total work hours from all the jobs should be more than 20 hours per week. To maintain the status on STEM OPT, total work hours from all the jobs should be more than 20 hours per week.
9 Unemployment Days Maximum of 90 days of unemployment for the 12 months of OPT. A maximum of 150 days of unemployment over the 36 months of OPT and STEM OPT.
10 Types of Employment Following types of employment are allowed: Self-employment, Consulting, employment through consultancy, short-term employment, gigs. Employment during STEM OPT requires a bona fide employer/ employee relationship, with training by the employer, not the client. Consulting is allowed. Self-Employment is not allowed.

That’s the main set of differences between OPT vs STEM OPT. Did I miss anything? Please let me know in the comments section.


CPT is a different beast altogether. And there’s no commonality with OPT or STEM OPT to be included in the above table. So, including some of the key points in a separate section.

  • CPT is typically used for doing an Internship while in School
  • For instance, some courses require CPT as part of the Curriculum.
  • It can be Full Time or Part-Time
  • Schools set their own rules when it comes to approving CPT

PS: I typically don’t recommend a university, if they have a policy to not allow CPT during the Fall or Spring Semester or Full-Time CPT.

Key Dates to Remember for OPT and STEM OPT

The Study in States site has a really useful tool for OPT Dates.


Please pay close attention to the Key OPT and STEM OPT application dates.

I have a quick question and it is an emergency. Today is the last day for USCIS to receive my initial 12 months OPT package.  I have mailed them my the OPT package today. Today will be the 60th day. Will my opt application gets rejected?

I can’t think of any reason why someone could mail the Initial 12 Months OPT on the 60th day of their Grace Period.


  1. Soumya Yalamanchili on November 24, 2018 at 2:32 PM

    Dear Raghuram sir,
    Hi this is Soumya. I really enjoy reading your blogs and articles. I have done my Master’s in Public Health, Environmental Health which do not come under STEM category. Currently, I am in my OPT period which started from Oct 2nd 2018 and it ends on Oct 1st 2019. My next plan is to pursue my PhD in Environmental Engineering if I get the admit or else Mater’s in Environmental Engineering. So I have a question that if I do my second master’s can I apply for STEM OPT later when I complete it or can I apply for PRE OPT during my second Mater’s in STEM category to save my OPT for Masters level as we are eligible to apply for OPT only once for each level of education. I request you to please advice me the best thing to do as I regret doing my Master’s in Non-Stem degree.

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