F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) During Your Degree Program

OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a benefit of F-1 student status that allows you to work off-campus in your field of study to gain practical experience. You will send your OPT application with fee to the immigration agency USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services). It may take three months (or maybe more) to be processed, so you need to plan ahead.

Applying for OPT Graphics
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Before You Apply

You do not need a job offer to apply but if you don’t work you lose the time authorized for employment.

You may use OPT during and/or after your degree program if it is longer than one academic year (2 semesters). OPT during your program is referred to as Pre-Completion OPT.

You may work only for a certain number of hours.

  • Part-time is 20 hours or less per week.
  • Full-time is more than 20 hours per week.

OPT during the academic year is limited to part-time.
OPT during a summer vacation period may be part-time or full-time.

You get 12 months of OPT for each higher degree level you complete (Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD Degree).

If you’re a student in in certain STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), you may be eligible for an extension of OPT for an additional 24 months.

Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12 month total at graduation. 

For example:

Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12 month total at graduation

Part-time OPT is deducted at half the rate. 

For example:

Part-time OPT is deducted at half the rate

You may apply for pre-completion OPT as early as 90 days before your requested start date. We encourage you apply as early as possible.

Pre-Completion OPT Application Timeline
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How to Apply

OPT During Program Timeline
Step 1.

Gather your documents and information

This is what is you will submit to us (as instructed in Step 2):

This is what is you will send to USCIS (as instructed in Step 5):

Step 2.

Login to Compass with your UNI and password to submit your application

Please click the appropriate link below:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.

Step 3.

We will contact you

Allow up to 10 business days for us to review and process your application. We will notify you by email when your new I-20 with OPT recommendation is ready to be picked up.

Step 4.

Review, sign and date your new OPT I-20

Use it when you travel. The travel signature on page 2 is valid for 12 months or until your program end date, whichever is earlier. Keep all previously issued I-20s.  You may need them in the future.

Step 5.

Mail your OPT application to USCIS via FedEx or UPS

Send the correct documents

Send the documents (the USCIS Document Checklist) as listed in Step 1 above.

Send it on time

USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after the date the Pre-Compleion OPT I-20 was issued. If it received later, your application will be denied by USCIS, and your $410 fee will be not returned or refunded to you.

Be sure your address on the I-765 will be valid for four months after mailing

Government mail is not forwarded to another address. If you change your address during the processing time, there is a way to update USCIS online using the USCIS Change of Address site but we cannot guarantee its efficacy.

Sign all forms with blue ink

Make sure all your forms are signed! Your application will be rejected if you don’t sign your I-20, check, or I-765 form.

Make a copy of your entire application for your records

To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox facilities.

Most Common Address

If you list a mailing address on the I-765 in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia, send your application to the Dallas lockbox:

2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

Less Common Address

If you live in: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands, send your application to the Phoenix lockbox:

1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

Step 6.

Receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card

You can start working once you have your EAD card in hand and the start date has arrived. Review the card for accuracy.

The OPT start date on your EAD card will be the date you requested or the date the EAD is processed, whichever is later.


You will normally receive up to three documents from USCIS:

  1. Receipt notice
  2. Approval notice
  3. EAD Card

Request for Evidence (RFE)

Contact us if you receive any other notice, such as a Request for Evidence (RFE), from USCIS.


Review the timeline below for more detail:

OPT Timeline
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After You Receive the EAD Card

If you do not already have an SSN, you are now eligible to apply on or after the start date on your EAD card.

You may need them in the future to document your employment history and compliance with U.S. immigration regulations, or for future immigration or visa applications.

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Pre-Completion OPT Travel Question

Yes, since you are currently enrolled and will return to the U.S. as a continuing student before the end of your program, your OPT application has no impact on your travel. It makes no difference whether the OPT application is pending or has already been approved--the OPT application is irrelevant.