After completion of the course of study, or, for a student in a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree program, after completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent).

Please read over these two options and the information below, and contact ISSS if you would like help deciding how to most effectively use your OPT.

          #1. Apply for OPT after completion of PhD; Use CPT, if you qualify,  for work while completing PhD

This allows you to focus on your research and complete your defense before focusing on the full-time employment required by OPT.  Current students working on their dissertation may be eligible for CPT to pursue a work opportunity that will fulfill research objectives. Please contact your academic advisor to see if you are eligible for this option. If approved by your academic advisor, part-time CPT is unlimited, but full-time CPT over 12 months will make you ineligible for OPT. (It is rare that a student will use 12 months of full time CPT).

         #2. Choose program end date after finishing course requirements and begin OPT while in the dissertation stage

PhD students can also choose to end their I-20 any time after their required course work is complete, and begin OPT.  F-1 immigration regulations do not require you to enroll in a dissertation course while on OPT, however the graduate school may require it, so please check with your academic advisor.

In this case, your "post completion" opt will begin before you actually finish your degree. 

Be aware that, if your degree is not completed after the OPT ends, you would have to leave the US to complete your degree remotely, as you could not return to regular student status after OPT. If you wish to apply for a STEM Extension, you must complete your degree and have it awarded before your first year of OPT runs out. 

TA/RA Assistantship


Post-completion OPT

Pre-completion OPT

CPT (Curricular Practical Training)


Must work full time (at least 20 hours per week).

May request either part time or full time work

Part-time CPT is unlimited, and full-time CPT can be used up to 12 months before affecting OPT in any way. Full-time CPT over 12 months will make a student ineligible for OPT.


Eligible for the cap-gap extension of OPT




May apply for the STEM extension if otherwise eligible




Subject to the 90-day unemployment provisions

Not subject to the 90-day unemployment provisions

Must have job offer to apply, CPT ends if job ends


Not eligible for a program extension past 12 months unless STEM eligible

May receive a program extension up to 12 months total

If there are remaining academic requirements, extension is possible

Wait Period

1-3 months with for USCIS application

1-3 months with for USCIS application

10 business days (only apply to ISSS internall)