What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period of temporary employment authorization for F-1 students to gain experience in jobs directly related to the student’s area of study. Students can use a total of 12 months of OPT per educational level (e.g. Bachelor’s, Doctorate).

Quick Overview

Types of Employment

More information about OPT is available at Information about CPT and OPT.

Application Timeline: When should I apply?

Post Completion OPT Timing Chart

Example: If Chris’ end date is June 13, their OPT start date can be between June 14 and August 12. USCIS will accept Chris’ Post-Completion OPT application between March 15 and August 12.

You are still in-status and can remain in the U.S. after your program end date but before your approved OPT start date.

Application Process: How do I apply?

Step One: Recommendation from the International Office

Submit the TTIC Request for Work Authorization Form to the International Office. If you would like IO to review your Form I-765, include a copy of that in your submission. IO will issue you a new I-20 with the DSO recommendation for OPT, as well as a copy of the CPT usage page from SEVIS. Allow 1 week for processing.

Step Two: Gather Documents for the USCIS Application

Students applying for pre- or post-completion OPT can now apply online as well as applying by mail. More information is available here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765

Gather the following documents for your application:

  1. Completed Form I-765 with fee and photographs in an envelope stapled to it (if applying by mail).

  2. Two new color passport style photos. Your photos must be recent and must not have been used in any previous application. If applying by mail, write your name with a pencil on the back of the photos, put them in a small plastic bag or envelope and staple it to the top of Form I-765.

  3. Payment in the form of a check or money order for the filing fee payable to “Department of Homeland Security.” Current filing fees can be calculated using the USCIS Fee Calculator.

  4. Copy of current I-20 (the one with the OPT recommendation on it), all pages. DO NOT SEND THE ORIGINAL! The signature of the PDSO in the International Office must be fewer than 30 days old at the time the application is received by USCIS.

  5. Copy of I-94 electronic receipt, available at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home

  6. Screen shots from SEVIS of OPT and CPT use (Provided by the International Office)

  7. Copies (front and back) of all previous EAD(s) issued to you for OPT.

  8. Copies (front and back) of all l-20s from any previous U.S. institution before the University of Chicago.

  9. Copy of the identity page(s) of your passport. This includes the page that has your photograph and biographical information.

  10. Form G-1145, “E-Notification of Application/Acceptance,” if you want to be notified electronically when your application is received.

Save a copy of your entire application before submitting or mailing it. Keep it with your mailing receipt if mailing!

STEP 3: Submit Your Application to USCIS

If applying electronically, your submission is complete once the application and all required documentation is submitted.

If applying by mail, mail the complete I-765 application and accompanying documents using secure mail with delivery confirmation/tracking, such as U.S. Postal Service Certified Mail. For the mailing address, visit the I-765 direct filing page and submit to the relevant address for your category.

USCIS must receive your application no later than 60 days after the I-20 end date and no more than 30 days after PDSO recommendation.

After You Apply: What happens now?

Tracking Your Application

Contact the International Office if:

My OPT was approved! Now what do I do?

All F-1 students on post-completion OPT are required to report any change in the following information within 10 days through the SEVP Portal: Name, address, employer name/address, and any interruption of employment.

Students must also contact the International Office within 10 days to report any changes to employment, starting a new academic program, and change of status. Those students using STEM OPT must report changes of employment through the STEM OPT portal.

Can I Travel?


Traveling Before Your Program End Date: You can travel normally as an F-1 student. (NOTE: Contact your employer if applying for H-1B, as traveling outside the US while H-1B is pending can be tricky.)

Traveling After Your Program End Date:

Once OPT is APPROVED (You Have the EAD)

In addition to your regular travel documents (valid passport, valid F-l visa, 1-20 with OPT recommendation and travel signature less than 6 months old), you will also need:

NOTE: Without your EAD and proof of employment/job offer, you assume a risk in trying to re-enter the U.S. while on OPT.

STEM OPT Extension

F-1 students who completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a STEM field (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and are currently engaged in post-completion OPT may apply for the 24-month STEM extension if they have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer.

F-1 students may obtain additional information about STEM OPT extensions at the USCIS website. The application for STEM OPT is the same as the application for pre- or post-completion OPT.