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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an authorization to work in off-campus employment or internships for F-1 students in their major or field of study. Off-campus work is only allowed under certain circumstances. Please check with the ISSO before engaging in any off-campus employment to make sure you have the proper work authorization in place.

International students are eligible for a total of 12 months of Standard OPT for each level of their education, which can be used as:

  • Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training
  • Post-Completion Optional Practical Training

OPT can be granted in various increments of time. However, any OPT used prior to graduation will be deducted from the total allowed for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training. This means that if you use Pre-Completion OPT, those months will be deducted from the 12-month total.

You may apply for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training programs up to 90 days before the end of classes. You may apply for Post-Completion Practical Training as early as 90 days before graduation (for May graduates: Mid-February), and as late as 60 days after graduation (for May graduates: Mid-July, as long as you have not left the US).

This is rarely used at Smith, but would be OPT used during the annual summer vacation, provided you intend to continue your full-time studies the following semester. Generally at Smith we utilize CPT for work authorization instead, since it’s faster and less costly.

This is available after completion of your studies, for an authorization period of up to one year. This is for students who are completing their degree and applying for OPT to start after graduation. No job offer is necessary at the time of application.

Students majoring in a STEM field may qualify for an additional two years of OPT, as long as the job meets certain requirements. This two-year extension requires a separate application, and will be submitted in the last three months of a student's Post-Completion OPT. If a student does not use an available STEM OPT Extension, it can be deferred for use after a non-STEM graduate program OPT. To learn more about the STEM OPT Extension application, please see our Graduated Students STEM OPT page.

If a student has applied for a Change of Status to H-1B through the lottery system, that H-1B visa will officially start on October 1st of the relevant year. If the student’s OPT is set to expire between the H-1B application submission and start date, Cap-Gap OPT will automatically be authorized by USCIS. This Cap-Gap will grant an extension from the expiration date on the EAD until September 30th, which effectively extends OPT until the H-1B will begin. If you have applied for a Change of Status to H-1B through the lottery and you think you have Cap-Gap OPT, please contact our office. We’re happy to print a new I-20 for you to demonstrate this extended work authorization. 

Steps to Apply

  1. All students must attend at least one OPT information session (listed at bottom of this page) at the ISSO before submitting an OPT application.
  2. Prepare all materials for OPT Application (see OPT Application Materials tab). Complete the OPT Request form. If applying online, create an account on website and create a draft I-765 application, but do not submit.
  3. Make a one-hour OPT appointment with Dean Caitlin to review your application. Bring all materials, including the OPT Request Form, to your appointment, or email files to the office ahead of your appointment time.
  4. ISSO will issue you a new I-20 with an OPT recommendation, and will make copies of your application for our records and yours.
  5. Mail/submit your application with all accompanying documentation to USCIS within 30 days of your appointment. We recommend using a shipping method with tracking! Please note - all applications must be mailed from within the United States. 

If you have submitted Form G-1145 for e-notifications, you will be notified once your application has been received and again when it's approved (8-12 weeks) by USCIS.

Once you have your receipt number from USCIS, you can check the status of your case using the USCIS Case Status website. USCIS will send your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) directly to your mailing address.

If your OPT application is still pending when your requested start date arrives, you must delay starting employment until you receive your EAD. USCIS will generally push back your actual OPT start date to the date they approve your application. Your end date will be pushed back to correspond, but cannot be pushed back any more than 14 months after your graduation (60-day grace period, plus 12 months). If your application is delayed until after your grace period, you may stay in the US legally based on your pending OPT application, but you will receive less than your full year of OPT authorization.

Please note: if you use the ISSO as your mailing address, we will receive all hard copy communications from USCIS. Routine communication will be filed in your student file for pick up, if desired. We will contact you if we receive any communications that require action from you. When we receive your EAD, we will contact you. If you are in the U.S., we will mail your EAD and an updated I-20 to you at our charge. If you would like your EAD and I-20 sent to an international address, you will be responsible for shipping costs.

OPT Events & Information Sessions

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International Students and Scholars

125 Wright Hall
Smith College
Northampton, MA USA

Phone: 413-585-7598
Fax: 413-585-4982

Open office hours: Schedule a meeting with Dean Caitlin or with Claire Seely when it’s convenient for you!