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Work Authorization

F-1 Students

The US Department of Homeland Security has strict regulations regarding off-campus work for F-1 Students. F-1 students are only allowed to work off campus if they are authorized for

-       Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or

-       Optional Practical Training (OPT). 


What is CPT?

CPT is a legal work authorization for degree-seeking F-1 students. The work (whether an internship, rotation, volunteer work, or other employment) must meet three criteria. It must be:

A) “an integral part of an established curriculum,”


B) “directly related to the student's major field of study.” (Work related to a student’s minor, concentration, or certificate is not eligible for CPT authorization.)


C) completed prior to completing degree requirements.

DHS says that “An integral part of an established curriculum” means the work must either “be required by the curriculum or, if not required, the student must receive credit for the training.” For Drake students this means the work experience must be:

1. required of all students in your major, minor, certificate or concentration.


2. accepted within your field of study or track as an approved way of meeting one or more of your curricular requirements.


3. accepted and evaluated for credit toward your degree. (If the credits earned are elective credits, they cannot be in excess of what is accepted toward earning your degree.)

Student Eligibility for CPT

Student are eligible to apply for CPT when:

- They have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time student at a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved school for one full academic year.  


- They are enrolled as a full-time student in a graduate program that requires immediate CPT



1. Talk to your faculty advisor about CPT options in your college. CPT must either be required for graduation OR be counted for credit toward your major.

2. Confirm course number and plan with associate dean in your college. Students in CBPA wishing to do Summer CPT must correspond with Associate Dean Sean Severe after talking through options with their advisor to confirm the exact course number for CPT credit.

3. Seek internship opportunity that fits your department’s requirements for CPT and immigration regulations.

4. Receive job offer with official letter that confirms the dates of employment, simple description of job duties, and weekly hours required. Offer letter should be on company letterhead, confirming company name and address

5. Submit Drake ISSS’s CPT Request Form on Qualtrics and send job offer letter to International Student Advisor.

6. Wait to receive confirmation. International Student and Scholar Services will only authorize CPT once we have received confirmation from the advisor and associate dean of your respective college.

7. Pick up your new I-20! When confirmation has been received, ISSS will notify you that your I-20 is ready for pick-up. **Note, you may not start working until your I-20 has been updated and picked up.**

8. Present the updated I-20 to your employer PRIOR to starting work.  DO NOT WORK for the employer prior to the start date or without having presented the updated I20. 

PLEASE NOTE:  CPT is only authorized for one term at a time.  To continue working, even for the same employer, you must fill out a new CPT request for each semester. Students may work up to 20 hours per week when classes are in session and 40 hours per week during breaks. Graduate students and students who are doing student teaching, pharmacy rotations or who are in their final semester and are enrolled less than full-time may be authorized for up to 40 hours per week with approval from their college.

Note: Sometimes even unpaid work experiences must be authorized as CPT.

Unpaid work must be authorized as CPT if it is for the purpose of gaining practical training related to your major, for example:

  • Pharmacy Rotations
  • Student Teaching
  • Unpaid internships
  • Some Independent Studies that are based on volunteer hours.

Working without proper authorization carries serious, long-term consequences. Please call 515-271-2084 to make an appointment with an International Student Advisor before engaging in any paid or unpaid work. 



Unpaid volunteer work for a company may or may not constitute an experience that should be approved as CPT. Please consider the following when determining if you need to apply for CPT. If you are unsure after reading these guidelines, please make an appointment to speak with your International Student Advisor.

Volunteer work that does NOT constitute CPT: Volunteering refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without remuneration or any other type of compensation. Examples of this are:

  • Volunteer hours required by a class for service learning
  • Volunteering to help at a charitable event or for a non-profit company/organization
  • Tutoring in an afterschool program without pay
  • Volunteering at the Animal Rescue League

In addition to applying for CPT prior to staring your internship, you and the organization for which you will volunteer should be familiar with the Department of Labor’s guidelines for an unpaid internship:

 “The Department of Labor's Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act, which addresses unpaid activity for both ‘for-profit’ and ‘public and non-profit’ entities.

  • Private sector for-profit entities
    • The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
    • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
    • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
    • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
    • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
    • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship
  • Public sector and non-profit entities.  "Unpaid internships in the public sector and for non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible. The fact sheet notes that wage and hour law makes special exceptions under certain circumstances for:
    • Individuals who volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency;
    • Individuals who volunteer for humanitarian purposes for private non-profit food banks;
    • Individuals who volunteer their time, freely and without anticipation of compensation for religious, charitable, civic, or humanitarian purposes to non-profit organizations.

Again, if you are unsure if your opportunity meets these guidelines, please make an appointment with an International Student Advisor in the International Center. 

*quoted material is from government regulation documents to include those documents referenced within the text as well as The Code of Federal Regulations, The SEVP online DSO Training Site, and the NAFSA support document – NAFSA Advisor’s Manual. 



What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT is a work permit for an F-1 student for full-time or part-time employment related to the student's major. There are two types of OPT: post-completion (after graduation) and pre-completion (prior to graduation). Drake International does not advise students to use pre-completion OPT, except in unique circumstances. Students are eligible for one OPT authorization per degree level.

Post-Completion OPT

Post-completion OPT refers to work authorization that is granted after a student graduates. Work authorization is typically granted for 12 months. Students are not required to have an employment offer at the time they apply for Post-Completion OPT.

Students must apply for OPT no earlier than 90 days prior to graduation and no later than 60 days after graduation. Students must make an appointment with an International Student Advisor to apply. Applications that are not authorized by an International Student Advisor will be denied. USCIS typically takes 90 days to process the application, so students are encouraged to apply two to three months before their graduation date. 

Pre-Completion OPT

Pre-Completion OPT is for employment before a student's graduation. The student must have an offer of employment at the time of application. Pre-completion OPT will take away time from the student's eligibility for Post-Completion OPT. If the student has not used Pre-Completion OPT, they are eligible for 12 months of Post-Completion OPT upon graduation.

STEM OPT Extension

Students who graduated with STEM majors (specific USCIS list) may also be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT if they are working in a field related to their STEM major and the employer participates in USCIS's e-verify system. Students who wish to extend their OPT application must apply through an International Student Advisor in the last 90 days of their current OPT authorization.

J-1 Students

J-1 students may be authorized to work off-campus after completing two semesters under restricted circumstances. Please contact the International Center for further information.