Employment

As an international student, you are permitted to work on-campus without any special authorization. Employment off-campus requires special authorization in the form of Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT). Please see the information below regarding employment.

  • Work is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session or full-time during official school breaks.
  • Work required for an assistantship counts toward the 20 hour limit.
  • Work hours may not be averaged to equal 20 hours per week. For example, a student may not work 30 hours in one week and then 10 hours the next to average to 20.
  • Work must be considered on campus per the regulations. Questions about what is considered on-campus should be directed to the International Services Office.

Curricular Practical Training is designed for F-1 students to gain practical experience directly related to their field of study. Students who wish to participate in an off-campus internship, co-op, or research experience (paid or unpaid) should apply for CPT. Please see the list of required documents below.

  • Completed CPT packet
  • Signed offer letter on company letterhead
  • Proof of enrollment in either career center course or internship course within your department

Please keep in mind that CPT authorization is not guaranteed and students should not begin employment until they have received a new I-20 with the authorization listed.

Optional practical training is designed to provide you with an opportunity to gain actual employment experience in your chosen profession for a maximum of one year. Its purpose is to complement your academic work. Optional practical training falls into two categories: (1) Pre-Completion OPT and (2) Post-Completion OPT. Pre-Completion OPT is only available if your employment does not otherwise qualify for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Please see the CPT packet for eligibility information. Post-Completion OPT is available as full or part‐time employment after you have completed your course requirements but before you have finished your thesis or full‐time employment after you have completed your degree requirements.

Definition of “Optional Practical Training” Optional practical training is designed to provide you with an opportunity to gain actual employment experience in your chosen profession for a maximum of one year. Its purpose is to complement your academic work. Optional practical training falls into two categories: (1) Pre-Completion OPT and (2) Post-Completion OPT. Pre-Completion OPT is only available if your employment does not otherwise qualify for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Please see the CPT packet for eligibility information. Post-Completion OPT is available as full or part‐time employment after you have completed your course requirements but before you have finished your thesis or full‐time employment after you have completed your degree requirements.

Eligibility Requirements The work must be directly related to your major field of study and it must be appropriate for someone with your level of education. You do not need to have a specific job offer to apply for optional practical training but be aware that you cannot recover portions of the optional practical training period that you may have spent searching for employment. OPT employment may be full time or part-time. To be eligible for optional practical training, you must have been in lawful status and enrolled full time for at least one academic year prior to applying. Students enrolled in English language training programs are not eligible for optional practical training. Differences between pre‐completion and post‐completion OPT can be seen in the box below:

Pre and Post completion OPT
Pre-completion OPT Post-completion OPT
May work full time or part time. May work full time or part time.
Is not subject to the unemployment provisions, and may receive a program extension. Would be subject to the unemployment provisions.
May not apply for the STEM extension from a period of pre‐completion OPT. Would be unable to receive an extension of his or her program.
Would not be eligible for the cap-gap extension of OPT. May apply for the STEM extension if otherwise eligible.
Would not otherwise qualify for CPT Would be eligible for the cap-gap extension

Steps for Applying for OPT

  1. Review this packet to determine OPT eligibility
  2. Make an appointment to discuss OPT with an ISO advisor
  3. Bring a check/money order, 2 regulation photographs, your I-20, I-94, passport, and completed I-765 form

After all appropriate materials and paperwork have been received by ISO, the advisor will mail the application to USCIS.

OPT Checklist:

  • Completed I-765 Form
  • Copy of I-20 with OPT Authorization
  • Copy of most recent I-20 (before OPT)
  • Copy of passport page, visa page, and I-94 record
  • 2 passport style photos (less than 6 months old)
  • Check or Money Order for $410 made out to Department of Homeland Security
  • Proof of payment of MSU OPT Application Fee - Click here to pay

The Social Security Administration visits the International Services unit each fall (July/August) to take applications for students that have offers of employment and need a SSN card. If you need to contact the SSA at a time other than during the annual visit, their office is located at 1089C Stark Road, Starkville, Mississippi. The phone number for their office is 662-323-9211.