Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Overview of OPT

OPT allows you to pursue employment in your field of study, usually after completion of your degree program. To apply, you must complete an application with ISSS, receive an I-20 with an OPT recommendation, and submit your application to USCIS for review. If your application is approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that will allow you to work during the period authorized on the document. While you are on OPT, you must continue to update your residential address and employment information and must not exceed the unemployment limit allowed during OPT.

Post-completion OPT is normally authorized for twelve months, and students are eligible for one year of OPT per degree level. If you are eligible for the STEM extension, you will apply for the STEM OPT extension close to the end of your post-completion OPT.

Step One: Consider Your Timeline

Choose a start date for your OPT that aligns with your employment start date. If you will complete a Bachelor’s degree or a non-thesis Master’s degree, you may choose an OPT start date anytime within 60 days of the program end date. (The program end date will be the last day of exams for the semester in which you complete your program.)

If you will complete a doctoral degree or a Master’s program with a thesis, you may choose to end your programs earlier than the normal program end date. However, because this will lead to a shortened program end date on the I-20 and therefore an earlier on-campus employment end date, please consider these options carefully. Shortening your program end date could lead to a loss of tuition waiver or stipend funding. If you will complete your program for the second deadline, your program end date will be the end of the semester in which you complete the program rather than the semester in which you participate in graduation ceremonies. (In other words, your program end date will be the end of the last semester in which you are registered for credit hours.) Contact your ISSS advisor if you have questions about choosing an OPT start date.

To apply for OPT, submit your application up to 90 days before your program end date or within 60 days after your program end date. It is strongly recommended that you complete your application earlier in the application timeline to allow additional time for correction of any mistakes.

Step Two: Complete the Required Training on Canvas Catalog

All students applying for OPT must complete a short training course on the OPT application process and your obligations while on OPT. You can complete the course at

Once you have completed the course, you will be able to download a Certificate of Completion. You will need this certificate for your OPT Request form, so please be sure to save it!

Step Three: Complete the Optional Practical Training Request E-form

Log into your iVols portal following the instructions here. Select the Post Completion Optional Practical Training Request form the F-1 Practical Training section.

Complete the information as requested on the form. If you are not sure about the date to choose for your Requested OPT Start Date, please consult Step One: Consider Your Timeline, above.

Include your academic advisor’s name and email address on your request. This is not your ISSS advisor. ISSS will send a request to your advisor to complete an e-form once you have submitted your OPT request to us. ISSS will not review your OPT Request Form until your advisor’s e-form has been submitted. It may be helpful to notify your advisor separately to expect the e-form request from ISSS.

You must acknowledge your responsibilities while pursuing Optional Practical Training in order to proceed. These responsibilities are discussed at length in the OPT training course mentioned in Step Two. It is very important to understand these important aspects of the OPT application; if you have any questions, please make an appointment with your ISSS advisor before continuing in the process.

Step Four: Receive Your OPT Recommendation I-20

Processing of your OPT request in the ISSS office will take up to two weeks. Do not file your OPT application with USCIS without the OPT recommendation I-20.

The OPT recommendation I-20 will have a notation on the second page under ‘Employment Authorizations.’ Check the dates of the authorization to be sure that they are correct. Also, check the program end date on your I-20, as it may have changed when your OPT was recommended. Your program end date will reflect your final semester of enrollment, but it will always end before your OPT authorization can begin. The program end date on your OPT I-20 is the last date that you can be employed as an F-1 student at UT.

The ISSS office will send your OPT I-20 to you via email. Sign your updated I-20 before submitting it to USCIS. If you are filing your application with USCIS electronically, you may sign the I-20 electronically. If you are filing by mail, print the I-20 you received in color and sign it manually. Be sure to keep a copy for your records!

Step Five: Submit Your OPT Application to USCIS

Once you have received your OPT I-20, submit your OPT application packet to USCIS. You may submit your application online or by mail. ISSS strongly recommends the online application.

Instructions for submitting your online application can be found here:

Instructions for submitting your application materials by mail will be sent to you by email with your OPT I-20.

IMPORTANT: Submit your OPT application within 30 days of your OPT I-20 issuance. Your application will be denied if it is received by USCIS more than 30 days from issuance. Please also note that you may not submit your application to USCIS more than 90 days before your program end date. Submitting your application to USCIS more than 90 days before your program end date will cause your OPT application to be denied.

Step Six: Wait for Authorization

After you submit your OPT application, you must wait for USCIS approval of your application. Within two weeks of submitting your application, you will receive a receipt notice by postal mail at the mailing address listed on your Form I-765. Your receipt notice will include a USCIS receipt number that can be used to check your application status online. If you applied online, you will also receive emailed updates.

The average processing time for OPT applications is 90 days. At certain times, USCIS may approve applications more quickly.

If your application is approved, USCIS will send an I-797 approval notice and your EAD card to the mailing address you listed on your Form I-765. You may not begin any employment until specifically authorized to do so; you must be in possession of your EAD card with the start date on the EAD card reached.

Note: If your OPT is not approved until the end of your 60-day grace period, you are able to legally stay in the U.S. until your I-765 application is adjudicated. However, you may not begin employment until your OPT is approved.

Step Seven: Begin & Report Your Employment

Once authorized for Optional Practical Training, maintain your F-1 status by reporting your residential address and employment information. This information can be reported using the SEVP Portal or the OPT Reporting Form in iVols. Report the following changes within 10 days of any change.

  • Change of name or address

  • Beginning or ending a job

  • Change in name or address of the employer

  • Interruption or loss of employment

  • Change of status from F-1 to a new status

  • Departure from the US

Instructions for creating an SEVP Portal account will be sent to you from USCIS once your OPT authorization start date has arrived. USCIS will send instructions to the email address listed in your SEVIS record. If you do not receive this email, need to change the email on your record, or need to reset your SEVP portal account, please contact your ISSS advisor. More information about the SEVP Portal can be found here

Alternately, you may submit the OPT Reporting Form in iVols. OPT Reporting Form If you submit your form in iVols, an ISSS advisor will update your record.

If you do not have a job offer, please utilize the resources available through the University of Tennessee Center for Career Development and Academic Exploration, including Interstride: .