F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or J-1 Academic Training (AT) for Internships

An international student in F-1 or J-1 status cannot receive pay or compensation for off-campus work in the U.S. unless and until the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) has processed the appropriate application and granted authorization, either on a new I-20 for F-1 students or in a new DS-2019 for J-1 students. It is your responsibility to understand the rules of your F-1 or J-1 status and have your international student documents in order by properly consulting with the ISSO. For more information, please visit the ISSO website, office, or contact them at isso@columbia.edu or 212-854-3587.

SIPA students must begin your internship by the Monday of the seventh week of the fall or spring semesters or by the last day of July for the summer semester. The internship authorized under CPT or AT must satisfy the SIPA internship requirement expected of ALL students in your program and necessary for completion of your degree. Unpaid internships do not have to be approved by ISSO. Therefore, you do not have to fill out the CPT or AT application form.

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) - After Degree Completion

Optional Practical Training (OPT) in F-1 status is employment related to your field of study immediately after completion of your studies, authorized by USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) through the issuance of an EAD card (Employment Authorization Document). However, your OPT application is first submitted to ISSO for review and to receive an OPT recommendation on a new I-20.

Please review the OPT section of the ISSO website for more information and to watch a webinar regarding post-completion OPT. You may also check the ISSO events page for in-person workshops. 

F-1 CPT Eligibility

F-1 students must be enrolled full-time for two (2) consecutive semesters and be in F-1 status at the time of application for CPT before they can accept paid internships in the U.S. EXCEPTIONS: A student in a formal dual degree program with SIPA and a school overseas (e.g., Sciences Po, London School of Economics, etc.) is eligible for CPT only if he/she has spent the first year overseas and will complete the final year of the program at SIPA.  

In addition to meeting the status requirements for CPT eligibility, students must be enrolled full-time at SIPA at the time of application. Dual-degree students that have been admitted to SIPA but have not yet enrolled are not eligible for CPT approval through SIPA. Please review the below section regarding how to apply for CPT as a current F-1 student who is required to fulfill the SIPA internship requirement

* The CPT application process through OCS only applies to SIPA students who are eligible for the internship requirement. Thus, it does not apply to students in the PEPM program. The PEPM department will approve CPT forms for students in this program.

Please review all details of F-1 CPT at the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) website. In summary, to be eligible for CPT, you must be:

  • in lawful F-1 status for one academic year (two consecutive full-time terms), not counting time in English language preparation;
  • a degree candidate;
  • have an appropriate job offer as part of the application.

 

F-1 CPT Requirements

CPT can be used only during the academic Program

Summer Vacation

  1. Students may conduct a part-time internship (20 hours or less per week).
  2. Students may conduct a full-time internship (more than 20 hours per week), but only when they are continuing at SIPA in the fall.

Fall & Spring Semesters

  1. Students may conduct a part-time internship (20 hours or less per week) only.

 

CPT internship start & end dates

CPT is authorized per semester and cannot be authorized for a period of work that is outside of the semester parameters, below. Each new semester of CPT requires a new complete CPT application with new supporting documents. You must begin your internship by the Monday of the seventh week of the fall or spring semesters or by the last day of July for the summer semester.

CONTINUING STUDENTS

  • Fall semester: September 1 – December 31
  • Spring semester: January 1 – May 31
  • Summer semester: End of final exams period – August 31

GRADUATING STUDENTS

  • Fall semester: September 1 – Official last day of semester (refer to Academic Calendar)
  • Spring semester: January 1 – Official last day of semester (refer to Academic Calendar)


You CANNOT begin work until your CPT form has been approved by both OCS and ISSO. Therefore, the start date listed on your CPT form must be post-dated. You should allow at least 10 business days for ISSO processing. CPT approval cannot be granted retroactively.

 

F-1 CPT application process

* This application process does not apply to students in the MPA-EPM program. The MPA-EPM department will approve CPT forms for students in this program.

STEP 1

If you are applying for CPT for the first time, determine whether you will register for internship credit. Students may earn a maximum of 3 credits during their degree program, which includes any credits associated with CPT. When registering for credit that is tied to CPT, you must have completed the first 1.5 credit internship and received a grade BEFORE you will be allowed to register for a second 1.5 credit CPT.

First Semester of CPT: You are not required to register for credit for your first CPT since the internship will fulfill a degree requirement.  Students may register internship credits in the semester of completion of their first CPT or in a future semester.  Registration exception: For summer internships, if you are registering your first CPT for credit, you must pre-register in the prior spring semester or upcoming fall semester, as there is no summer registration.

Second or Third Semester of CPT: If a second or third CPT is secured, you MUST register for credit, as these will count as electives since the degree requirement has already been fulfilled.  If registering for credit, you must register during the semester in which the internship will be completed. Registration exception: For summer internships, you must pre-register in the prior spring semester.

To register for internship credit, students should register in SIPA U9013 during the standard registration period in SSOL or by consulting with the Office of Student Affairs.

STEP 2

You must complete Part 1 and Part 2 of the CPT Request Form and bring it to OCS with a letter offering internship employment from your employer printed on employer's letterhead. The offer letter from your employer must clearly include:

  • start and end dates of employment (which should match the CPT form start and end dates within the semester; again, you must begin your internship by the Monday of the seventh week of the fall or spring semesters or by the last day of July for the summer semester)
  • how many hours you will work weekly
  • a description of duties in sufficient detail to clearly show them as appropriate to meeting the requirements for your degree
  • address of the company or organization where employment will take place


OCS will not sign the CPT form without all of the above information stated clearly in the offer letter. If OCS can approve your CPT application, we will complete Part 3 of the CPT Request Form and return it to you so that you can submit your application in its entirety to ISSO for authorization. (See Step 3 of application process, below.) 

STEP 3

Submit the below documents in-person to ISSO during ISSO walk-in hours or email to ISSO as a single PDF file at ISSO-opt@columbia.edu for processing as early as 90 days but no less than 10 days before you wish to begin employment.  

  • CPT Request Form completed by you and signed by SIPA OCS
  • Your complete offer letter with all required information
  • Your passport and most recent I-94 card

 

The International Students and Scholars Office staff will then review your application for eligibility. If you are eligible, update your SEVIS record to authorize your CPT, print a new SEVIS I-20 form indicating the approved employment and give it to you. Your employer will need to see this authorization along with your passport and I-94 form to put you on the payroll. You may engage in CPT only after your SEVIS record has been updated by an ISSO adviser to reflect CPT authorization and a SEVIS I-20 has been printed, indicating the approved CPT. The endorsement will indicate the precise details of the authorized training, including the name and location of the employer, the specific dates of the training period, and whether it is full-time or part-time.

We encourage you to contact an ISSO adviser if you still have questions.

 

J-1 Academic Training (AT)

J-1 students must be enrolled full-time for at least one semester and be in J-1 status at the time of Academic Training (AT) application before they can accept paid internships in the U.S. The application for AT for J-1 students differs from CPT for F-1 students. Students in J-1 status under Columbia’s DS-2019 sponsorship should review the J-1 Academic Training section of the ISSO website for more information.

 

F-1 OPT Eligibility & information

Three-Step Process to Apply for OPT with ISSO

  1. Obtain an OPT recommendation from the ISSO on a new I-20.
  2. Mail your application (I-765) and all supporting documentation for an EAD to the USCIS.
  3. Receive the EAD in the mail. You may begin to work ONLY after you receive the EAD and no earlier than the start date on the EAD.

Eligibilty for F-1 Students

You must:

  1. Be physically present in the U.S. in F-1 status at the time of application. Do not leave the U.S. during the 60-day grace period following the completion date of your program if you have not yet applied for OPT;
  2. Have been enrolled in a University-recognized degree or certificate program in lawful student status on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year;
  3. Have completed all requirements for the award of your University-recognized degree or certificate at the time OPT begins;
  4. Not have used twelve months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT);
  5. Have received a grade for any course-related CPT done in a prior semester (if applicable); 
  6. Have not previously been authorized for OPT at the same level of study.

Important to Note

  • You do not need to have secured a job in the U.S. to process OPT.
  • OPT is permitted for a period of up to a maximum of 12 months per educational level (Bachelor's, Master's, etc.).
  • The ISSO OPT presentation is available for your review as a PDF under the "Before You Apply" section of the ISSO OPT webpage.

 

Please see the ISSO OPT website for information on:

  1. Application period and deadline
  2. How to apply
  3. How to mail your EAD Card to USCIS
  4. Receiving your EAD Card

 

Review the OPT section of the ISSO website for more information and to watch a webinar regarding post-completion OPT. You may also check the ISSO events page for in-person workshops.