Curricular Practical Training

Volunteering and Unpaid Internships

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) permits an F-1 student to accept off-campus employment that is an integral part of your degree program. To qualify for CPT, your program must have an internship elective or fieldwork/practicum requirement as part of the curriculum. Because every program has different academic requirements, not every student will be able to take advantage of CPT. If your program does not have an internship option or fieldwork requirement, you will not be eligible for CPT. Please read the instructions on Optional Practical Training (OPT) instead.

Eligibility Criteria
Students must:

  • Be in valid F-1 status
  • Have been a full-time student in F-1 status in the U.S., for at least one full academic year (2 semesters or 9 months)*
  • Have a job offer directly related to your major
  • Be making satisfactory progress toward degree completion and be in good academic standing
  • *The one year wait time is waived for students in graduate programs that require all enrolled students to obtain work experience in the first academic year.

CPT is typically authorized on a part-time basis (up to 20 hours per week) during the school year and on a full-time basis during vacation periods. Exceptions may apply for graduate students, depending on the structure of the individual student's curriculum.You may not begin CPT employment until you receive authorization from the OISS on your I-20. Retroactive authorization is not possible.

  1. Students who exceed 12 months of full-time CPT forfeit all Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  2. Part-time CPT authorization does not impact a student's OPT eligibility.

How to Apply for CPT

  1. CPT authorization is job specific, therefore, you need a job offer to apply for CPT.
    • Visit the Career Center to get information about available internships.
    • Graduate students must obtain placement permission from their program advisor or dean.
  2. Complete the top portion of the CPT application
  3. Your academic advisor, Dean or department chair must endorse your request for CPT by signing and completing the form; confirming:
    • That you are a full-time student and your anticipated program completion date.
    • The internship course name, course number, and the number of credits awarded for the course.
    • That the course credit will count toward fulfilling your degree requirements.
    • The beginning and ending dates of your employment (month/date/year), the number of hours per week, the company name, complete address, and your job title.
    • If your payroll will be processed by an outside organization (not your employer), provide a letter of explanation from your employer specifying the name and address of the payroll company.
  4. Submit your completed CPT application form electronically to You may also drop it off in person at the OISS.
  5. The CPT application must be submitted at least 5 business days prior to the anticipated start date of your employment.
  6. If eligible, the OISS will authorize you to engage in CPT by issuing an updated I-20. You may not begin employment until you have received the new I-20. Please check the I-20 to confirm its accuracy, and then sign at the bottom of page one. You may only work for the employer authorized on the I-20.
  7. If needed, take the CPT I-20 and passport to apply for a social security number.

The process of obtaining permission to participate in an internship can take up to two weeks, so students must plan accordingly. If you have any questions please contact the OISS.

Volunteering and Unpaid Internships for F-1 International Students

Only true volunteering, as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require work authorization.  According to FLSA, volunteering refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation for services rendered.

  • The organization you are volunteering at must be a nonprofit organization.
  • As a volunteer, the activities you engage in must be activities normally completed by volunteers and not paid employees (Examples of volunteer activities include serving food at a soup kitchen, walking dogs at an animal shelter, or participating in a beach cleanup day).
  • You do not receive any compensation or payment for your volunteering services, and no expectation exists that you will get a job at this organization at the end of your volunteering. The company cannot bring you on as a so-called volunteer and then decide you are an employee and pay you for work you’ve already done.
  • Many nonprofits have organized volunteer programs.  Participating in such a program is likely to be considered volunteering and not unpaid work.
  • If you volunteer at an organization, be sure to get documentation confirming that you participated in their volunteer program and received no compensation for your volunteering.

Unpaid Internship

Unpaid internship is different from “volunteer” work.  Internships may be paid or unpaid and are designed to provide interns with work experience related to their major field of studies.  The U.S. Department of Labor has specific regulations governing unpaid internships.  When considering doing an unpaid internship, see if it meets these 6 criteria (often refer as “a six-factor test”):

  1. 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;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. 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;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If you will provide the employer with beneficial service, you are no longer considered an unpaid internship but an employee.  You must obtain work authorization.

Also, unpaid internships should not be used by your employer as a trial period before you receive work authorization.  For example, if you start working while waiting for your work authorization to be approved, you would be considered an “employee” instead of an unpaid intern or volunteer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  This is because both you and your employer have the expectation that you will be hired on a permanent basis as soon as you obtain work authorization.  Under no conditions can you begin working – not even as a volunteer or unpaid intern – before you receive your work authorization.


  • You are not required to obtain work authorization to engage in bona fide (legitimate) volunteer activities or unpaid internships which passed the 6-factor test defined by Department of Labor.
  • If you are considering an unpaid internship, make sure you do your homework. Ask yourself whether the unpaid internship passed the 6-factor test.  Do not accept unpaid internship offers that have unreasonable expectations for your time and amount of work.
  • Unpaid also means uncompensated. For example, if the organization compensates you with stock options, gift cards, travel vouchers, or movie passes in lieu of payment, that is no longer an unpaid internship or volunteering.  You must obtain work authorization.
  • If you are engaging in bona fide volunteer activity, it is advisable to get documentation from the organization explaining the nature of your work. You should keep this with your other immigration records (such as your previous I-20s).
  • Finally, engaging in any employment or internship, whether paid or unpaid, for academic credit or not, without proper work authorization is a serious violation of your F-1 status.

Further Reading

Legal Issues: International Students and Unpaid Internships (April 1, 2016) published by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).