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Work Opportunities for International Students in the USA: Balancing Academics and Employment

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International students pursuing education in the United States often seek opportunities to balance
academics with employment. Understanding the work landscape is crucial for managing finances and
gaining valuable experience. This article explores the various work opportunities available for
international students in the USA and offers insights into achieving a harmonious balance between
academic commitments and employment.
On-Campus Employment:
Many U.S. universities allow international students to work on campus. These opportunities often include:

positions in libraries, student centers, or administrative offices. With flexible schedules tailored
to accommodate academic commitments, on-campus employment provides students with a chance to
earn income while staying connected to campus life. Institutions like Yale University, University of
Southern California (USC), the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and many more provide
opportunities for international students for on-campus work.
Optional Practical Training (OPT):
OPT is a program that enables international students to work off-campus in their field. Most
international students qualify for 12 months of optional practical training; however, some students in
STEM fields may extend their OPT visa authorization for an additional 24 months. This allows students to
gain practical experience related to their field, enhancing their skills and making them more competitive
in the job market. There are four types of OPT available to international students:
Pre-Completion OPT: Part- or full-time OPT used before your program ends.
Post-Completion OPT: Part- or full-time OPT used after your program ends.
24-month (STEM) OPT Extension: An additional two years of DHS-sanctioned eligibility to OPT
for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors.
Cap-Gap OPT Extension: For international students whose potential employers submitted a
qualifying H-1B cap-subject petition, these instances are less common due to constraints faced
by employers, making it challenging to initiate H-1B status filings for their employees.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT):
CPT is another avenue for gaining practical experience, allowing international students to work off-
campus as part of their curriculum. This work can be an integral part of the academic program, providing
hands-on experience directly related to the student’s field of study. CPT is available only prior to the
completion of your degree program, and you must have a job offer at the time of application. CPT
Employment may not delay the completion of the academic program. Students must maintain full-time
enrollment during the fall and winter CPT. Full-time enrollment is 12 credit hours for undergraduate
students, 8 credit hours for graduate students, and 6 credit hours for Graduate Student Instructors and
Graduate Student Research Assistants.

Internships and Co-op Programs:
Many U.S. universities have robust internship and co-op programs that facilitate partnerships between
students and industry professionals. These programs offer a chance to gain real-world experience, build
a professional network, and sometimes earn academic credit while working. These programs can include:
paid full-time jobs that typically last three to 12 months, internships, or other service-based experiential
learning programs. In a survey by U.S. News in the spring of 2022, leaders like college presidents, academic
Officers and deans from over 1,500 schools picked 23 schools with outstanding internship and co-op
programs. The list is in order, from highest to lowest rank. Each leader could choose up to 15 schools.
This is the fourth time U.S. News has ranked co-ops and internships in the 2022-2023 edition of Best
Part-Time Employment:
International students are generally allowed to work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) during the
academic year and full-time during scheduled breaks. Part-time jobs, such as tutoring, freelancing, or
Working in the service industry can help students manage their living expenses and gain valuable skills.
Networking and Career Services:
Universities often provide career services that assist international students in connecting with potential
employers. Networking events, job fairs, and workshops can be valuable resources for securing
employment and building professional relationships within the local community.
Balancing Academics and Employment:
While work opportunities are beneficial, striking a balance between academics and employment is
crucial. Time management, effective prioritization, and communication with employers are key factors
in ensuring that work commitments do not compromise academic performance.

Navigating work opportunities as an international student in the USA involves understanding the diverse
options available and finding the right balance to complement academic pursuits. By leveraging on-
campus employment, OPT, CPT, internships, and part-time jobs, students can not only support
themselves financially but also enhance their skills and increase their employability in the competitive
global job market.