What Is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Gain work experience. Build connections. Expand your network.

Ever wanted to work in the United States? If you complete two semesters of study through our Berkeley Haas Global Access Program (BHGAP) or our Professional Certificates, you may become eligible to work at a U.S. company through an opportunity called Optional Practical Training, more commonly known as OPT.

OPT Explained

UC Berkeley Extension student in front of Oracle sign during a visit to the company.

OPT is a type of work authorization available to international students who are on an F-1 visa in order to study in the U.S. This opportunity is often available after you complete your studies (a minimum of 9 months or more) and must be directly related to your academic program. It’s designed to put knowledge from your studies to use and for you to experience how a U.S. business operates. Although temporary, the 12 months of work experience and salary you gain through OPT is a unique opportunity. Especially for students studying in Berkeley, the chance to work in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley means learning from leading experts at some of the most innovative companies in the world.

A friend let me know about a Sales Development Representative position for Google Cloud, and the recruitment agency sent my résumé to Google. They called me for an interview and I started. They were aware of my OPT visa situation and worked with me to figure it all out.

Luisa Naranjo Azcarate, Business Administration and Marketing certificates graduate; completed OPT at Google

 

What Are the Benefits of OPT?

  1. Build a global professional network and meet others in your field
  2. Get a competitive edge as you build the skills at your new job
  3. Earn money through paid work experience
  4. Advance in your career or become a competitive applicant to graduate school
  5. Add work experience to your C.V. or résumé
  6. Develop a deeper understanding of U.S. workplace attitudes and collaboration between colleagues

“Especially for students studying in Berkeley, the possibilities available to work in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley mean a chance to learn from some leading experts at the most innovative companies in the world.”


A few of the companies where UC Berkeley Extension international students have worked for their OPT.

 

Applying for OPT

OPT is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the application process can be complex. Luckily, each semester our International Student Services (ISS) staff conducts multiple workshops for students that provide information on OPT applications and explain important rules and regulations. ISS staff will advise you on tips for a successful OPT application and provide you with the documents necessary to apply. If your OPT application is approved, you can expect to spend approximately two years total in the U.S.—approximately 9 months or more of study followed by one year of work.

There are various ways to become eligible to apply for OPT through UC Berkeley Extension. The most straightforward is first completing two semesters of study through BHGAP or our Professional Certificates. You can begin your studies in the fall or spring as described below.

Visit to Apple group shot
  • Fall Semester Start (August): Complete two semesters of your program (fall and spring), then apply for 12 months of OPT.
  • Spring Semester Start (January): Complete your spring semester followed by summer break (May–July). Complete your fall semester, then apply for 12 months of OPT.

For more on OPT rules visit the Berkeley International Office (BIO) OPT page. Please keep in mind that some information provided by BIO is only for students completing full degree programs at UC Berkeley, so be sure to contact UC Berkeley Extension directly to confirm details that apply to you.

What’s Next: After OPT

Congratulations! You’ve taken the initiative to learn new skills at Berkeley and developed an international perspective on your field of study. You’ve completed a year of OPT and have built expertise working at a U.S. business. Your combination of academic knowledge and practical skills is something employers look for, so it comes as no surprise that studying at Berkeley followed by OPT has had a big impact on alumni career outcomes.

Our graduates have achieved impressive career growth, including landing jobs at major technology companies such as Google and even becoming social entrepreneurs in their own right. Meet two of them.

Berkeley Extension student Luisa Naranjo Azcarate

Luisa Naranjo Azcarate UC Berkeley Extension Business Administration and Marketing Certificates graduate; completed OPT at Google.

Luisa earned her bachelor’s in psychology from Universidad Externado de Colombia, but was always interested in marketing and sales. When she decided to further her education and enhance her knowledge of the field, Luisa knew it had to be a program that was taught in English so she could continue practicing her language skills. She later realized the UC Berkeley Extension certificates would also qualify her to apply for OPT work authorization, which she used to land a job at Google. Read more of Luisa’s journey.

Camilo Navarro, UC Berkeley Extension International Programs graduate.

Camilo Navarro Entrepreneurship and Project Management Certificates graduate; completed his OPT at Wheel the World, a social enterprise that he co-founded.

Camilo earned his bachelor’s in business administration from Universidad Central de Chile before studying at UC Berkeley Extension. He has founded two businesses, his most recent called Wheel the World, an online travel platform that allows people with disabilities and their families and friends to travel around the world. Camilo worked to set up the business in the U.S. and was selected to be part of a Booking.com startup accelerator program for sustainable tourism, raising $200,000 (USD) through investors. To date, the company has booked more than 350 travel experiences.

Learn More

Find out how you can study in Berkeley and become eligible to apply for OPT through the Berkeley Haas Global Access Program (BHGAP), focused on entrepreneurship, or our Professional Certificates, which offer instruction on a variety of technology and business subjects.

Visit our blog to read more international student stories.