International Student Services

Graduate Students

Graduate Registration Waiver Fee

In general, international students must maintain a full-time credit load (typically 10 credits for graduate students) for three consecutive quarters in each academic year, with the exception of the final quarter, during which students may enroll for only those credits required for graduation. Students who are considering using the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee should consult ISS to ensure it will not affect F-1 or J-1 status benefits.

Some international students apply for employment authorization to stay and work in the U.S. after degree completion. This authorization is called Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 students or Academic Training for J-1 students. Students must apply for this authorization based on the final registration quarter, which may differ from the graduation quarter depending on the use of the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee.

Starting OPT Before Graduation

Students may be able to apply for “post-completion OPT” authorization to begin before graduation:

  • status as a graduate student
  • completion of all required coursework
  • status of thesis or dissertation work remaining

There are advantages and disadvantages to consider. Here is an overview. It is strongly recommended to schedule an appointment with an ISS adviser to further discuss options.

Post-completion OPT Before Graduation

Post-completion OPT can begin while the graduate student completes their thesis or dissertation as long as all required coursework is completed. Technically, the OPT start date can only be after the I-20 end date. As such, the I-20 expiration date will be shortened to the end of the quarter in which the student submits their OPT application. Students are subject to all the rules specific to the OPT authorization year, which are slightly different from the rules for registered students:

Pros

  • Students are not required to register for the purpose of maintaining F1 status (though students must consult their department about Graduate School registration requirements depending on funding, defense quarter, and ability to apply for on-leave status).
  • Students have authorization to work anywhere in the U.S. as many hours as they like in a job related to their degree.

Cons

  • Student’s on-campus work authorization ends on the last day of the quarter in which they submit their OPT application. Students cannot continue to work on campus, including in an RA or TA position, even if when registered for thesis or dissertation credits. Exception: When campus employment is related to their degree, students may resume working after their OPT is approved. Depending on what start date is requested and when the OPT is approved by USCIS, students may or may not have a gap in work authorization after graduation.
  • Students are subject to the 90-day unemployment limit, a potential added pressure when there is a need to focus on thesis/dissertation work.
  • The I-20 cannot be extended. Students who do not complete their thesis/dissertation within the year will have their F-1 status end when the OPT expires, and must travel and reenter with a new I-20 in order to continue their studies. (If students are otherwise eligible for the STEM OPT extension, they can apply for the extension even when the students did not graduate).
  • Students cannot travel internationally unless there is proof of a job:

Example:
A student is registered for winter quarter and will defend their dissertation. The plan is to pay the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee in order to submit their dissertation and graduate in spring quarter.

The student may submit an OPT application based on winter quarter being the last registered quarter. ISS will shorten the I-20 so the expiration date matches the end of winter quarter. The student will request an OPT start date that is within 60 days of the end of winter quarter.

The University will consider the student a spring quarter graduate; however, from the F1 perspective, the student has transitioned from the “enrolled student phase” to the “OPT phase” of their F1 status.