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 you 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 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 if you use the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee.

Starting OPT Before Graduation

You might be able to apply for “post-completion OPT” authorization to begin before you graduate if:

  • you are a graduate student
  • you have completed all required coursework
  • you have only thesis or dissertation remaining

There are advantages and disadvantages to consider. Here is an overview. We recommend you schedule an appointment with your ISS adviser to further discuss your options.

Post-completion OPT Before Graduation

Post-completion OPT can begin while you complete your thesis or dissertation (as long as you already completed all required coursework). Procedurally, the OPT start date can only be after the I-20 end date, so your I-20 expiration date will be shortened to the end of the quarter in which you submit the OPT application. You would be subject to all the rules specific to the OPT authorization year, which are slightly different from the rules for registered students:

Pros

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

Cons

  • Your on-campus work authorization ends on the last day of the quarter in which you submit the OPT application. You cannot continue to work on campus, including in an RA or TA position, even if you continue to register for thesis or dissertation credits. Exception: if your campus employment is related to your degree, you can resume working after your OPT is approved. Depending on what start date you request and when the OPT is approved by USCIS, you may or may not have a gap in work authorization after graduation. 
  • You are subject to the 90-day unemployment limit, a potential added pressure if you still need to focus on your thesis/dissertation.
  • The I-20 cannot be extended. If you do not complete your thesis/dissertation within the year, your F-1 status ends when the OPT expires, and you must travel and reenter with a new I-20 to continue your studies. (If you are otherwise eligible for the 17-month OPT extension, you can apply for the extension even if you did not graduate).
  • You cannot travel internationally unless you have proof of a job:

Example:
You are registered for winter quarter and will defend your dissertation. You plan to pay the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee in order to submit your dissertation and graduate in spring quarter.

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

UW will consider you a spring quarter graduate; however, from the F1 perspective, you have transitioned from the “enrolled student phase” to the “OPT phase” of your F1 status.