July 20, 2017

Three Things International Students Should Know Before Starting Their College Internship

The following is a guest post by Yan Tang.

If international students of higher education institutions in the United States want a paid off-campus internship, they have to apply for Curricular Practice Training (CPT) from their college or university. CPT is temporary employment authorization for F-1 visa non-immigrant foreign students in the U.S. while enrolled in a college-level degree program. While many international students are focusing too much on how to find an internship, many of them pay less attention on details applying for a CPT. There is no doubt that getting an internship for international students is very challenging, but there are still many possibilities that you could get one if you work hard and work strategically on it (we will talk more about the possibilities next time). However, what I would like to share today is once you are offered a paid internship by an employer, the journey is not over yet; there are a few things that are just as important as internship hunting and you have to make sure to do every step correctly.

First, attend the CPT session which is held by their school's placement center before starting to search internship opportunities. The CPT session is very informative and you will learn the eligibility for criteria and instructions: when you will be able to start your CPT, and how many working hours and how long you can work for the internship. If you have decided to do internships, at least attend CPT training once to get yourself prepared; The CPT you get will only allow you to do internships relevant to your course levels. For example, if you are an MBA student, you will not get your CPT approved if the internship is an undergraduate-level. Knowing the eligibility criteria helps you filter internship opportunities. Even after the training, make sure you ask every question that confuses you. The more specific, the better. If you understand about 90% of the CPT training information, it will save you a lot of time after you get a job offer and start applying for CPT.

Second, have a clear communication with your employer on CPT application process after being offered. There are two benefits if you can explain well to employers what CPT is. 1) Normally it will take two weeks or so for school to process your CPT (it varies in different schools); however, the school might have some questions about your job responsibilities or other questions, in that case, your employer might enable to help with providing additional documents that meet school requirements. Therefore, misunderstanding will not occur, and your CPT will not be postponed. 2) If your employer is able to extend the internship after you have used your first CPT, it will be much easier to start the internship extension by applying for the second CPT. Please remember to be clear and be patient when conducting the CPT communications with your employer.

Lastly, set up a one-on-one meeting with the staff member from the school placement center before being offered. Do not assume you have gotten all the information from the CPT session and then skip this step. It would be too late to make your cloak when it begins to rain. Getting CPT approved is not controlled by you and it is always good to take precautions. This one-one-one meeting with the staff is to confirm details you might neglect from the CPT training including the offer format and key information, and to ask how many staff or faculty members you should talk with to get approval. Figuring out who is involving the CPT process, you can check their availabilities making sure you get CPT approved by each person without too much delay. Once you have confirmed all the information and documents you need, you then go back talking with your employer about the job offer format and other documents your school needs.

These may sound very troublesome, but do not feel overwhelmed. It can be very simple as long as you follow the process, conduct good communications, and deal with each step carefully. For international students, it would be very fun to do an internship in your spare time as you can not only gain more corporate working experience and hone your business skills, but also expand your network and understand more about American culture. Though there are some barriers, most of them are manageable if you plan ahead and take proactive actions we mentioned above.

If you want to talk more about strategically preparing for internships and CPT application, please feel free to contact me at yan.tang@careerlight.net.

Good luck to you!!

Yan Tang serves as President and CEO of CareerLight, LLC, a Seattle, Wash.-based company that provides customized career training for international students to help them prepare for a successful career.

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