Skip to content Skip to navigation

Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning at Stanford and Maintaining Compliance as an International student

There are many opportunities at Stanford for international students to participate in programs or enroll in courses that offer hands-on experience in developing products, starting companies or providing services to companies. While many of these experiences are labelled as “experiential” in accordance with the terminology of academia, U.S. immigration agencies could interpret “experiential” as “employment” and this can create problems for our international students who have regulatory restrictions placed on their employment-related activities. 

Unfortunately, many of these experiential programs and courses, although they take place on campus, cannot be considered on-campus employment for immigration purposes, so participation in them by those in F-1 and J-1 status may not be compliant without appropriate work authorization (CPT, OPT, AT). These types of work authorization (which are seen as benefits of being in F-1 or J-1 status) allow for “practical training” experiences for international students and allow them to remain compliant while engaging in employment-related activities in the U.S.
International students are advised to contact the Bechtel International Center 4-5 months before planning to participate in an experiential program or course at Stanford, and our advisors will help you determine which type of authorization is appropriate for the course or program in which you intend to participate. Please come to your appointment at Bechtel with a complete written description of the program or course in which you plan to participate.


Restrictions on participating in experiential learning:

  • F-1 students are not eligible for CPT or OPT until they have completed one academic year.
  • Exceptions to the one academic year requirement are allowed for F-1 students enrolled in graduate studies that require immediate participation in CPT (undergraduate students do not qualify for this exception).
  • J-1 students may be able to obtain work authorization (AT) for an experiential course that includes a supervised training experience (providing services to a company, for example), they may not be self-employed and cannot start their own company while in J-1 status.
  • Employment cannot exceed 20 hours a week during the academic term.

CPT vs. OPT for F-1 students:

  • F-1 students may participate in an experiential course or program with a supervised training component, but must first obtain CPT authorization to do so, if eligible.
  • F-1 students may also start their own companies and even incorporate during an experiential course or program, but only after they have obtained the appropriate work authorization (OPT). For OPT, the F-1 student will need to submit an application to the federal government (USCIS) 90 days prior to engaging in the start-up course or program,  bearing in mind that the processing time for the application may be up to five months.  You can only commence activities upon receiving the Employment Authorization Document (EAD card), and only during the period specified on the card.

Please remember: It is the responsibility of the international student (and not the professor, department or program coordinator) to understand and abide by the immigration regulations which affect his/her legal status and limitations placed on employment-related activities. It is also the responsibility of the student to refrain from participating in an activity which could be interpreted as employment until proper authorization has been obtained. Failure to comply with immigration regulations would be considered a violation of status, and could lead to the  denial of immigration benefits, loss of status and a bar on re-entry to the U.S.