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A Guide to Internships and Campus Jobs

A Guide to Internships and Campus Jobs

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As an international student, you may consider extracurriculars outside of your studies. Many students in the U.S. choose (or need) to work during their college years. There are guidelines for international students to keep in mind—such as limits to the number of hours you can work during the school year—as well as many different employment opportunities you can consider. Once you decide you want to work, the first step is always to talk with your designated school official (DSO). Two popular options are on-campus jobs and internships that can benefit you in many ways. For all things you need to know about these two work options, continue reading below.

On-Campus Employment

F-1 students can choose to work at the school/institution where they study. On-campus employment is considered work that takes place either at your school or at an educationally affiliated off-campus location.

When participating in on-campus work, you will need to consider these policies:

  • Work at any qualifying on-campus job that does not displace a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent residents (LPRs).
  • Work up to 20 hours per week maximum while school is in session. Full-time work allowed during summer/when school is not in session.
  • Report your work to your DSO to receive a Social Security number.

For on-campus work, there are many different types of jobs you can seek. This includes but is not limited to positions and places of employment such as:

• Research assistant or TA
• Peer tutor
• Barista at an on-campus coffee shop
• Tour guide
• RA (resident assistant)

• Library
• School-affiliated bookstore
• Rec center/school gym
• Dining hall
• Café

It is important to note that on-campus jobs can be enjoyable. Many students opt for an on-campus job because it is the easiest option, while also rewardable. It can help you connect with other students, faculty, and staff that are outside of your bubble or field of study. Working on-campus may provide you with the best work-life balance as your employer is aware of your academic obligations. You can find something that works for you and your schedule, so you do not need to neglect your academic studies. For any questions about your school’s specific on-campus jobs, contact your DSO. This will be your main point of contact to understand your responsibilities as an international student while working.

For many F-1 students, off-campus employment is not available to them. To qualify, you would need to have completed at least one full academic year, and have an economic hardship that qualifies as one of the emergent circumstances.

For more information about work opportunities in the U.S., view here.

Off-Campus Internships

Many students also consider the route of a paid or credit-based internship for many reasons. Internships allow you to have real-life experience in your field of study. It can be a learning opportunity—to gain hard skills and understand what type of work you enjoy. It will help you prepare for the “outside world” and build your professional network. Additionally, some internships offer the ability to gain college credit (or pay you) for the hours you spend in the office. They generally provide you with experience that you can put on your resume—helping you secure a full-time dream job later on OPT and beyond.

When participating in an unpaid internship, criteria are in place to ensure you are benefiting the most from the experience. These include:

  • Being related to the intern’s major field of study
  • The internship experience must be for the benefit of the intern
  • The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff
  • The employer that provides the training gets no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion, its operations may be impeded
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job after the internship
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship

Additional requirements apply to F-1 and J-1 students:

  • The internship cannot be for more than 20 hours a week during term time (those students with a 50% assistantship will not be eligible for the internship opportunity).
  • Any type of compensation at all requires F-1 students to receive either CPT or OPT work authorization and J-1 students must apply for Academic Training.
  • F-1 students cannot be retroactively paid or in any way compensated for work done in an unpaid internship if they subsequently obtain work authorization.

Bear in mind that when you engage in an internship that is properly “unpaid” within the DOL rules, it is not considered “employment.” Thus, you will not need to be on OPT/CPT/J-1 Academic Training during your internship. If you are participating in an unpaid internship that should be a paid internship under DOL rules, then you must be “employment authorized” (CPT/OPT). Talk to your international office to ensure that you will not run into any legal issues.

For any paid internships off-campus organization, you will need to be on either Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) status. CPT is employment that is a direct part of your major curriculum and allows you to participate in an internship, practicum, or other programs. CPT must be done before you graduate while OPT is usually utilized after graduating which will allow you to stay in the country longer. Both statuses are authorized through your DSO.

For more information on the guidelines for summer employment or training, view here. Other employment guidelines can be viewed here.

How to Find Work

For all things related to your future or present career, visit your school’s career center. This is an important resource for helping you find open positions on-campus or elsewhere. Many career centers offer workshops, advice, and individualized appointments. This includes finding the perfect internship and job opportunity for you, polishing up your resume, and helping you through the interview processes. You can also utilize other resources such as professors, counselors, and anyone else in your network for ideas on employment. It never hurts to ask!

Other Considerations

As you maneuver your academic and professional career, keep in mind that health insurance is necessary during every chapter of your life. Whether a full-time F-1 or J-1 student, on OPT or CPT, here at ISO, we provide you with the most affordable option to protect your health and your medical expenses. All ISO plans cover injuries and sicknesses that you are unable to plan for during your time in the states.


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