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PhilMar 5, 2024 4:56:51 PM8 min read

Day 1 CPT Universities: Why Tuition Should Not Be Your Priority?

At a Glance

Choosing the right university for your Day 1 CPT program extends beyond focusing solely on tuition. Financial constraints are a common challenge for international students, and while tuition considerations are undoubtedly important, other factors like location, living expenses, and potential USCIS scrutiny play critical roles in the overall cost and quality of your academic and professional experience. Instead of focusing solely on finding the cheapest tuition, guide your decision based on aspects such as university accreditation, nonprofit status, and long-term career goals. Understand the impact on future opportunities like eligibility for STEM OPT and the H1B advanced degree cap. Balancing short-term financial decisions with long-term career aspirations is vital for a successful international student journey.


Choosing the right university for your Day 1 CPT program involves more than just focusing on tuition costs. Financial constraints are a common challenge for international students, and while tuition is undoubtedly an important consideration, many factors play a critical role in the cost and quality of your academic experience, as well as your professional life following graduation.

Factors like the location of the university, living expenses, and the circumstances that could trigger an RFE should also be important considerations before you enroll in a Day 1 CPT program. While choosing the cheapest option might seem the correct short-term decision, aspects such as the accreditation of the university and its nonprofit status can have long-term consequences as you navigate your academic and professional journey in the United States.

If you’re a prospective student considering enrollment in a Day 1 CPT program, allow this article to serve as a guide to help you understand the factors beyond tuition that will help you make an informed decision about your future.

Understanding USCIS Scrutiny

While the minimal onsite requirements of many Day 1 CPT programs do give you the flexibility to live and work elsewhere in the United States, you should be aware of potential associated risks. The F1 visa requires that you maintain full-time student status, and your primary reason for living in the United States must be to further your education.


Regardless of your intentions, living close to your worksite but far from your university may raise suspicions about your primary reasons for being in the country. For instance, if you’re enrolled in a Day 1 CPT program at New England College in New Hampshire but you live and work in Chicago, a visa officer might issue an RFE alleging that your primary reason for living in the United States is to work rather than study. While issuing such an RFE is up to the discretion of the adjudicating officer, you should be prepared to demonstrate that your primary intent is to study.


In addition, you should be aware of the accreditation for the school you choose. Prioritize institutions with established reputations as well as both national and regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is especially difficult to secure, and notable regional accreditations include WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) and NECHE (New England Commission of Higher Education). Choosing institutions with such accreditation not only ensures a higher level of academic quality and recognition but also minimizes the risk of your application receiving an RFE.

Tuition and Other Costs

When you’re a foreign student exploring Day 1 CPT programs, considering tuition costs is critical. Financial constraints are a common challenge for international students, and choosing an institution that aligns with your budget is a natural concern. Opting for an affordable university helps to ensure that pursuing Day 1 CPT provides valuable academic and work experiences without burdening you with excessive debt.

Cost of Living Expenses

However, tuition is only one of the costs you’ll need to consider as you decide on a program. Other important factors include location and living expenses, such as accommodation and transportation. These additional costs can significantly impact your overall budget, and you should carefully evaluate these factors to make informed decisions about your education and your stay in the United States.

For instance, due to factors such as housing markets, state taxes, and local amenities, the cost of living expenses can vary significantly across the United States. A one-bedroom apartment in New York City can cost nearly $4,000, whereas a comparable apartment in Kansas City might cost under $1,200. If you’re planning to live near your university, make sure you are aware of the cost of living expenses in the area and plan your budget accordingly.

Travel and Accommodations 

However, you might choose to live in an area far from your university. One benefit of many Day 1 CPT programs is that you can complete most of the coursework online and are required to be onsite for only one or two weekends per semester. In this case, you should consider the costs of flights and accommodations near your university. Like rent, hotel prices can vary from location to location within the United States. A hotel room in Boston or New York City will likely cost much more than a comparable one in Miami or Baltimore.

Similarly, you’ll want to consider the cost of flights to and from your university. In general, regardless of the length of the flight, flying to larger international airports is less expensive than flying to smaller regional airports. Choosing a university in a large metropolitan area with access to an international airport may not only lower travel costs but also provide you with more accessible transit options within the city.

Moreover, travel takes time. While many Day 1 CPT programs hold onsite instruction over the weekend, traveling long distances might require you to request time off from your job, potentially costing you income. As such, while tuition should indeed play an important role in your choice of a Day 1 CPT program, you should also broaden your considerations to ensure you’re making optimal financial decisions.

Other Important Considerations

Leaves of Absence

Some universities that offer Day 1 CPT also offer features that might align with both your financial situation and your academic and professional goals. In certain Day 1 CPT programs, such as those at Westcliff University and Monroe College, you’ll have the flexibility to take a leave of absence for one semester. During this period, you can engage in practical work experiences and earn income without paying tuition or completing coursework.

This unique feature offers you a valuable balance between professional experience and managing financial commitments. By engaging in work experiences without tuition during a semester off, you can fully commit yourself to hands-on professional experiences without worrying about violating the conditions of your F1 visa.

Nonprofit Status

Additionally, you should be aware of whether your chosen university operates as a nonprofit or a for-profit institution. Some universities offering Day 1 CPT, such as Westcliff University and Sofia University, are for-profit institutions, while others, like Trine University and Harrisburg University, are nonprofit. While you might not think such classifications would affect you, enrolling in a for-profit university for your first master’s degree could have implications for future visa applications.

Specifically, one component of the H1B visa program is the H1B advanced degree cap, which reserves 20,000 slots annually for those with master’s degrees or higher from U.S. universities. This allocation, separate from the regular H1B cap, improves opportunities for advanced degree holders, providing them with a higher chance of securing H1B visas for employment.

However, the USCIS has strict qualifications for filing under the H1B advanced degree cap, stipulating that the degree must be awarded by an accredited, nonprofit U.S. institution. A degree from a for-profit university might disqualify you from inclusion in the advanced degree cap, essentially limiting your future opportunities for employment in the United States. If continuing to work in the United States after graduation is among your career goals, enrolling in a nonprofit university should be a priority.


In addition, when considering your employment plans following graduation, you may want to think about how the program you choose impacts your eligibility for OPT. In general, international students are eligible for one year of OPT work authorization following completion of their degree. This program allows you to work in your chosen field and enhance your professional connections and visibility in the U.S. job market.

However, the United States offers a special provision for those graduating from certain STEM programs, such as engineering, computer science, and data science. STEM OPT allows you to work in your field for an additional two years after completing regular OPT, providing additional hands-on professional experience. Moreover, STEM OPT extends the window for eligible graduates to participate in the H1B visa lottery, increasing your chances of securing a work visa in the United States and potentially transitioning to long-term employment.

Although Day 1 CPT programs in STEM fields often come with higher tuition costs, they can be a valuable investment in your long-term career plans. Thinking about your long-term plans, paying more for tuition now can allow you more profitable opportunities in the future. If your plans include an extended stay in the United States following your degree program, consider a STEM program provides you with opportunities you might not otherwise have.


Understandably, for many foreign students, tuition costs are a primary concern when selecting a university. However, selecting the right university for your Day 1 CPT program extends beyond tuition. Various factors can significantly impact the overall cost and quality of your academic and professional experiences, and focusing on tuition alone could hurt your stay in the United States.

By understanding how the location of your university can affect both your living expenses and USCIS scrutiny of your application, you can make a decision that increases your chances of success over the next several years and beyond. By understanding how a university’s accreditation and nonprofit status influence your future opportunities in the United States, you can make a decision that best aligns with your long-term plans and goals.

Balancing short-term financial decisions with long-term career goals is essential. Enrolling in a Day 1 CPT program can offer you significant advantages as an international student. With the ability to start your practical training immediately, you gain valuable work experience while pursuing your degree, both improving your professional skills and providing a head start in building a professional network. While you might be tempted to choose a Day 1 CPT program based on tuition alone, you should make a knowledgeable decision rooted in your own long-term goals.




Phil Ortmann has years of experience researching and writing about immigration and visa issues, including employment-based and student visas. With a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree from Penn State, he has served in multiple roles related to U.S. visas, including as an immigration case manager. He understands that the visa system can be complex and seeks to provide clarity on changing and evolving issues within that system. Outside of his professional efforts, Phil enjoys cooking, literature, baseball, and his occasional attempts at making music.