What’s All the Hype About Co-Op Programs?

Nate G.
Nate G.

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What if you were able to work at your dream company doing what you love, while simultaneously earning academic credit and getting paid, all without taking classes? Sounds too good to be true, huh? One of the hottest trends to catch on in the past decade in undergraduate education reform, is merging professional work experience with collegiate academics. It has been coined the co-op program, also known as the Cooperative Education Experience. Although co-op programs have been around for over a century, they have never really exploded in popularity until recently.

What is a Co-Op Program?

Co-Op programs are typically semester to year-long work experiences. Students get academic credit, and also earn competitive wages for working at that company. Typically, the college would form a strategic partnership with an extensive line-up of employers nationwide, where the employer would hire their undergraduate students for a 3 – 12 month period of work in what would’ve been a students’ junior or senior year of college. Co-Op requirements can be done all at once, or broken up into shorter months, but may require 2 or 3 times of participation by graduation. Students who complete these co-op programs earn academic credit towards their graduation. And yes, your co-op experience does appear on your transcript!

Advantages of Participating in Co-Op Programs

In today’s increasingly competitive workforce, large numbers of college students are graduating with limited to no work experience.Depending on the university, undergraduate co-op programs usually require a minimum work experience of between 12 – 18 months in order to graduate. Not only do co-op participants gain significant work experience above their peers from traditional universities, they also typically receive return offers at their co-op employers immediately after graduation. As a result, students who attend universities with co-op programs find themself with a significant advantage entering the workforce.

What Schools Offer Co-Op Programs?

Below, we list several schools with nationally ranked co-op programs. For many of these universities, the robust co-op programs and the expansive employer network is a key selling point that draws high school talent to these colleges. 

  • Northeastern University
  • Drexel University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Temple University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • Elon University
  • Cornell University
  • University of Washington

What Do You Have to Major in to Do a Co-Op Program?

Co-Op opportunities and employer partnerships differ by schools and their respective majors. Although a sizable number of co-op opportunities are for technology majors, colleges with large established co-op programs span more broadly. For example, Northeastern has long-standing partnerships with companies in:

  • consumer products,
  • defense,
  • energy,
  • robotics,
  • construction,
  • healthcare,
  • consulting,
  • finance,
  • manufacturing,
  • and biotech industries

…just to name a few. You do not have to be a specific major to land roles in any of these industries. You will have to interview with these employers as you would a regular job.

What’s the Difference Between a Co-Op and an Internship?

Typically, in co-ops, the schools tend to be very involved in what the student is working on, while in internships, the schools are hands-off. 

So, what does that mean? In what way are schools involved in a students’ co-op project? This may come in the form of colleges requesting specific role opportunities for the student, maintaining contact with the workplace supervisor for general updates, and/or requiring reflections on the students’ overall experience. Ultimately, schools take this active role because they want to ensure that students like you, are learning true professional workplace skills and not just getting coffee for your fellow co-workers.

Nonetheless, the best way I would describe an internship is an insightful short-term experience to explore your interests in a particular industry. Interns usually only provide small or supporting contributions to the employer during their 8 – 10 week stint at the company. Colleges are not in any way connecting with your internship employer about your performance or experience. In contrast, because co-ops are longer-term work experiences, students are able to invest more time in projects and provide significant contributions to an organization. 

Final Thoughts

Although most co-op participants graduate in 5 years compared to the traditional 4-year route, co-op participants graduate with extensive industry work experience, major contributions for their past employers, professional recommendations, and oftentimes, a guaranteed job upon graduation. So if you don’t mind the extra year of college, then be sure to consider those schools with structured co-op programs! If you have any remaining questions or are interested in learning more about college counseling, book a free consult today! From crafting your college list to figuring out if co-ops are right for you, Empowerly can help.

Questions? Let us know!