An educational plan in which students alternate between paid employment and formal study
An opportunity to integrate career related experience into an undergraduate education by participating in planned, supervised work
The first step toward your career could be cooperative education (co-op). If you participate in a “co-op” program, you enter the work force one step ahead of a your classmates. You graduate with a university degree, as well as professional work experience in your field of study.
Academic and Professional
As part of a long tradition in the United States, over 900 American universities and colleges offer co-op education programs. Cooperative education is a partnership between a university's academic programs and professional employers, who provide off-campus work experience.
Your school should assist you in finding work with an organization. Your employer should monitor and evaluate your performance, pay you and supervise you.
Required for Graduation
At some U.S. universities, each student must complete a co-op education program in order to graduate. These programs are as diverse as the universities themselves.
For example, everyone who earns a bachelor's degree at Wentworth Institute of Technology participates in at least two semesters of co-op. Wentworth schedules co-op after the first three semesters of their bachelor's program, when a student has acquired enough knowledge and experience to deal with meaningful professional work. Co-op is built into the curriculum of each of Wentworth's majors.
Since Wentworth is an institute of technology, typical employers are architectural and design firms, engineering firms, and computer software companies. Wentworth students have completed co-ops at The Smithsonian Institution, Hong Kong Airport Authority, The Gillette Company, GE and Fidelity Investments.
Students are not limited to work near the university. International students who plan careers in their home countries often complete their co-op semesters overseas.
Like a Real Job
At Wentworth, each student is assigned a co-op advisor and is encouraged to meet with that coordinator as often as desired. All students are encouraged to attend a five week seminar to prepare them for their co-op. We call it “Co-op Institute”. Meetings with Advisors can include résumé-writing, mock interviews, and co-op search assistance.
Although your university may assist you in finding co-op opportunities, you are the one responsible for securing a co-op position. You will conduct a formal job search, interview for positions and earn a paycheck just as in the "real world."
Wentworth requires students to go through at least two full job searches in order to graduate. With this practice, students are much more astute than their counterparts, who may have never searched for, negotiated terms for, or landed, a coveted position.
The U.S. government allows international students with F-1 visas to work up to a total of 12 months in curricular practical training (co-op qualifies in this category) before earning a bachelor's degree.
In the international job market, co-op graduates are in high demand. Employers know that a co-op education integrates classroom theory, hands-on lab and studio work and real professional experience.Most co-op graduates use their employers as professional references. Many receive full-time job offers from them.
Co-op education supplements tuition and develops marketable skills. Those of us who administer co-op programs see this system as much more than that - it's a great way to start your professional life.
Cooperative Education gives students the unique opportunity to practice classroom theory in a professional setting.
- Helps students explore career interests
- Paid position helps subsidize tuition
- Improves job opportunities after graduation
- Teaches students valuable job-search skills such as resumé writing and interviewing techniques
- Promotes lifelong learning by integrating work and study, and enhances workplace skills such as teamwork and critical analysis
- Encourages students who might not otherwise enter university or complete a degree program, by providing earnings and work experience
- Improves students' self-confidence and respect for work
- Enhances professional development
Fast Track to Jobs
Qualified students at Golden Gate University in San Francisco are encouraged to gain practical experience and enhance their studies by working in local corporations. In the past, Golden Gate students have worked with such organizations as Bank of America, PwC, Hewlett Packard, Oracle Corporation and Charles Schwab. Professional internship coordinators work with students and faculty to identify job placements that will be beneficial for long-term career growth.
Fairleigh Dickinson University, just outside of New York City, also integrates co-op programs into their curriculum. Students work in positions directly related to their major and gain exposure to career possibilities. This pre-professional experience helps students to gain a competitive edge in the job market as they earn academic credit toward their degree. International students and their U.S. classmates can have paid work experiences for two semesters.
FDU electrical engineering student, Fred Clark, has participated in internships at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Ma’ayan Laboratory. Like many other students, Clark’s experience gave him valuable career insight:
“I’m not sure what I want to do professionally, so my internships have helped me explore different options. It’s good for me to diversify my experiences and my internship with Ma’ayan—a biomedical lab at Mount Sinai Medical Center, founded by an FDU graduate—has shown me innovative ways to apply my major.”
Students at New York's Pace University work part-time during the school year or full-time during the summer or for a semester. Internship placements have included Sony Corporation, J.P. Morgan Chase and Ernst & Young.
By Robbin Beauchamp
Director of Cooperative Education and Career Services at Wentworth Institute of Technology located in Boston, Massachusetts.