Co-op universities, or universities with cooperative educational experiences, combine academic rigor with real world job experience. Choosing a college with a co-op program gives students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the workforce and also begin to explore possible career pathways.
How do co-op programs work?
Cooperative education experiences give students the opportunity to earn money or academic credit from an actual job related to their major while earning an undergraduate degree. This can lead directly to finding a job after graduation or helping boost a student's graduate school application. Many co-op companies recruit new hires directly from co-op university programs. All students who participate in co-op programs graduate with hands on, real world work experience they can put on a resume, a distinction that will set students apart from graduates with little, to no, practical work experience.
Types of Co-op programs:
There are a few different types of co-op programs: alternating semester programs, part time programs, and one semester programs. Alternating semester programs have students complete a semester of academic coursework and then a semester of a full time co-op experience. Co-op universities with alternating semester programs usually expect students to complete two semesters of a co-op activity, with an option of an additional third semester. This can result in a student needing a fifth year to earn an undergraduate degree. If students want to complete three semester co-op activities and graduate in four years, they may need to complete summer coursework. Part time co-op programs consist of students working part time at their co-op activity while simultaneously taking academic courses at the university. One semester programs have students complete one semester of a co-op activity during the course of their undergraduate career.
The Difference Between Co-op Programs, Internships, and Work Study:
Co-op programs are typically vetted more thoroughly by the university than internships, because they have a formal and established relationship. With a co-op program the university is usually more present throughout the experience, providing academic and/or career advisors, specific opportunities, or formal opportunities to reflect on overall experiences.
Work study jobs differ from co-op programs in that work study jobs are typically provided to help students earn extra money during college and don't necessarily relate to their major or possible career. Most work study jobs are on campus and usually cap the number of hours a students can work. Work study jobs also require that students are simultaneously taking classes while working, whereas many co-op programs fully immerse students in the job.
Students looking for a way to graduate with hands-on work experience before they even graduate college, should seriously explore the kind of co-op opportunities a college has into their search. Participating in a co-op program can make students more well-rounded, mature citizens of the world with the confidence to handle life after college.
Here is a list of some top colleges with co-op programs: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/slideshows/top-colleges-universities-for-internship-co-op-programs