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Opt to Co-Op: Cooperative Education

Opt to Co-Op: Cooperative Education

A co-op education combines real world experience with your education.

By Roxana Hadad

March 19, 2009

Are you looking to get more out of your education? Do you want real world experience to help build your career? Cooperative education, or co-op, can give both your education and your career a boost.

How Co-op Works

Co-op is an education program that combines your studies with paid work experience in a field related to your major or career goals. Unlike a summer or part-time job, a co-op consists of an agreement between you, an employer and your college.

It’s different from an internship because you can have more than one work experience throughout the program. And co-ops offer a real job: You’re recognized by your boss and co-workers as a true employee. The result is a job that keeps your educational path and career goals in mind.

There are three different types of cooperative education:

  • Parallel – part-time work and part-time study
  • Extended day – full-time study and part-time work or full-time work and part-time study
  • Alternating – a quarter, semester or year of full-time work alternated with a session of full-time study

The Benefits of Co-op

  • Teaches you job-search skills like career assessment, resume and cover letter writing and interview techniques.
  • Enhances what you’ve learned in the classroom by adding ‘real world’ work experience.
  • Helps answer your questions about your prospective career path.
  • Makes college more affordable through employer-paid wages.
  • Improves job opportunities after graduation by giving you valuable work experience and contact with potential future employers.

Undecided Majors and Co-op

Even if you haven’t picked a major, you can take part in a co-op opportunity. That’s the great thing about co-opping: You take on a variety of tasks in the workplace, so you can figure out what you want in a career.

Time Commitments

Co-op programs usually involve a long-term commitment that extends throughout your college career. Typically, you begin with an initial period of full-time study, which eventually becomes an integrated program of class time and relevant work experience. Some programs offer four-year plans that use summers for classes and work experiences. Others offer a five-year plan in which you graduate with a degree and a full year of work experience.

How co-opping affects your graduation date depends on your college and the specific program. Keep in mind that even if it takes you longer to graduate, it will probably take you less time to find a job after college. The average college student takes six to 15 months to find a full-time position after graduation, while the average co-op student takes only three months.

Co-op Credit

Colleges differ as to on how they recognize and record participation in co-op programs. Some offer academic credit, some offer co-op credit and some don’t offer course credit but include a notation on your transcript.

Financial Benefits

Co-opping is a great way to help pay for tuition. Salaries range from $2,500 to $14,000 a year and vary depending on your field of study, prior experience and your level of education. Explore your field, credentials and the job market to figure out how much you might earn.

Participating Employers

Co-ops are sponsored by large multinational corporations, smaller companies, non-profits and government agencies. The National Commission for Cooperative Education (NCCE) supports a network of over 50,000 employers – including many Fortune 100 companies.

To find out about cooperative education programs (including a list of participating employers and colleges), check out the National Commission for Cooperative Education. Then get ready for a great opportunity to develop professional skills and get more out of your college education.


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