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College programs are designed to set you up for success in your future career. But how can you tell if the job you’ve been dreaming of is actually right for you? Cooperative education, or a Co-op for short, may provide the answer. To learn more about these opportunities, we spoke with Robbin Beauchamp, Director of the Center for Cooperative Education and Career Development at Wentworth Institute of Technology

*This article is sponsored by Wentworth Institute of Technology*

So what exactly is a co-op program?

“A co-op is a full-time, full semester work experience directly related to a student’s major,” explains Beauchamp. 

“From a career development point of view, students come to college with a theory that they want to be an engineer or an architect, and until they actually do the work it’s just a theory. A co-op lets them test their theory and prove to themselves that they’re in the right major.” 

Think of it this way: You’ve been dying to buy a new pair of shoes from your favorite brand. But then you try them on and find out they’re not as comfortable as they looked. So you put them back and pick out different pair that fits you better. Cooperative education allows you to try on a career before you commit to pursuing it long-term.

If you find out you like a job, great! Keep going in that direction. If you’d rather try something else, you can adjust your course while you’re still in school. 

What’s the difference between a co-op and an internship?

Career preparation programs allow students to take their learning off-campus and into the real world. Internships and co-ops may sound similar in nature, but they are usually structured quite differently.

“An internship is usually a one-time experience. Often times an internship is a part-time job that students complete during a semester while taking classes. Wentworth’s co-op program requires students to have multiple work experiences over two semesters in their junior and senior years. We also strongly discourage students from taking classes while completing a co-op.”

Co-op programs typically allow students to find co-op opportunities through an online portal or on their own. Advisors review job descriptions to make sure the job responsibilities will be rigorous enough to count for credit. 

Students are usually required to provide learning targets along with contact information for their supervisors. Performance evaluations help make sure students are getting the most of the experience. Students participating in co-ops generally do not take classes, which frees them up to accept co-op positions anywhere in the world.

How are students prepared for their co-op experience?

Colleges often require students to enroll in a co-op prep course prior to applying for positions. Co-op programs usually assign students to a designated co-op advisor to help guide them through the process from start to finish.

“We have seven advisors that help guide our students. Students are required to complete a seven-week Co-op Institute seminar. We help them create a resume, search for jobs, and hold mock interviews. We have a lending closet full of professional clothing students can borrow from if they need something for an interview. We also bring in industry professionals to discuss best practices and hold an annual career fair”. 

Do students make money in a co-op?

In most cases, students do get paid during a co-op, although the amount may differ across industries and job markets. 

“Most students are making an average of $18-25 an hour in their co-op position.” 

Do students need to pay tuition during the program?

Aside from gaining job-related experience, co-ops generally allow students to stop paying tuition while maintaining their status as a full-time student.

“Tuition is not charged to the student during co-op semesters. They get to reap the benefits of being a full-time student without paying anything besides room and board to the school.”

 Students should check with their co-op coordinator and the office of financial aid to review their school’s policy on tuition billing. 

How are co-ops beneficial to a company?

Companies view co-ops as a fresh pool of talent to hire from. Global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin offers students co-op opportunities all over the country and abroad, and frequently hire graduates of their programs.

According to its website, “co-op students are very likely transition into a full-time, salaried roles at Lockheed Martin.” 

The outcome

Co-ops leave students with real-world experience they can use to land a job in their field of choice. 

“Students graduate with at least eight months of full-time, applicable experience that makes them much more competitive than their peers at other colleges that don’t have any kind of work experience. Ninety-nine percent of the class of 2018 (that we know of) were either employed or going to graduate school within six months of graduation.” 

Your college journey should help you decide your future career path. Rolling up your sleeves and getting some hands-on experience through a co-op program could be exactly what you need to reaffirm you’re headed in the right direction.