You’ve got the education, but what about the job? It’s no secret that competition for a job after college is getting stiffer. The good news: Students who graduate with work experience under their belt seem to have an advantage. That may be why more schools are adopting co-op programs—to give students an extra edge academically and professionally. In fact, approximately 500 colleges and universities in this country now offer co-op programs, involving 300,000 students in real-world job experiences. But since it typically means committing to an extra year of school, here’s what you need to know to determine if a co-op program is right for you.
- College co-op programs differ from internships in that the work experience is integrated into the academic curriculum. Co-ops are always paid positions, and they’re set up as sequential, ongoing experiences. Much like in college coursework, the level of learning increases as you progress.
- The average co-op student graduates with 18 months of experience from time spent in five to seven paid positions. That’s more than impressive to potential employers, and it’s the reason why more than 60 percent of co-op students nationally accept permanent jobs from their co-op employers. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that 95 percent of co-op students find jobs immediately upon graduation (National Commission for Cooperative Education).
- “Although a student’s first co-op experience involves doing fairly basic professional tasks, it is a paid position, and the student will not be making copies or pouring coffee,” says M.B. Reilly, author of The Ivory Tower and the Smokestack: 100 Years of Cooperative Education at the University of Cincinnati. “Instead, the work is directly related to the student’s major.”
- Co-op programs begin early in the student’s college career, typically as a sophomore. Internships, on the other hand, are usually a capstone experience that takes place after the student’s academic work is complete.
- Paying the student for his co-op work is important because it ensures that everyone—student and employer—makes the most of the experience.
- Earnings from co-op programs are significant enough to contribute to the cost of a college education, if necessary. Consider the average monthly earnings of today’s University of Cincinnati co-op student: $1,700 to $2,500.
- There are few geographical limitations to the co-op experience. Opportunities exist both in this country and overseas.