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In co-op programs, students work for credit during the semester. But is that a good idea?

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

In short: For lots of students, yes! But, not for all. A co-op program (short for a cooperative education program) is an experiential learning opportunity offered to college students. Instead of a traditional academic semester of courses and tests, students gain real-world experience in their chosen field of study through an immersive, paid, full-time job placement for six to eight months. This kind of program is designed to help students develop professional skills and build their resumes. From gaining real-world experience to making valuable connections in the industry, a co-op program can be a great way for students to set themselves up for future success. Let's look at how co-op programs help students take their education to the next level so that you can figure out whether co-ops might be right for your teen.

Why would students want to participate in a co-op program?

Here are some of the top benefits of a co-op program in college:

1. Gain valuable, real-world experience: Co-op programs provide students with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their chosen field before entering the workforce. They also offer a chance to explore different career paths and gain an understanding of the industry. This can be invaluable when it comes to making decisions about future education and career paths.

2. Earn money while you learn: Many co-op programs provide students with paid internships. This can be a great way to offset the cost of tuition and living expenses while gaining valuable experience.

3. Make valuable connections: Co-op programs provide students with an opportunity to network with industry professionals and build lasting relationships. This can be key to landing a great job after graduation.

4. Build your resume: Participating in a co-op program adds an impressive line to any resume. It shows potential employers that a student has taken the initiative to gain real-world experience and is well-prepared for the workforce.

What's a co-op program really like? A current student shares her experience.

Sanjana Dutt ('23), a senior graduating from Northeastern University this semester, shares her experience with co-ops at the university known best for them:

“At Northeastern, my co-op program allowed me to gain valuable, real-world experience in computer science, and it increased my earning potential. I got hands-on experience in a real-world setting and gained a competitive edge when applying to full-time roles.

One of the greatest challenges I faced during my co-op was learning to delegate. I was part of a team of five people, and we all had to work together to complete a project. I was taking the lead on the project, so I had to ensure that everyone was doing their part. Although I was familiar with the concept of delegation, I never had to do it before in a professional setting and I was overwhelmed by the responsibility. At first, I was hesitant to assign tasks to people who were in a higher position than me and I was over-involved in managing the project. I soon realized that I had to trust my team members and let them take the initiative. After a few weeks of trial and error, I eventually became comfortable with delegating tasks and allowing my team members to take ownership.

This experience was invaluable, as it taught me how to manage a team effectively and gave me the confidence to trust my teammates and my ability to do this again in the future. It also showed me the importance of giving everyone the space to contribute and grow. I now use these skills in group projects for class and will continue to work on these skills as I start my full-time job after graduation. I got positive feedback from my manager as he saw me become more confident throughout the process and started giving me more challenging tasks to tackle on my own. I'm grateful for the opportunity of my co-op program. If I could go back in time, I'd definitely do it again."

What kind of student wouldn't like a co-op experience?

If your teen wants a traditional semester of academic coursework, tests, and grades, a co-op could be a move in the wrong direction. Especially if your teen is a lover of academic learning, interactions with professors, and academic research in a college setting, a traditional university experience will offer this best.

What universities offer co-op programs?

The most recognized school touting a co-op program is Northeastern University, which now has three campuses, including its main campus in Boston, Massachusetts. Other schools with great co-op programs include Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Cincinnati.

What do you think, is a co-op program right for your teen?

As you search for colleges, now you know whether to look for ones with co-op programs or traditional academic experiences. There are a ton of other factors to consider, too. Download my completely free College Research Guide to get my ultimate list of college search resources so you know exactly where to start.

Did you like hearing from Sanjana about Northeastern? She recently wrote a guest post on the College Torch blog about her experience studying computer science at their Boston campus.

Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Parents, join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.

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