It is one thing to study a profession from a far-away classroom and through the lens of a textbook, online resource, or informational video.
To live that experience, to “try it on” in a low-stakes environment, with added constructive criticism and supervision, is a completely different experience.
Co-ops – otherwise known as cooperative education opportunities – are similar to internships in that they place students in a context related to their desired careers.
Whereas internships are usually unpaid and two-to-three months in duration, co-ops are paid and longer (at least six months). In many cases, students can also obtain academic credit for completing co-op experiences.
There are many reasons to complete a co-op. Getting to try on a career can help a student refine their course sequence.
For example, they may find that they’re more interested in teaching people how to perform a certain task than doing it themselves. Alternatively, observing a close mentor may inspire them to go down a different pathway.
An additional benefit to most co-op experiences is that they are tuition-free. In effect, co-op students get paid to explore their passions and increase their employability.
Not much to lose here!
We’ve compiled a list of the top 10 colleges with the best co-op programs. These programs stand out through their connections to top employers, competitive salaries, flexible academic scheduling, and extra career resources for undergraduates.
Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA)
Drexel offers two co-op options: five-year programs including three co-op experiences or four-year programs with a single co-op experience.
Typically, students are engaged in a co-op for six months, alternating with six months of on-campus coursework. Most majors at Drexel require participation in at least one co-op experience.
A fun fact about Drexel is that they organize one of the oldest and most expansive co-op programs in the United States, with over 1,650 businesses participating from broad niches.
An impressive 94% of Drexel co-op students were employed during the most recent academic year – the advantage of participating in co-ops over internships is that they are paid experiences that receive academic credit, and the work within the experience is related to the major.
One of the most exciting experiences is the Entrepreneurship Co-Op, which challenges students to start their own businesses!
Top participants are eligible to receive a scholarship of up to $19,000 for their innovative prototypes; along the way, co-op students receive one-on-one mentoring and access to workshops related to growing a business.
Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
Northeastern has maintained an exceptional co-op program for over a century.
Students alternate semesters of coursework with semesters of full-time employment, and outcomes suggest that the co-op experiences strengthen Northeastern graduates’ odds of securing a job after graduation.
Most recently, 93% of NU seniors gained employment or enrolled in graduate school within nine months of graduating.
First, all students take the prerequisite co-op course, usually in the spring semester of sophomore year.
After that, students can choose three co-op experiences within five years or two co-ops within four years.
Advisers and major-based co-op coordinators assist students in scheduling experiences, preparing for interviews, and securing references.
Globally inspired students can even complete a co-op experience abroad!
Current programs in the Group Global Co-Op are set up in Nkhata Bah, Malawi; Barcelona, Spain; and Sydney, Australia, among several other exciting locations.
Northeastern University has created global partnerships with dependable partners in these locations in order to provide NU students with meaningful, small-group engagements focused on their major of study.
Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)
Co-op experiences at Purdue last anywhere from one to two years! Purdue’s co-ops are distinguished by their structure, in which participants fulfill three-to-five work sessions under the same employer.
This format enables students to build solid relationships within a single organization, collaborate on a variety of projects for different purposes and audiences, and take on increased leadership roles.
To apply, Purdue undergraduates should attend the co-op callout meeting in January of the spring semester.
After creating a student profile within the co-op database, candidates then attend job interviews on embedded professional practice days. Qualified employers exist within diverse realms, including Apple (manufacturing co-ops), the CIA (government co-ops), and Intel (technology co-ops).
Purdue students can even earn scholarships to help fund their co-op experiences!
The application period runs from November 1-15, and recipients are notified by December 10 of awards like the Leonard E. Wood Scholarship or the William C. & Linda E. Nelson Scholarship.
The former, for example, awards four scholarships to co-op participants based on a personal/professional transformation achieved through the co-op.
Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)
In an RIT co-op experience, participants dedicate 35 or more hours per week to their employment, the responsibilities of which are directly related to their declared major.
RIT students pay no tuition for that semester, and placements are, more often than not, paid.
RIT students can engage in on-campus or entrepreneurial co-ops. The first option includes full-time, paid work and is managed through the Student Employment Office.
The benefits of this option include a reduced/nonexistent commute, freeing up time for other commitments. The second option is full-time; students are unpaid or receive a stipend.
Most majors at RIT require completion of a co-op experience, and undergraduates must have a minimum GPA of 2.0 to engage in a co-op.
Students are evaluated by their employers at the end of each co-op term; while students won’t receive academic credit for their experiences, the connections they make can lead them to secure a job more quickly and directly related to their major than if they had not completed a co-op engagement.
Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)
Co-ops are especially emphasized within Temple University’s engineering department. Participants spend six or more months engaged in full-time employment backed by competitive wages.
Students can start pursuing co-ops as early as their junior years and must have 30 credits and a 2.5 GPA to apply.
For example, students within the College of Engineering might complete co-op experiences with esteemed organizations like Amtrak, Comcast, and Verizon.
Over 1,000 internship and co-op postings are available in Temple’s OwlNetwork database.
There are two prerequisite courses for participating in a co-op work experience: ENGR 2181 and ENGR 3181. Both are meant to prepare students for full-time work in business, government, and education-related industries.
Undergraduates report that co-ops significantly positively impact their career trajectories, sharing that it gives them a sort of “trial period” to see how their job supports their lifestyle and fulfills their personal goals and values.
University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
All approved co-op experiences at UF are major-related and organized under approved business, industrial, or government agency guidance. Eligible students emerge from their initial year with at least a 2.0 GPA and choose between alternating or parallel schedules.
Alternating schedules rotate full-time semesters of academic coursework with full-time semesters of co-op employment for at least two or three semesters, while parallel schedules allow students to pursue coursework and jobs simultaneously.
UF additionally offers a host of travel-abroad experiences where students can merge academic and career pursuits with an immersive language-learning journey.
Nearly 3,000 students travel to popular sites like Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom annually, and over half report that the study abroad co-op experience aided them in securing post-graduate employment.
Elon University (Elon, NC)
Elon sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a GPA over 2.0 can receive academic credit and other benefits for participation in co-op programs. Generally, students complete at least 40 hours of work for every credit and can complete more than one co-op.
Feedback is an essential component of the Elon co-op experience. Participants keep regular contact with the CAS Director of Internships, a site supervisor, a program director, and other points of contact at their employment site. Students are assessed on the completion of various responsibilities.
In addition to co-ops, the Student Professional Development Center provides valuable resources on career-related queries in networking, negotiating salaries, and developing leadership skills.
Micro-internships – shorter versions of co-ops – are available to students in many majors but do not afford academic credit.
The SPDC hosts regular recruiting events throughout the year – employers like Disney, Google, Wells Fargo, and the U.S. State Department have recruited Elon students to their companies.
Clemson University (Clemson, SC)
The co-op has been a critical piece of the Clemson undergraduate experience since 1906, when the engineering department stipulated an experiential education requirement in their curriculum.
Engineering and computing majors make up the bulk of co-op participants, generally committing to at least three rotations.
The co-op program at Clemson continues to gain popularity. The 2018-2019 academic year witnessed a 66% increase in co-op enrollment since 2010-2011!
Applicants are almost guaranteed co-op employment, with 92% of the recent cohort receiving offers from 450+ companies, including Ally, Bosch, Vanguard, and Hewlett Packard.
Clemson Tigers can connect with potential employers through on-campus interview days held once each semester.
On these days, students can meet with company representatives in 30-minute blocks, with companies registering in advance.
Clemson students appreciate co-op programs for connecting them with mentors, many of whom remain in contact with them for years after graduation.
Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
Georgia Tech boasts the fourth-oldest co-op program in the country. Beginning in 1912 with only a dozen students, close to 1,500 and 300+ community partners make up this exciting program, one that many students report is integral to their later career success.
Students are compensated $16/hour for their work, while some employers pay them upwards of $30 per hour!
Georgia Tech undergraduates can participate in a five-year co-op program if they are in good academic standing with a GPA of 2.0 or higher.
Participation costs zero dollars in tuition! Between work engagements, co-op participants complete 12 hours of classwork in the fall or spring, then six additional hours in a summer session.
Several benefits, including scholarship eligibility, access to career center support, and selection for the Briaerean Honors Society, accompany co-op participation.
To achieve the co-op designation, students work for three alternating semesters in eight-week-minimum blocks of 40 hours per week.
All participants are evaluated by a placement supervisor and can intern with up to two additional employers after completing all three co-op engagements.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY)
From powerful Fortune-500 organizations to burgeoning start-ups, Rensselaer students can elect to participate in co-op experiences in diverse work environments. Each engagement is paid, major-related, and lasts six-to-eight months in duration.
To apply, each student must complete an undergraduate work plan outlining their sequence of coursework in conjunction with co-op experiences.
Students have previously secured placements with companies like American Airlines, Disneyland Resort, 3M, and Johnson & Johnson.
Assuredly, they won’t be making copies and running coffee errands for most of their days – Rensselaer co-op experiences are fulfilling and challenge students to refine skills in their academic concentrations.
Sophomores, juniors, and seniors are eligible to apply for co-ops, which are full-time experiences of at least 520 hours. Undergraduates must maintain a 2.0 GPA.
Benefits include paid work and zero tuition charges, whereas internships are generally shorter, unpaid, and not necessarily related to the participant’s subject area.