Cooperative education programs (or co-op programs) offer a number of advantages. They provide students with extensive work experience that allows them to spend significant time with one or more companies, and to make important contributions to those companies. Even better, students are compensated for the work they do. But once you decide that co-op education is right for you, how do you determine which particular program to pursue? To start, look for these three attributes:
One of the most important benefits of a co-op program is the work experience that it provides you with, which can help you start your career a step ahead of the competition. However, it is crucial to ensure that this work experience is relevant. Do not choose any co-op program that seems interesting—instead, verify that it is tailored to the career path that interests you. If you are unsure, ask the program questions to learn more about what you will be doing and how it will aid your future career.
A co-op program is certainly an educational program, but in some ways, it is like any other job with pay and benefits. Evaluate a number of co-op programs to compare the benefits they offer. Is the pay competitive? Does the program offer other types of assistance, like subsidized housing or relocation support? While you should be certain that the co-op program will boost your future career, it is also important to choose a program that works well for you now. For instance, if you cannot afford to move to Hawaii without relocation assistance, then a co-op program in this area may not be ideal for you.
If you are hoping that a co-op program will help your career blossom, one of the best ways that it can do so is by leading to a full-time job at the same organization after graduation. When you are considering various programs, ask if they often place students in full-time jobs with their host companies. You can (and should) also conduct research to learn more about each company. Even before you start a co-op program, it can be helpful to see if the organization you are looking into is the type of place where you would want to work. Look for reviews from employees and co-op program graduates. If a company has a strong reputation, that may also mean great networking opportunities, which can come in handy if you do not end up working there permanently.
Perhaps the best way to choose a co-op program is to ask for advice. You can speak with others in your degree program who have already completed a co-op education program, thus gathering first-hand feedback on what they liked and did not enjoy about the program. You can also ask your advisor for guidance on which co-op programs to investigate further. Your advisor should have a wealth of information about various programs (or know who does), and he or she should be able to point you to several that might best suit your needs.
Catherine Martin is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.