Co-Op Jobs: Definition and How They Work

Updated February 16, 2023

When students are looking for ways to position themselves as valuable candidates on the job market, pursuing a co-op job can help. A co-op, short for cooperative education, is a unique program that offers real-world experience before graduation. Through a co-op program, students can gain practical experience in their field of study that they can use to improve their skills and work toward their career goals. In this article, we explain what co-op jobs are, discuss the requirements to get a co-op job and explore the benefits of having a co-op job as a student.

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What are co-op jobs?

Co-op jobs, also known as cooperative education jobs, are jobs that offer a unique balance of classroom learning and real-world experience by integrating learning opportunities for students. These are typically paid, full-time positions in the student's chosen field, and they may or may not give someone school credit in place of traditional classroom courses. The amount of pay they earn also depends on the industry they are working in.

Some co-op jobs last one semester, while others can extend for an entire year. Typically, students who participate in a co-op will alternate semesters. For example, they may take courses for one semester and then spend the next semester working in a co-op job where they can apply the knowledge they gained in the classroom. Usually, students work in an entry-level role as they gain experience and further their education during their junior or senior year of college.

Related: Q&A: What Are Cooperative Education Programs and How Do They Work?

Why people prefer co-op jobs to internships

Unlike internships, co-op jobs provide a more in-depth and extensive work experience, which gives students an edge over their peers. Students invest more time in co-ops, which helps them provide a significant contribution to the organization, unlike interns who might only work part time over the course of two to three days a week.

Another reason co-op jobs are so alluring to students is that they are often paid positions, which means students can offset some of their school costs. Depending on the institution, students may also not be charged tuition while they're in a co-op. Additionally, co-ops offer a more niche approach than internships. This is particularly appealing to students looking to specialize in a specific area of their field.

Related: What Is the Difference Between a Co-Op and an Internship

What are the requirements to get a co-op job?

The qualifications students need to get a co-op job will depend on their school's application requirements and the organization they want to work for. Most co-op jobs have GPA and credit hour requirements. Each program and area of study has its own qualification guidelines as well. However, there's no need to be enrolled as a full-time student to participate in cooperative education.

Students with co-op jobs often have to submit work forms during their co-op term. These forms include work term goals and objectives, student performance evaluations and a work report that explains their responsibilities during their work term. It's important to note that most co-op jobs are also graded. The cooperative education coordinator and your supervisor at your work site determine your grades.

Finally, most institutions require students to complete a minimum number of credit hours before they become eligible for a co-op opportunity. They also typically require you to have been admitted to a degree program before reporting to a co-op job. It's important to become familiar with your school's co-op program before looking for co-op jobs. If a college doesn't have a cooperative education structure, students can still try to get a co-op job if they follow the requirements and create a valid structure to receive credit hours for their work.

Benefits of having a co-op job as a student

Here are some of the main benefits of pursuing a co-op job during college:

Unique learning experience

Cooperative education gives students a deeper and richer educational experience with real-world insight into their careers. By choosing a co-op job, students have the opportunity to alternate study and work. They can also earn college credit for working in a job that's related to their career and gain exposure to real-world situations that they can't experience in the classroom. Additionally, co-ops allow students to learn more about their career options by experiencing different work environments before graduation. It can help solidify their decision to choose a specific career.

Opportunity for networking

When students enter the job market before graduation, it gives them the chance to make vital connections and build rapport with employers and others in their industry. While it isn't always the case, many co-op students end up receiving full-time offers from their co-op employers. Not to mention, it instantly broadens their network, so they'll be better positioned in the workspace when they complete their education.

Better income

While many internships are unpaid, co-op work terms are typically paid. Employers pay competitive wages and sometimes even relocation expenses. Additionally, some institutions will not charge tuition or other costs to students with active co-op jobs. Of course, paid work experience means employers expect a higher level of professionalism and productivity from students, but since these are often full-time, paid positions, the dedication is worth it.

Stronger resume

Employers prefer recent college graduates to have at least some real-life experience in today's competitive market, and co-ops can help you meet those expectations. Co-op jobs provide practical work experience that could increase employability and your potential to advance within your field. Getting to add this experience to your resume can give you an edge over your peers and help you impress potential employers.

Related: Guide: How to Get a Job After College

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Industries that hire co-op employees

Although any company can hire co-op employees, companies must meet a set of specific requirements to post a co-op position. These companies need the approval of colleges to hire students from their co-op programs. Hiring co-op students is a cost-effective strategy for both small and large businesses looking for motivated and qualified staff members. At the same time, students get the chance to apply their classroom knowledge to a work setting.

Many industries hire co-op employees, including:

  • Engineering

  • Architecture

  • Business

  • Marketing

  • Agriculture

  • Food science

  • Environmental studies

  • Science

  • Geography

  • Computer science

  • Technology

  • Hospitality

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