Colleges With Co-Op Programs: What You Need to Know

What you need to know about colleges with co-op programs
May 14, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/14/24

Are you curious about attending a co-op program once you get into college? This article will share everything you need to know about co-op programs and co-op colleges!

If you’re in the upper years of high school, one topic you might be thinking about more often is your career and what opportunities you might have after college. Every once in a while, you might ask yourself questions like, “What should I do in the future?” “What is my ideal job?” or “What am I good at?”

Many high school students choose colleges, majors, and programs based on their career aspirations and goals. After all, college is the place to get the knowledge, skills, and qualifications to be ready for one’s career. 

In some cases, the in-class experience might fall short when it comes to practical experience, making it more challenging for students to find a career that suits them best. 

Many colleges, universities, and academic institutions integrate hands-on learning into their education through college co-op programs. Co-op programs are an excellent way for students to gain work experience while studying at the same time. In this article, we’ll take a detailed breakdown of the co-op program and how it benefits you. 

What are Co-Op Programs?

A co-op program is also known as a cooperative education program. It is an educational program that allows students to alternate between formal study and temporary employment. The purpose is to enhance a student’s learning by combining traditional, in-class education with hands-on work and experience. 

In essence, a co-op program allows students to learn while working in an actual job setting related to their field. They provide the invaluable opportunity to integrate career-related skills, knowledge, and experience into post-secondary education by participating in planned and supervised work.

Colleges and universities typically hold co-op programs. This means that your co-op college organizes the hiring, employment, and work assignments. The institutions supervise your performance and have special resources to help with your co-op experiences.  

You are not alone on your co-op journey. Your academic institution usually has many resources available for co-op work. 

This can include courses, workshops, training sessions, and a team of career specialists to guide you through your journey. Even better, co-op work is usually paid, allowing you to gain experience, knowledge, and extra income! 

Co-op Programs and Internships Difference

Co-op programs and internships offer students hands-on experience in their fields but with distinct differences. 

Co-ops are immersive, full-time, paid positions aligned with a student's major, often leading to job offers. Internships, on the other hand, provide flexibility, ranging from part-time to full-time, paid or unpaid, and offer shorter durations, allowing exploration of diverse career paths.

Here's a quick comparison:

Aspect Co-op Internship
Compensation Typically paid Can be paid or unpaid, depending on the employer and regulations
Duration Full-time for three to six months or more Variable can be part-time or full-time, often shorter
Focus Directly related to a student’s major and career goals May not be directly related to the major
Tuition No tuition is charged while on a co-op (except room and board if applicable) May be charged if the internship is credit-bearing
Academic Credit Usually earns academic credit May or may not provide academic credit
Schedule Often follows a structured timeline aligned with academic semesters More flexible, can occur at any time during the year
Work Environment Typically involves deeper immersion in the work setting, like a full-time job Often less hours per week, more variability in tasks
Learning Outcome Structured learning outcomes closely tied to academic and career progression Learning outcomes can vary, more exploratory
Employer Expectations High expectations for professional contributions due to the longer duration May have varied expectations, often developmental for the student
Future Employment Often leads to a job offer from the co-op employer if performance is strong May enhance a resume but less directly linked to job offers

Knowing these distinctions can help you choose the right path based on your goals and preferences.

List of Top Colleges With Co-Op Programs 

Now that we’ve covered everything about college co-op programs, you might be wondering what colleges offer co-op programs. Below is a list of the top co-op colleges in the United States: 

Northeastern University

At Northeastern University, students can easily blend real-world work experience into their studies through the co-op program. With different scheduling options, students can pick co-op opportunities that match their educational goals. 

Whether they choose to work locally or internationally, Northeastern helps students gain practical skills and build connections for their future careers.

Purdue University—West Lafayette

Purdue University—West Lafayette's co-op program, called Professional Practice, is well-known for its hands-on learning approach. 

It helps students gain real-world experience while studying, which makes them more prepared for their future careers. Purdue is consistently ranked among the top universities for internships and co-ops, showing that the program works well for students.

Drexel University

At Drexel University, students may need to complete one to three co-ops, depending on their major. These are full-time jobs lasting six months, alternating with six months of academic study. Students typically start their co-ops during their sophomore or junior year after completing preparation courses.

Berea College

Berea College's Labor Program mandates that all students work at least 10 hours a week in approved jobs on campus or in the community while maintaining a full academic course load. 

This participation allows students to attend college tuition-free. Students can also pursue internships and service opportunities alongside their on-campus work.

Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) requires co-ops for the majority of undergraduate programs. Over 4,500 students completed a co-op last year, defined as employment of 35 hours or more per week. Co-op participants are usually paid, and participation is tuition-free.

University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati's co-op program is mandatory for certain majors, including engineering, business, and information technology. Before graduation, students typically complete three to five semesters of co-ops. 

The program, over a century old, offers alternatives for students unable to participate, such as internships or service-learning programs.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT offers numerous internship opportunities, including the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives, which matches students with positions worldwide. These internships cover essential expenses and provide a stipend for transportation and meals.

Elon University

Elon University requires all students to fulfill an experiential learning requirement, which can include internships, co-ops, study abroad, or research projects. Internships are particularly popular among students.

Purdue University-Main Campus

Purdue's co-op programs give students up to 22 months of hands-on experience with good pay. They stand out by letting students work multiple times with the same employer, building strong relationships and skills. 

Graduates are in high demand, thanks to their mix of education and real-world know-how. Plus, the program helps students keep full-time status for benefits and only charges tuition when they're on campus.

Cornell University

Cornell University offers various summer programs, including Cornell in Hollywood and summer research programs, to provide students with career-building experiences.

Duke University

Duke University's internship requirements vary by program, with majors like public policy and art history often mandating internships. The university offers grant funding to support students in low-paying or unpaid summer internships.

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University offers internship programs and fellowships, including opportunities in Washington, D.C., and funding support for low-wage or unpaid internships.

Stanford University

Stanford University boasts a wide range of internship programs, both domestic and international, covering areas like art, career education, and public service.

Clemson University

Clemson University offers internship and co-op programs across various fields, including international internships in countries like Australia and Spain.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) provides internships and paid co-ops lasting four to eight months. International students must complete a full academic year before participating in co-ops.

Agnes Scott College

Agnes Scott College encourages students to complete at least one internship, with a third of undergraduates completing two or more internships. Funding is available for unpaid or minimally paid roles.

Endicott College

Endicott College requires students to complete three internships during their four-year program, including one semester-long internship. Some options include international placements in Ireland, Italy, and Spain.

Kettering University

Kettering University's co-op program starts in the first year, allowing students to alternate between classes and full-time work with employer partners. Wages vary by year and major.

University of Michigan--Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan—Ann Arbor hosts a summer internship program in Washington, D.C., providing students with job experience in public service.

Harvard University

Harvard University provides various internship opportunities for students, such as the Summer Research Opportunities program. 

Lasting for 10 weeks during the summer, this program connects undergraduates with researchers in fields like humanities, social sciences, and life and physical sciences. Participants receive housing, a $3,500 stipend, and a $1,500 food allowance.

American University

American University offers a a range of experiential learning opporunties that integrates classroom learning with professional work experience in various fields, providing students with valuable insights and skills for their future careers.

Arizona State University

ASU's co-op program allows students to alternate between semesters of academic study and full-time employment related to their field of study. 

With 60% of undergraduate degree recipients graduating with practicum, internship, co-op, or clinical placement experience, ASU emphasizes practical skills and industry connections to prepare students for successful careers.

Stevens Institute of Technology

The Stevens Cooperative Education Program for Undergraduate Students is a competitive five-year program. It blends classroom education with real-world work experience, allowing students to alternate semesters of academic study with full-time paid professional work related to their field of study. 

This hands-on approach equips students with practical skills and industry insights, enhancing their readiness for the job market upon graduation.

University of Pittsburgh

At the University of Pittsburgh, the Cooperative Education program offers students the chance to alternate between full-time work assignments in engineering, chemistry, or computer science and full-time study. 

This setup allows students to gain practical experience, technical knowledge, and financial rewards while still progressing academically.

University of Massachusetts--Lowell

The UMass Lowell (UML) Undergraduate Professional Cooperative Education program merges classroom-based education with practical work experience. 

This structured program offers paid opportunities directly related to students' academic majors, complementing their formal education. Through co-op, students gain valuable real-world experience, enhancing their skills and readiness for the job market after graduation.

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech's Co-op and Internship Program offers undergraduates the chance to gain real-world experience with zero academic credit. Participants often earn competitive wages, gain valuable skills, and enhance their marketability to employers. 

They also have opportunities to network, build their resume, and discover their professional preferences.

Wentworth Institute of Technology

Wentworth Institute of Technology's co-op program provides students with hands-on experience that leads to higher earnings and accelerated career growth. 

Partnering with industry leaders, students tackle real-world challenges, gaining essential skills and professional networks. By integrating practical learning with academics, Wentworth prioritizes long-term career success, empowering graduates to excel in their chosen fields.

University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign

At the University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign, students are encouraged to do internships, co-ops, and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to get real-world experience and improve their chances of finding a job after graduation. They can reach out to Engineering Career Services (ECS) for help in finding these opportunities.

University of Wisconsin--Madison

The University of Wisconsin--Madison's Co-op and Summer Internship program in the College of Engineering lets students work full-time with various industries and government agencies. 

They tackle real-world engineering tasks under supervision and get competitive pay. This hands-on experience boosts job prospects and starting salaries after graduation. It's a win-win for students and employers alike.

University of Alabama--Huntsville

The University of Alabama--Huntsville's Co-op program integrates real-world experience with classroom studies. Students work multiple semesters with the same employer and get paid. There are two models: Alternating and Parallel. No academic credit is offered, but students register their co-op position with Career Services for support.

University of Tennessee--Knoxville

The University of Tennessee--Knoxville's Co-op program offers full-time, paid experiential opportunities lasting about three to six months per semester, possibly extending into the summer. In fields like engineering, students may alternate between full-time study on campus and full-time work. 

Students can contact the Center for Career Development & Academic Exploration to maintain full-time UT student status, noted on their transcript. Some departments manage their own co-op process. 

University of Arkansas--Fayetteville

At the University of Arkansas--Fayetteville's College of Engineering, co-op experiences are highly valued. They've set up the Cooperative Education and Internship Course to make these opportunities official. 

It's a way for students to gain hands-on experience while they study. The College works closely with employers to make sure students get the best learning experiences, whether they're part of the course or no

University of Houston

The University of Houston Cooperative Education Program (CO-OP) provides UH students with paid internships in their field of study, enhancing their academic training. 

This experience is documented on their transcript, boosting their appeal to employers. CO-OP connects industry leaders and higher education to offer hands-on experience to full-time students. 

Employers often recruit from CO-OP programs, preferring graduates they've trained. Positions are offered part-time or full-time. CO-OP is exclusively for actively enrolled students, not recent graduates or alumni.

University of Oklahoma--Norman

At the University of Oklahoma—Norman, students can access internships and co-op programs through the Handshake platform. 

Internships can be part-time or full-time and often count for college credit, needing at least 320 contact hours and registration in specific courses like BAD 3700. Co-ops also offer full-time student status, crucial for maintaining financial aid. Both options blend classroom learning with practical experience.

University of Washington

The University of Washington strongly supports co-ops and internships because they help students apply what they've learned, build their resumes, and make professional connections. 

These experiences are important because they can improve your job prospects after graduation. The university provides resources, including videos, to help you find and get the most out of a co-op or internship that fits your career goals.

University of North Carolina--Charlotte

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte offers a Co-op Program for students in certain majors. This includes Computing and Informatics, Engineering, Liberal Arts & Sciences, and some graduate programs. 

During their co-op, students enroll in a zero-credit course. This keeps them as full-time students without earning degree credits. It allows them to work and maintain full-time student benefits.

Michigan Technological University

Michigan Technological University offers a co-op program where students work with a company for at least a semester and earn credit through an online course. 

This course helps students reflect on their work experience and talk with career advisors and other students. Internships are similar but are usually done during the summer and can also offer credit. It's smart to discuss with your advisor how a co-op or internship can fit into your schedule.

University of Florida

The University of Florida's Co-Op program blends classroom learning with real-world experience. You alternate between academic study and full-time, paid work in your field. This approach helps you build practical skills and earn money. 

Staying with the same company throughout the program can deepen your insights and may lead to a job offer after graduation. Check with the university's career services to get started.

California Polytechnic State University--San Luis Obispo

California Polytechnic State University--San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) excels in Co-Ops. Their "Learn by Doing" approach ensures students gain practical experience. 

It's effective: about 63% of graduates secure jobs before finishing, often at their Co-Op locations. Looking to jumpstart your career? Cal Poly SLO has the resources and connections to help.

Milwaukee School of Engineering

The Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) Co-op program really steps up the game for students looking to gain serious professional experience. 

It's set up so you can work full-time and get paid in positions that stretch beyond the usual summer internship—lasting up to 16 weeks. It's a smart way to make significant strides in your career while you're still in school.

Texas A&M University--College Station

Texas A&M University--College Station offers a strong Co-op program that provides practical, paid work experiences tailored to students' academic fields. 

The program features flexible scheduling options to suit different needs and allows participants to maintain full-time student status through specific Co-op courses. This integration of work and study enhances students’ understanding of their field, helps finance their education, and builds valuable professional connections.

University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida (UCF) offers a robust Co-op program in engineering and computer science, thanks to partnerships with over 150 companies. About 80% of its graduates gain real work experience before finishing their degrees. 

Located in Orlando's high-tech corridor, close to the Central Florida Research Park and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, UCF provides students with direct access to industries like laser and simulation technology, ensuring rich opportunities for practical experience.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Tech's Co-op program offers students the chance to work in their field during three alternating semesters, applying classroom knowledge in real-world settings. This experience not only sharpens skills but also enhances resumes. 

With partnerships with over 700 organizations, students have diverse opportunities to earn a competitive wage. The program also includes a Co-op designation on diplomas, highlighting practical experience to potential employers, which can boost job prospects after graduation.

Keep in mind these are only our top picks. There are plenty of other co-op programs available at colleges across the US and Canada. 

The Benefits of a Co-Op Program

A co-op program offers immense benefits for aspiring students. For one, it is an excellent way to help students learn. There’s no better way to study than by applying the knowledge through hands-on experiences. This hands-on experience will also naturally improve your academic performance. 

But learning in co-op doesn’t end with what’s in the classroom–it’s also an excellent way to get a headstart on a career. With co-op programs, because you get to do work, you can better understand what a profession is like and what you need to do well to succeed.

With this said, we’ll discuss the five benefits of going to a college with a co-op program below.

1. An Improved Understanding of What You Want in Your Career

The first one is an improved understanding of one’s self. You have the opportunity to know what you need to work on and where you can improve. Co-op gives students a better idea of how to develop and hone essential skills that professional settings require. 

You get to learn how to reflect on yourself, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and see how your skills transfer to the workplace and develop career goals. Having this experience will allow you to be more aware of what courses you can take and what skills you need to get on the right track.

2. You Get to Explore and Learn About Different Fields

The second benefit of a co-op program is that it helps students learn more about certain professions. Because you are doing the work yourself, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to explore different career paths. 

Many co-op programs also have a real job application process to prepare you for future job interviews. This includes a formal application process, interviews, and a final evaluation.  

Having said this, o-op work terms give you a good idea of what working in your field might look like. You’ll finish your program with a better understanding of some of the duties, responsibilities, and skills you need to excel in the workplace, which can be valuable for making and confirming decisions about your career.

3. You Get Quality Work Experience

The third benefit is that you get to gain work experience in a specific area or profession. Gaining experience is extremely valuable for university students. Many employers will see the value in a portfolio rich in experience and accomplishments. 

The experience that co-op work can provide will help you avoid the awkwardness of finishing your studies yet struggling to find jobs due to a lack of experience. This is the biggest roadblock that students and recent graduates often face. 

With the work experience that co-op programs offer, you also get a headstart in building your professional portfolio. That way, by the time you graduate, you’ll have a good candidate profile up your sleeve. This might make it easier to find a job straight out of college!

4. Get Paid to Learn

Co-op programs are typically paid, which means co-op also has financial benefits. With the monetary compensation for work you did in co-op, you can alleviate costs that often accompany your studies, such as tuition, bills, rent, and many others. 

Co-op programs can help students relieve a huge burden by allowing them to earn while they learn with fewer obstacles.

5. Co-op Gives you the Opportunity to Network

One more benefit that co-op programs give is to build connections and references while you’re still a student. Networking is vital for one’s career and profession. Not only can your connections give you help and advice for your career–they can also drastically increase job opportunities once you graduate. 

Many co-op students receive full-time job offers from their co-op employers. Building a solid rapport with employers and colleagues during co-op terms is one of the best ways to prepare once you graduate. 

These are just a few of the main benefits that co-op programs offer, and the list certainly does not end there. Co-op programs provide amazing opportunities for students to get a headstart in their careers. 

FAQs: Colleges With Co-Op Programs

Hopefully, this article answers all of your questions about co-op programs! But if you still have any questions or concerns, our FAQs may have what you’re looking for!

1. What Does Co-op Mean in College?

“Co-op” means cooperative education. This name means a partnership between a company and an academic institution to provide students with work experience and learn to complement their academic studies.

2. Which College Has the Best Co-op?

Usually, if a school ranks high in terms of education, quality, and prestige, chances are, it offers top-quality co-op programs as well. Competitiveness can also indicate a good co-op college. Make sure you do your research to learn more about the specific circumstances of a school’s co-op programs.

Some colleges offering the best co-op programs include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Cincinnati, Northeastern University, Stanford University, and many more.

3. Is a Co-op Worth it in College?

Co-op in college is absolutely worth it. Co-op in college offers enhanced learning opportunities for you to do better beyond academics. They provide valuable work experience and can help in your career development. 

4. Which University Has the Largest Co-op Program?

The schools with the largest co-op programs are Drexel College, Baylor College, Northeastern University, and the University of Cincinnati.

As you apply for co-op colleges, remember that the size of a university’s co-op program usually corresponds to faculty size, amount of educational resources, and the number of students enrolled.

5. Can International Students Enroll in Co-op Programs?

Yes, co-op programs are also available for international students. However, those without USA citizenship require a form of work permit or work authorization for students, such as Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

If you’re an international student looking for a college co-op program, remember to do your research to ensure that you have everything you need before you get into the college application process

Final Thoughts

With this extensive guide on college co-op programs, you now know everything you need to know about co-op programs and their importance for students. 

If you apply for a co-op program in college, you’re sure to gain a deep and rich educational experience. You’ll also gain practical work experience, extra income, and countless career development opportunities.

Like internships, co-ops allow you to switch between study and career-focused work terms, giving you a headstart on your career once you graduate. 

Co-op programs may be much more competitive than regular programs, and tuition costs may also see a rise. That being said, a co-op program can be a highly rewarding experience. Best wishes on your career journey, and remember: opportunities are scarce, so get them before they’re gone!

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