In the Fast Lane: Boosting Your Career through Cooperative Education and Internships
Martinez, Amanda, Careers & Colleges
So maybe you've heard of cooperative education but aren't sure what it is. Or maybe you've been advised to find an internship but don't know where to look.
Read on--you've got questions and we've got the answers!
Just because you're in school doesn't mean you can't jumpstart your career. As you enter college, there are plenty of things you can do to propel yourself into a promising future--including cooperative education and internships. Geared toward high school and college students, both types of work programs provide unbeatable opportunities to develop your interests and test-drive your skills. Learning the basics is the first part of developing your roadmap to success.
A Crash Course on Co-op
Believe it or not, co-op has been around for about a century. Over the years, the usefulness and demand for co-op opportunities has grown so much that programs are offered through many colleges and universities from coast to coast--not to mention abroad. Today, co-op usually refers to a learning relationship between a student, school, and employer. In these programs, both school and employer monitor and evaluate a student's progress at a job related to the student's area of study. Co-op can be done for academic credit (or not) and is often salaried--sometimes quite well. In fact, students have been known to earn up to $15,000 a year!
According to the National Commission for Cooperative Education, the most common type of co-op program is the alternating pattern, in which a student rotates semesters of taking classes full time at a college or university with semesters of working full time in the "real world." There are other variations on co-op, too. In the parallel pattern, for example, students go to school for part of the day (say, the morning) and work for the rest of the day (such as in the afternoon or evening). Either way, though, most co-op programs are structured to allow students to graduate in as little as four-and-a-half to five years, all the while reaping the benefits of class and valuable work experiences.
So who does co-op, you might be wondering? According to a 2002 survey by the Cooperative Education and Internship Association, over 240,000 undergraduate students work co-op jobs in the United States each year. These students work with one of approximately 50,000 U.S. employers. Among these employers are ones as prestigious as Fortune 500 companies and as diverse as the people who work there. Examples of companies range from Harley Davidson to Gillette and from Johnson & Johnson to PeopleSoft. That's right--the limits are few.
The Scoop on Internships
Internships have many things in common with co-op programs: students work at a company for a set period of time in order to gain experience and insight useful for their future career, they can be done for credit or not, and there are an impressive variety of companies offering such programs. Like co-op, for-credit internships are also monitored by the student's college or university. In order to pass, employer evaluations are common--as is homework! Students often must write a paper, keep a journal, or maintain some other similar record of their learning experiences on the job.
There are, however, some differences from co-op. For instance, while internships are sometimes required or recommended as part of a degree program, there is no standard schedule for alternating terms of work and class like in co-op: you do one whenever you want.
Internships also range in duration--some run for as little as a week or two, while others go for as long as a summer or a semester. Plus, internships all require a different number of hours each week, some full time, some part time--which means they are flexible and convenient for your schedule. Pay varies as well. Many internships are unpaid, but some offer a stipend or a modest hourly wage, Unpaid programs usually require that you seek academic credit for your work, but if you're more interested in the cash than the course credit, keep your eyes open for paid opportunities--there are plenty out there. …