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Co-Op Programs in College: Questions to Ask on the College Tour

If you attended a traditional four year college, you may not be familiar with Cooperative education, or co-op, programs. And even if a university describes itself as offering co-op, not all co-op programs are the same. If your student is interested in attending a college with a co-op program, arm yourself with a few questions to help you compare programs before you go on the college tour.

Q: What majors offer a co-op experience, and what are the requirements?

The degree programs that offer co-ops can vary from college to college. Some degrees require one semester of work; others may require alternate semesters of study and work or shorter blocks of time with two or more employers.

Q: How long does it take co-op students to complete their degree?

Depending on the number of co-op blocks a student completes, a degree could take five years instead of four. But, keep in mind, students don’t pay tuition during their work semesters.

Q: What other types of experiential learning do you offer?

In addition to co-ops, many colleges offer internships (both paid and unpaid), clinical lab placements, and practicums (typically for healthcare majors).

Q: Does the curriculum integrate co-ops into academics?

Not all co-ops are equal. Some universities say that they offer co-cops, but what they really mean is that they will permit students to withdraw from the university for a semester, and re-enroll after a semester off in which a student pursues a co-cop opportunity. Students who have chosen to take a co-op semester may then be out of step academically with the rest of students in that program. This may also affect course selection and the availability of required credits which a program may not offer every semester. Further, in universities where co-op is not integrated, students do not typically receive assistance in co-op placement, but find their co-op on their own.

Q: What percentage of students are employed at graduation?

Finally, students may also want to ask what percentage of students who desire a co-op get a placement. Further, it’s good to ask what percentage of students report having a job at graduation and six months after graduation. Another good question to ask is average employee retention rate after graduation. These are key markers of how successful a co-op program is, and most colleges track these numbers. One of the chief advantages of co-op is it provides both employers and employees a longer “trial period” before permanent employment. Employers who hire through co-op programs report lower turnover rates and longer rates of employee retention.

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