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

Co-operative education, or co-op. If you attended a traditional four year college, you may not be familiar with 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.

Co-op Programs in College

What majors offer a co-op, 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.

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.

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).

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.

Employment After Graduation

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, 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 with 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.