Get Your Teen Magazine in your inbox! Sign Up
Logo
Get Print Edition

Experiential Learning in College: Co-ops Give Real-World Education

When Lisa Wood’s twin sons, Andrew and Nathaniel, began their college search process, they learned about co-op programs and quickly began to zero in on them. Both boys were interested in engineering. Lisa knew that universities with co-op programs could give them a leg up when it came time to realize the ultimate goal: full-time employment after college.

Experiential Learning in College

Co-op programss are one form of experiential learning in college—hands-on learning outside the classroom—that colleges and universities may offer to help students make connections between a field of study and future employment opportunities. Many co-op opportunities are structured around engineering or technical degrees. But universities sometimes offer co-ops for other majors as well.

Take Bowling Green State University, for example. Students in the College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering need to complete a co-op as part of their degree. Other BGSU majors don’t require a co-op. But if a student wants to incorporate one, the career center will provide tools for the job search, explains Danielle Dimhoff, associate director of BGSU’s career center.

What is a co-op?

Co-ops provide students with real-world job experience. Students apply their classroom learning to a semester of meaningful work with an employer in their field of study. The work is almost always paid—often well above minimum wage. And a student can gain valuable skills and experience, making them a more attractive candidate to employers.

Employers like the co-op model because it’s a cost-effective recruiting strategy. Companies can identify entry-level talent early on, says Mariah Short, HR coordinator of Keller Logistics Group, a full-service logistics company that partners with BGSU. “Co-ops give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent,” she says. It’s a win for both student and company.

How do co-ops work?

Students attend campus classes full time during their first year. Details may vary by school, but beginning sophomore year, they may alternate semesters of study with full-time work experience. This can be in business, industry, government, healthcare, or even finance. At BGSU, for example, co-op employers include Amazon, Adobe, Cisco, ProMedica, and JP Morgan, just to name a few.

Students may stay in the same city as their university. However, they may also relocate to another state or even abroad for their co-op. They typically receive a housing allowance in addition to their pay.

What kind of students benefit from co-ops?

“Students who have the desire to be trained and get that hands-on experience will excel in this type of program,” Dimhoff says. Co-ops also help students sharpen their career goals because they might learn a particular field isn’t for them, she explains.

For example, Andrew Wood’s co-op involved computer programming in a traditional office setting. “One of the things Andrew learned is that he did not want to be a cubicle-dweller,” says Lisa. After completing his co-op, Andrew decided to work at startups, which he found more stimulating.

Nate’s co-op, by contrast, involved working at a steel manufacturing plant, complete with hard hat and steel-toed boots. He loved the hands-on aspect of that work, which led him to seek out a lab position on campus that involved manufacturing with a 3-D printer.

One thing they both agreed on, says Lisa: “They loved earning money!” For students who need to contribute to their own tuition costs, this can be a big bonus on top of the educational and career benefits co-op opportunities may provide.

Joanna Nesbit

Joanna Nesbit is a freelance writer based in the Pacific Northwest. She writes frequently about parenting and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Family Fun, Parenting, and elsewhere. 

Related Articles

GET YTM IN YOUR INBOX!Receive our weekly newsletter with the latest articles, media, and resources.
STAY IN THE KNOW!We've got the wisdom and advice you need

Enter your email below to get the very latest from YT - weekly updates, expert advice and insights, tips to keep you sane, and more