Are Co-operative Education Programs Worth The Expense?

As the pressure builds for higher education institutions to deliver real world career skills for their graduates, many are leaning toward co-operative education programs to help their students seamlessly enter the workforce.

A co-operative education is an internship-based education program that focuses on college students receiving hands-on career training with pay as they work with professionals in their major fields of study. Co-ops are used to provide full on work experience to full-time, actively enrolled students.

Depending on the college that the student attends, the pros to the program may outweigh the cons.

Here are four colleges across the country that have renowned co-op programs that might be worth looking into for college students seeking work-based experience:

Cornell University

Cornell University has a number of career-focused programs designed to help students narrow down their interests and get involved in their ideal career. Students work 28 paid weeks or more. No academic credit is provided, but a transcript notation is made if all requirements are met.

Students also have the option to participate in the Cornell in Hollywood program, which takes advantage of the school’s growing Los Angeles alumni network to set students up with film-related internships.

Drexel University

The student’s course of study will determine what type of co-op experience they will have at Drexel. Their three options are:

One Co-op Option – At the start of sophomore year, students study or work through all terms, including summers. The single six-month period of full-time employment occurs during the junior year.

Three Co-op Option – This option includes three six-month periods of full-time employment. At the start of sophomore year, students study or work through all terms, including summers.

No Co-op Option – Some programs can be completed in four years without co-op employment. Students are not required to pursue studies during any of the summer terms.

Northeastern University














Northeastern offers the same options as Drexel does with designated learning outcomes for their students. The key learning outcomes are integrating knowledge, gaining new knowledge, identifying and leveraging opportunities, being articulate, assessing, critiquing, and improving their work.

Most schools only offer co-op programs in specific fields, narrowing in on engineering and business and finance.

What sets Northeastern apart is that they offer numerous programs for their different schools, with focuses on art, media, and design, computer and information, health sciences, science, social sciences and humanities, law, and professional studies.

Purdue University

Purdue University offers a Professional Practice Program which offers formal programs in 5-session co-op, 3-session co-op, internship, and research formats. Purdue also has more than 500 employers from private industry and government agencies available to their students.

The program is currently available to the students with majors in fields related to agriculture, engineering, management, liberal arts, pharmacy, psychological sciences, science, and technology. The co-op programs at Purdue are competitive with only students who finish in the upper half of their classes during their first and second year even being considered for applying to the program.

Final Thoughts 

The main cons of participating in a co-op program include a delay in graduation by a semester, or sometimes a year, and a disruption in participating in school social events or club activities due to commitment to the co-op.

There are also additional co-op fees that have to be paid either semesterly or annually. This fee is sometimes to replace paying tuition, or an additional fee on top of tuition, depending on the college and co-op program.

An increase in housing/searching for housing is an additional expense as well, and there is no guarantee of getting a co-op position at all.

In the end, though, the co-op experience is what the student makes it to be.

Opportunities are given to students to practice skills learned in their coursework (e.g., analytic, oral, and written communication skills) as well as to develop new marketable skills, receiving valuable feedback from employers about their skill development, having opportunities for networking and boosting their resume for future jobs.

It comes down to whether financially and academically the student is ready to take on this responsibility to prepare them for their future.

Natalie Yera

Natalie Yera

Natalie Yera is in her first year of the M.A. program in publishing and writing at Emerson College. She recently returned from spending five months studying in London and a month backpacking through parts of Eastern and Western Europe. She is originally from Buffalo, New York. Follow her at @NatalieYera.