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NerdScholar Favorites: Top Co-Op Programs

Jan. 17, 2014
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Average co-op earnings in 6 months: $15,580


Co-ops have long provided college students a way to earn money, gain valuable work experience, and position themselves for a full-time job after graduation, all while working toward a degree. Since its inception in 1906 at the University of Cincinnati, the co-op program, or cooperative education, has continued to gain popularity among students in all majors.


New Financial Aid Benefits for Co-Op Students

Following a change to the 2010-2011 FAFSA, the program has become even more fruitful for students who rely on financial aid to pay for school. Previously, students participating in co-op programs had an inflated income while on assignment since their earnings counted toward the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), often causing a decrease in financial aid. Now, thanks to the change in the FAFSA, students enter their co-op earnings separately, which often amounts to more aid compared to students who work jobs and must record their earnings as part of their EFC.


[Need help filling out the FAFSA? Visit our FAFSA Community.]


Landing the Job

In 2012-13, 49 percent of employers made offers to their co-op students. Additionally, 47 percent of employers offered a moving stipend to their co-op students. So for students who choose to participate in a co-op program, chances are good that they will have a job offer upon graduation.

But if a co-op student doesn’t receive an offer there is still a lot to be said of the experience. Co-op students work in their field of study, so they are still gaining valuable work experience while in school that can be leveraged in interviews later. While a summer job scooping ice cream can’t be discounted since it will help pay for school and living expenses, it can’t compare to the on-the-job training students receive from co-ops.

After reviewing a multitude of co-op programs at schools across the country, here are seven of NerdScholar’s favorites.


Rochester Institute of Technology

Dating back to 1912, RIT’s co-op program is one of the oldest in the country. Each year more than 3,500 students complete work assignments bringing in millions of dollars in earnings. Employers range from small startup firms to Fortune 500 corporations in industry, business, government, and the not-for-profit sector in the U.S. and abroad. Manny Contomanolis, director of career services, says RIT offers students more than just jobs, “but rather opportunities to explore the real world and contribute in meaningful ways to solving real world problems and challenges.”

University of Cincinnati

The founder of the co-op program, UC continues to lead the pack as the largest mandatory co-op program in the nation. At UC, students in engineering, design, and business work with a co-op faculty advisor to find the best job for them that matches their career aspirations. Interior design major Sara Willhoite put it this way: “You gain experience in the professional field, build your resume and portfolio, and it can help you pay for college.” Co-op students have worked on projects such as launching rockets off the California coast, developing earthquake-resistant construction methods in India, redesigning highway interchanges, installing steel-melting super furnaces, or researching water quality in Tanzania.

Long Island University

At LIU Post, the co-op program serves undergrad and graduate students in all majors. Co-op students attend pre-placement orientation workshops to learn about resume building and interview preparation. Throughout the program students are taught how to perform a job search and are coached and assisted by a personal career development counselor. Jason Cascone, director of career development, says, “The LIU Post Cooperative Education Program has a long history of successfully assisting a student to gain valuable, ideally paid, professional experience while earning his or her college degree.”

Wentworth Institute of Technology

At Wentworth, all undergrads complete at least two co-op terms after spending two years in their program of study. “Co-op at Wentworth enhances the student experience helping students to understand the link between classroom concepts with work world applications,” says Jamie Kelly, director of public affairs. “Our employers are partners in student learning.” Career services supports students before and during their co-op, working with students to clarify their co-op goals and to develop the job search skills. All of this helps Wentworth students to graduate with a deeper understanding of their chosen career path.

University of Louisville

At the University of Louisville, the co-op program is run through the J.B. Speed School of Engineering. Each year, around 550 engineering undergrad participate in co-op. During their tenure at UofL, engineering students complete three full semesters of paid co-op training. “Year after year research shows that gaining professional experience before graduation is the best way to secure full time employment,” Mark Schreck, director of engineering career development, says. At UofL, more than 90 percent of graduates secure full-time jobs within six months of graduation.

Kettering University

Students in all fields participate in Kettering’s co-op program. The program provides students with “the proper forum to reason, problem solve, and apply classroom learning” to their area of study, Venetia Petteway, the program director for cooperative education, says. As the programs capstone, students complete one of four senior thesis options: Co-op Company project, Professional Practice project, Research project, or an Intra/Entre/Social E-ship project. Students tend to stay with the same employer for the entirety of their time at Kettering, and often graduate with a job offer.

Georgia Institute of Technology

The largest voluntary co-op program in the nation, Georgia Tech filters 35 percent of its undergrads through co-op. One of those students is Shannon Mehl. Originally reluctant to try co-op, Shannon eventually gave it a shot and is now a huge advocate for the program. With two semesters under her belt, Shannon says participating in co-op has given her the opportunity not just to learn about the work but also to learn what it’s like to carry out the work. Georgia Tech’s co-op program helps students to determine that they are on the right academic path and that they’re choice of major will help them to be successful after graduation.


Student working image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Data from National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Co-op earnings statistic is per student in 2012-13 school year.