Drexel describes co-op or cooperative education as “a program that balances classroom theory with periods of practical, hands-on experience prior to graduation. Through the co-op program, students are able to alternate academic study with full-time employment, gaining practical experience in their field of study.” Essentially students take six months off of school to work full-time in their chosen fields either locally in Philadelphia or in another state or even country. Students can do this one to three times during their bachelor’s degree with a variety of companies or with the same organization.
As I’ve talked about before in this series, I am a firm believer that where you go to college does not matter; it’s what you do there that makes the biggest impact. College internships can be an excellent addition to your resume and a great way to acquire skills that will make your more competitive on the job market (although, there are good arguments for the stance that unpaid internships are exploitative and classist). One of the things I hear over and over again from my interviewees is how valuable their college internships were in helping them figure out what they wanted to do after graduation and in making connections with people in their fields. And a co-op program is like a college internship kicked up a notch.
Drexel boasts that the companies their students co-op with have been vetted to ensure that students will get the chance to do more than make photocopies and fetch coffee. And students repeatedly shared how clarifying it was to get to experience a job they were considering before even committing to a major. For many students, this just solidified their interest in finance or programming or music and helped them articulate what areas of the field they were most excited about. And other students were able to efficiently come to the realization that the career they thought they wanted to pursue wasn’t actually the right fit for them.
A co-op program is not for everyone, but for students who are eager to hit the ground running, this can be a great option. And every job you have will help you identify the things that are important to you in a career and the things you want to avoid in the future. If you’re intrigued by this kind of program, check out Drexel and other similar colleges, like Northeastern University, University of Cincinnati, and Elon University. Whether or not you know what you want to do professionally, sometimes the best way to figure it out is just to try it.