You may not know the difference between an internship or a co-op, but you probably know they’re both super important to career preparation in college (or maybe you don’t, but that’s why you’re reading this!)
Starting in your sophomore year or before, you’ll want to explore internship and co-op opportunities in your field through your university’s Career Services department. These programs will give you hands-on, real-life experience in your field, supervised by a professional. Internships and co-ops can be paid or unpaid, and you’ll earn academic credit and gain valuable experience for your résumé.
An internship is a flexible program that offers students the opportunity to work part time when it is convenient for them. With the help of career counselors and advisors, students will construct a schedule of coursework and intern hours at a company or organization related to their degree program. For example, a student may have classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and intern at an engineering firm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The benefit of an internship is the ability to still earn college credit and complete degree requirements while gaining professional experience.
A co-op requires students to stop taking classes and “work” full time. While this sounds counterproductive for a student trying to complete their degree, it allows students to immerse themselves in their professional world and take on real responsibility in their role. A co-op would be beneficial for students who can work on long-term projects for their company, especially if that company is one a student hopes to be hired for after graduation.
Ultimately, only you and your advisor can decide which program is for you--just make sure you plan to gain the valuable career preparation experience you’ll need to stand out from your peers in the job market.