The start of winter indicates the beginning of a long, tedious race for many college students: the race to find a summer internship.
On a good day, searching for an internship is stressful. On a bad day, it can be complete torture. Even with the multitude of resources available for students during this challenging quest, the prospect of interning looms heavy until the day a position is secured.
What are co-op programs, anyway?
Some colleges offer programs that incorporate internship-style programs into the curriculum by offering cooperative education programs, or co-op for short. Students at these schools devote entire semesters to gaining professional experience while still living around campus and participating in the college experience.
Drexel University and Northeastern University are home to two of the largest co-op programs in the United States. The majority of graduates from these schools flaunt 18 months of internship experience after graduating on a five-year track.
For students at schools with co-op programs, however, interning is not just a means of building a resume over the summer. In their time away from classes, students get a taste of the real world by working in the fields that they envision themselves entering in the future.
So, what's the big deal?
Olivia Gardner, a student at Wentworth Institute of Technology, is currently forgoing her usual class schedule for her second co-op with a construction management and general contracting company. The Facilities Planning and Management major has found the practical experience of co-op to be just as valuable as the material that she learns in her classes at WIT.
“It's all about getting the best learning experience you possibly can,” said Gardner. “Being on co-op is essentially a class in the real world with a grown-up schedule. You have just as much responsibility and time commitment as being in classes. The main difference is that co-ops help you create relationships with professionals in your industry.”
Gardner offered sage advice for co-op students and non co-op students alike: when you are looking for an internship, it is not necessary to know exactly what you want to do. College is a time for exploration, especially within the professional world. “When I signed up for my first co-op I literally had no idea what I was doing or what to expect,” Gardner said. “I wasn't even sure which direction in the industry I wanted to head towards.”
She also debunked the myth that the sole purpose of finding an internship is to secure yourself within a single field. Sometimes, internships are just as much about discovering what you don’t want to do. “After being on co-op I can truthfully say that I still have no clue. However, I have a better idea as to what my future entails and all the things I want to accomplish. It has helped open my eyes to what interests me and what I definitely want to stay away from,” said Gardner.