Co-op Programs: Too Good to Be True?

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Do these grads wish they co-oped?

Every day, the SALT Blog throws a lot of fun, money-related links your way in Daily Interest. However, “a lot of links” means a lot of clicks. To simplify things, The Money Clip  highlights a single story that we think you should check out. 

Last Thursday, we shared a link to an article discussing internships, courtesy of WAFF. The article focuses on a recent study of college students and their internship experience. It has some shocking statistics—most notably that 85 percent of students see internships as important, but only 40 percent actually work.

Between the reports statistics, the man behind the study, Millennial Branding founder Dan Schawbel, makes a bold statement. He says, “You shouldn’t be allowed to graduate without an internship. No internship, no diploma.”


Lately, this theory has become quite popular, even with schools themselves. Schools featuring co-op programs seeking to provide work experience are growing in popularity and garnering tons of praise.

Every school’s programs are different, so it is hard to give a sweeping response to the entire idea, but I think it makes sense to look into what makes a student and a program right for each other.

(Note: I do not attend a co-op based school. All of my knowledge comes from friends who do and reading I’ve done on the subject.)


Lots of the praise given to co-op programs is based on co-op programs that pay students. The argument there, obviously, is that it is much easier to pay for college if the student is consistently earning throughout their schooling.

But an unpaid co-op can put a student in a further hole. It provides experience and looks good on a résumé, but between school and unpaid work, it can be very tough for a student to stay afloat.

For example, Drexel University is well-known for its co-op program, but Business Insider listed it as the single most expensive school in the country. Drexel offers both paid and unpaid co-ops; however, without a paying co-op, that price tag isn’t easy. (I have some close friends vigorously nodding their heads right now.)


Some co-op programs take 5 years to finish a bachelor’s degree, some lead to a 5-year master’s degree, while others are only 4 years in total. Depending on your needs or situation, this can be a major factor in your decision.

Co-op programs don’t always dive into a 5th year, but they do often take over your summers. It is a nice bonus to have a summer job lined up, but only if this syncs up with your plans. If you go to a co-op school far from home, be prepared to make less frequent trips to see mom and dad.


If you go into college knowing exactly what you want to do with your life, co-op programs are perfect. They teach you job specific skills, give you industry experience, and introduce you to possible employers.

If you’re more of a liberal arts, “I want to learn a little bit of everything” person, it’s not going to be a great fit. Because some co-op programs sacrifice classes for internship time, the casualty in student schedules is usually general education classes or free space for exploring. Switching majors in a program-based school only further complicates things.

Every single student considering a co-op program needs to understand what they are dealing with and whether or not that interests them.

Have experiences with co-op? Let us know what you think.


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  1. Faith November 19, 2012 / 3:09 pm

    I am currently doing my third coop now. My first one was paid but at my school. My second was unpaid but I got to work virtual (no travel expense). My third is off campus and paid. I have learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses from all three different set-ups.

    • Ryan Lane November 20, 2012 / 9:45 am

      Thanks for sharing, Faith!

      Quick disclaimer: Faith’s current co-op is here with American Student Assistance. But now that we have that out of the way, the third time really is the charm, right?

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