Students and their families are increasingly questioning whether the time and money they invest in a college degree will pay off. There is no definitive answer, but college graduates continue to enjoy lower unemployment rates and higher earnings potential than students who don’t attend college. Still, in a competitive job market, many college graduates find that a degree isn’t always enough to secure a lucrative job offer. Employers also want workers who have real-world experience.
That’s where cooperative education programs, also known as co-ops, come in. These programs have long offered students a way to gain professional work experience while enrolled in school full-time. Students typically begin college with a year of full-time study, then alternate between traditional academic semesters and full-time work—usually for pay—in their chosen field in three- to six-month stretches. Most students complete between one and five co-op stints, usually gaining at least a year of professional experience before they graduate.