In a cooperative education program, engineering students work full-time at a company, typically over multiple semesters starting in sophomore year.
Upon graduation, they receive the same degree as their peers, but with a year’s worth of work experience and a foot in the door.
While we track several thousand engineering co-op and internship opportunities, your first step should be your school’s career services department. If you’re still trying to decide if cooperative education is for you, consider:
Engineering Co-Ops Pay a Competitive Wage
Wages are determined by the companies. In addition, your co-op office is often orchestrating proper competition among local companies and making sure they offer competitive pay for your work.
Pay can be $20 – $29 an hour or $3,200 – $4,500+ a month. It varies by company, discipline, and your experience (which you gain by participating in the program!). Generally, you’ll get paid more for each subsequent session.
That being said, it’s not unusual for an engineering student to walk away with upwards of $50,000 or more during their entire stint in a co-op to offset tuition, study abroad, or living expenses. At graduation, you may have tens of thousands of dollars advantage over another student who had to take out loans plus interest for the same degree.
Engineering co-op salaries statistics for 2013-2014, select universities
|CORNELL||PURDUE*||UT AUSTIN||PENN STATE||RIT|
|Aerospace||18.90 /hr3,024 /mo||20.43 /hr3,269 /mo||17.02 /hr2,723 /mo|
|Biomedical||20.75 /hr3,320 /mo||2,816 /mo||3,380 /mo||18.03 /hr2,885 /mo||14.14 /hr2,262 /mo|
|Chemical||24.41 /hr3,906 /mo||20.49 /hr3,278 /mo||26.61 /hr4,258 /mo||21.86 /hr3,498 /mo||16.06 /hr2,570 /mo|
|Civil||18.46 /hr2,954 /mo||14.65 /hr2,344 /mo||16.75 /hr2,680 /mo||15.12 /hr2,419 /mo|
|Comp. Sci.||28.24 /hr4,518 /mo||18.34 /hr2,934 /mo||22.24 /hr3,558 /mo||21.15 /hr3,384 /mo|
|Electrical||23.16 /hr3,706 /hr||18.09 /hr2,894 /mo||23.81 /hr3,810 /mo||19.51 /hr3,122 /mo||17.00 /hr2,720 /mo|
|Mechanical||20.83 /hr3,333 /mo||17.43 /hr2,789 /mo||23.41 /hr3,746/mo||17.84 /hr2,854 /mo||17.02 /hr2,723 /mo|
*The Purdue stats are starting salaries for 1st Period participants. For an idea of how salaries can grow over subsequent sessions, take a look at their January 2013 co-op salary sheet
Salary sites will give you an idea of pay rates by company.
You Typically Receive Academic Credit
Essentially, you’re getting paid to learn. You will receive academic credit; however, whether and how this credit applies toward your degree varies by school.
Even if you do not receive academic credit, these typically hold true:
- You qualify as a full-time student.
- Loans continue to be deferred.
- You retain access to your school accounts and email.
- You retain student health coverage.
You may get for official entries in your transcripts for each session you complete, and upon graduation, qualify for a certificate of completion and other recognition.
Engineering Co-Ops are Talent Pipelines
Many companies use co-ops as talent pipelines.
You are effectively an employee at the company you co-op with. Granted, you will start off knowing less than the other full-timers there, but that is part of your job description at the start. In all other respects (and once you start delving into the job), you share workspaces, collaborative opportunities, meetings, and lunch breaks with your co-workers. You will make friends and find mentors. Unless you do something to burn your bridges, these connections will stay with you long after you finish the program.
In addition, since many programs require you to complete work over multiple semesters or over a couple of summers, you will get a chance to see previous co-workers and demonstrate how much you’re growing as an engineer.
Learn Skills They Don’t Teach at School
It’s a recurring theme in the student-facing posts on Engineer Jobs. There are limits to your technical know-how in the marketplace. Your ability to work on teams and network will ultimately determine the highest position in your career.
The co-op experience takes you out of the heavily theoretical nature of classroom work and into real-life situations. For example, in product development, there must be a strong relationship between design and marketing. There are also global aspects to many types of engineering innovation. Your engineering school may not be able to teach you all the facets of this type of international, interdepartmental communication and cooperation. A co-op can.
The Co-Op Program is Your Best Advocate
Your co-op office has done the legwork of cultivating relationships with companies looking for young engineering talent. They are often the ones setting up your interviews, developing your schedule, and preparing you for the process. They also make sure that your co-op program is meeting the requirements of your engineering curriculum.
Take advantage of all the ways your co-op advisors advocate for you, including interview preparation and resume services, career advancement advice, and referrals. If there are issues during your co-op session, bring it up with your co-op office contact as soon as they arise.
Featured Image Credit: Western Engineering Career Services