Some high school and college students have internal debates (or opposing viewpoints from family, friends, and teachers) about whether they should co-op or not while in college. Internships are limited to summers-only so those are rarely debated as questsionable value. But with co-ops, some or all of the work sessions will be during the normal school year. This can break up important things (for some) like football season, class availability, housing contracts, etc. Plus it extends your normal 4-year program into 5-years.
But let’s run through some of the incredibly valuable benefits that co-opping gives you:
1. It gives you a real, inside view and perspective of the industry you think you want to work in.
2. You get to learn things about a company that no recruiter or website or YouTube video will ever tell you.
3. Networking with working professionals
4. Earning serious money while still in college
5. Career-relevant work experience along with your degree (this is a HUGE competitive advantage against other graduates)
6. A track record of performance, relationships, and trust (if you’re smart about it) with a company before you’ve graduated.
7. A break from the typical (and long) academic program of 4 years. Much lower risk of burnout before you get your degree.
8. Your classes will have more meaning and context because you’ve seen their application in industrial settings. Significant synergy between your coursework and co-op experience.
9. Likely or possible travel to a new city (or cities) to live where the co-op assignment is.
10. If you DON’T like your assignment or the company you work for, this is a huge blessing! You learned very valuable something much sooner and much cheaper than the alternative–as your first job out of college.
11. You can make new friends that will last for a lifetime, who you couldn’t have met in college.
12. Look at #4 and #5 again–they are both HUGE benefits.
Can you become a rocket scientist without being in a co-op program or having any internships? Sure, it happens. And it might happen for you. But in our competitive world and industry you want every advantage you can find or make. Getting a jump-start and early introduction into the working world of aerospace is smart in a number of ways. (EDIT: to learn how my co-op assignments were a crucial factor to land me my first job after graduation, read my earlier post Is this a good time?)
If you are looking at colleges or in a college that has this option, make this part of your plan. Frankly, if you are still looking at colleges to attend, if they don’t have a co-op program this would be a deal-breaker for me. I was going to provide a list of schools who DO have co-op programs, but there are many other factors you would be considering too. And fortunately it’s a very long list of schools to choose from.
You can read more about this and other related points to make a Short Take-off (STO) into the aerospace world with Tip #6 in How to Be a Rocket Scientist.
Any questions? Counter arguments perhaps? Let me know with a comment!