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The Value of Internships and Co-Op Programs in College: Gaining Real-World Experience

College is already the ultimate in long-term thinking; you’re literally mapping out your future within these hallowed halls. But there’s another step you can take that will help you prepare for your long term career. It can assist you in gaining experience first hand and potentially even a little extra money.

Internships and co-ops are great ways to dive into real-world working experiences. This is whether it’s during or around study and they can make a huge difference in your career.

What is a Co-op?

Co-op, also known as the mouthful of cooperative education experience, are paid programs that let students alternate between full-time work and school for at least two semesters. You basically pause classes to get paid to work full-time for a few months.

Different Kinds of Co-ops

Co-ops come in a few different variations, depending on what’s available in your industry and through your school. These can include:

  • Alternating Semester/ Full-Time: Listed above, this is the most common type, alternating between one semester of learning and then a semester of full-time working.
  • Parallel Part-Time Programs: Working while still being in classes, like a part-time job.
  • One-Semester Programs: Ideal for students who can only commit to one semester or summer to work.

Benefits of Co-op


Doing a co-op lets you pause school so you can go to work full-time for a term. Employers pay competitively, and sometimes they’ll even pay for relocation.

The value of making money during college cannot be overstated for some students. For a lot of people, this is the main, only, and deciding reason to get involved with a co-op during college. It can allow students to make and save money. This is important for students who don’t want to worry about money or work part-time while taking classes.

Enhanced Learning

Alternating between study and work and applying the knowledge you’re gaining during your schooling helps retention and understanding of the information learned. Real-world experience enhances and solidifies classroom learning.

This is also an opportunity to learn more about your career options, test-driving different careers during your full-time working terms, and play around with the various aspects of your field before you graduate.


A huge benefit of co-op working is that you’ll have plenty of practical experience before ever looking for long-term, full-time work or starting your career. You’ll begin from ahead the moment you graduate with a resume filled with work experience.


Taking a term here and a term there to work in-between school terms will allow you to make vital connections within your industry. You can build rapport with current and potential employers during your co-op work terms. Many students even receive full-time job offers from their co-op employers after graduation.

Cons of a Co-Op

Lack of Flexibility

For a lot of majors, the schedule for co-ops is fixed and decided for you. This can be unattractive if there are different ways you would prefer to do it.

Upfront Costs

Some co-ops have charges you have to pay before starting. This can include training or equipment fees.

Delayed Graduation

Since you’re taking a term off of schooling to work exclusively, that lauded day with your cap and gown can be set back by a few terms. Graduation can’t come soon enough for some, so this is a big drawback.

What is an Internship?

An internship is when you’re placed in a company to complete specific tasks or projects. You gain real-world experience and build your skills. Internships come in a huge variety ranging from paid to unpaid and with varying degrees of time commitment and length. These supervised and structured work and learning experiences happen professionally, preparing students by immersing them in the real world.

The biggest difference between internships and co-ops is that internships don’t effectively pause your college terms. They can happen during the summer or even at the same time as school, like a regular job.

Benefits of Internships

Enhanced Learning

Internships are another example of combining real-world learning with classroom learning to better understand both. Applying what you’re learning in college to the real world is an excellent way to ensure that information really sinks in and stays with you.

Since internships sometimes happen at the same time as schooling, in and around it like a part-time job, you get nuanced layers of learning and real-world experience that compound each other to really make the lessons drive home.


Working within your career before you graduate allows you to make industry contacts early. Make an impression on important people within the industry by working for them or other influential people. You can also make friends and other contacts that you can leverage for more opportunities down the road. Some people even receive job offers after their internship completes, giving them a leg up after graduation.


Internships let you essentially practice being a worker in your industry and will allow you to learn what your niche is like and what you can expect going forward.

Internships are also a great element to add to a resume. Instead of leaving college with a blank resume, or a resume full of non-career-related jobs, you’ll have real-world experience to build off in your first few job interviews. Having an internship with the right company name on your resume can open new doors after graduation.

Better Job Stability for Intern Hires

Intern hires who are hired for permanent positions have a higher retention rate than non-interns. Their chances of staying with a company are more increased. These people also have a stronger career trajectory often and more stability.

Refined Career Goals

Internships give students real-world experience in their chosen careers. They can explore different aspects and specialties in the industry. This added information is crucial to allow students to fine-tune their plans for specialties while they’re still in school and have the chance to tack on a few extra classes in those given specialties.

Cons of Internships

Low Earning Potential

Internships can be paid or unpaid. However they’re usually not very high paying when they’re paid. So even though you’re working in the right industry you’re not making as much as you could be elsewhere.

Lower in the Hierarchy

Since you’re just starting you’re starting from the bottom so this can mean a lot of menial tasks and long, hard hours. In some companies, it can mean you’re treated like an assistant.

Can Keep You From Entering the Workforce, and It Doesn’t Guarantee a Job at the End

Internships can keep you from working. You might not be able to enter the workforce as early as you would like. While it might be a necessary evil, it can be hard for students who need that quick income. Interns are also not guaranteed a job after their internship ends.


The best internships can be highly competitive, with many students looking to get the same ones. This can make it tough to get, but it might also mean higher standards once you have it.