What is a co-op?
Cooperative Education or "Co-op" opens the door for students to work full-time in a paid professional engineering position while taking a semester away from coursework. Co-ops can take many different forms, but generally, students alternate a work term and an academic term.
There are numerous reasons to participate in a co-op program. See below for a highlighted few:
- Graduate with relevant engineering experience
- Earn a full-time wages for your work terms while still maintaining student status at VCU
- Gain a comprehensive understanding of what it would be like to work for a potential employer
- Build your professional network
- Improve your post-graduation job prospects
How to participate in the Engineering Co-op Program
Co-op provides work experience in an approved, full-time, paid industrial position. In order to participate in a co-op, you must have a GPA of 2.7 or higher. If that’s you, carefully follow the process listed below:
- Complete ENGR 395 Professional Development course, it’s required for all co-op students.
- Find your co-op. Many students find co-op opportunities on their own, based on their own interests. You can also find co-ops on HireVCURams.
- Once you’ve accepted your offer, make an appointment with your academic advisor to discuss rescheduling your courses and how the co-op might affect your graduation date.
- Make an appointment with your career advisor, Laura Lemza, to make a plan for your co-op experience and learn how you can make the most of this exciting opportunity! During this meeting you will sign your co-op agreement.
- Register for ENGR 398 each time you are on a work rotation. The course takes about two hours to complete and will be included on your academic transcript.
- Complete at least two co-op work rotations (one must be during a fall or spring semester), ENGR 395, and ENGR 398 so your transcript will reflect ENGINEERING CO-OP COMPLETED.
- You’ve done it! You’ll graduate with six months to over a year of real engineering experience on your resume. Congratulations.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the difference between a co-op and internship?
Internships and co-ops are both great ways for you to gain real world engineering experience as a student. Internships are typically full-time during the summer or part-time during the school year, scheduled around your classes. A co-op position, however, is a full-time opportunity during the school year. To participate in a co-op, you will work full-time instead of taking classes for a rotation.
- What do you mean by ‘a rotation’?
Many employers require co-op students to participate in rotations; meaning you will alternate between attending classes as a full-time student one semester and working as a full-time employee the next semester.
- Will completing a co-op push back my graduation date?
Frankly, it depends. Some students are able to complete a co-op and still graduate in four years, however, many other students take longer to graduate. It all depends on how many rotations are required by the employer and your particular academic schedule. Engineering Career Services is here to help you think through your particular situation.
- When can I begin the Engineering Co-op Program?
You can start a co-op the summer after your freshman year. Or if you are a transfer student, you can start working after one semester at VCU.
You must complete the Engineering Professional Development course (ENGR 395), a one-credit course that’s designed to prepare you for success in the workforce.
All students in the Engineering Co-op Program must maintain a GPA of at least 2.7 or higher.
- Where are co-ops located and how does housing work?
Co-ops are located both locally and nationally. Many companies located outside of the Richmond area provide housing or housing assistance. Check out where some of our co-op students have worked!
- How will a co-op impact my financial aid or scholarship?
Your co-op may affect your scholarship and/or financial aid. You must meet with the Financial Aid Office and the awarders of your scholarship to discuss how your co-op may affect your benefits.
- How do I find a co-op?
Engineering Career Services provides several opportunities throughout the year, including two engineering career fairs, to connect with employers looking for co-op students. Make sure to visit our website, egr.vcu.edu/careerservices, for our full list of career events. Also, search VCU’s online job board, HireVCURams, and other online career resources to view available co-op opportunities.
- What are the benefits of co-ops?
You will graduate with professional engineering experience, potentially less student loan debt, and improved employment opportunities.