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
Co-op rotation options
Work rotations are flexible based on employer needs. Students can begin co-op work rotations in the spring semester of the sophomore year. At least one work rotation must be in the fall or spring semester. See below for example rotation options:
Spring-summer-fall (year-long work rotation)
Students must be on-campus for the fall and spring of senior year. The duration of each work rotation is determined by the employer. Some employers use the semester as the work rotation period (fall rotation would run August through December; spring rotation would run from January through May).
Requirements for Acceptance to the Engineering Co-op Program
There are set criteria that a student must meet to be eligible to participate in the Co-op Program:
- Successful completion of ENGR 395 Professional Development
- A VCU GPA of 2.7 or higher
- Have completed at least 12 credit hours at VCU
If you meet these criteria, and you’d like to pursue a co-op, carefully follow the process below.
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:
Bulletin Fall 2015 or older
Bulletin Fall 2016 or newer
|And you will have completed one or more co-op work terms before December 2017||And you will not begin your first co-op work term until Spring 2018 or later|
|1) Talk to Ms. Lemza or Dr. Speich about specific requirements||1) Take ENGR 395 Professional Development (1 credit) before your first co-op work term
During your first school term after your first work term
|1) Take ENGR 395 Professional Development (1 credit)|
|2) Complete two or more co-op work terms Take ENGR 398 Co-op Experience during the semesters that you are working (0 credits)||2) Complete two or more co-op work terms Take ENGR 398 Co-op Experience during the semesters that you are working (0 credits)||2) Complete two or more co-op work terms Take ENGR 398 Co-op Experience during the semesters that you are working (0 credits)|
|3) Talk to Ms. Lemza or Dr. Speich about specific requirements||3) Take ENGR 498 Review of Co-Op (0 credits) after you complete your co-op. ENGR 395 + 498 can substitute for ENGR 410 in DegreeWorks||3) Take ENGR 498 Review of Co-Op (0 credits) after you complete your co-op|
|Helpful hint: You can find your "Effective Bulletin" on Degree Works just to left of "Credit Requirements"|
- Enroll in and complete ENGR 395 Professional Development 1-credit course. This is required for all engineering majors who plan on participating in co-op.
- 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 Handshake. Ensure it will provide the following experiences:
- Application of engineering principles
- Team participation
- As you consider a co-op offer from an employer:
- Make an appointment with your career adviser, Laura Lemza, to make a plan for your co-op experience and to get assistance with all the following required steps.
- Make an appointment with your academic advisor to discuss rescheduling your courses and how the co-op might affect your graduation date.
- Visit the VCU Office of Financial Aid to determine what impact co-op might have on your funding.
- Submit your co-op for approval on Handshake. View the step-by-step guide on how to submit your experience for approval on Handshake. Only approved experiences will satisfy the graduation requirement.
- Check the status of your co-op approval by your department chair. Take a look at the instructions on how to check the status of your internship approval.
- During your co-op enroll in ENGR 398 during each work rotation. This online, zero credit course ensures that the co-op is a learning experience, with oversight & support provided by VCU. Passing ENGR 398 each rotation is a requirement for participating in the co-op program.
- Once you’ve completed ENGR 395, your co-op work rotations, and ENGR 398 with each rotation, enroll in ENGR 498. This online, zero credit course validates that you’ve completed the requirements for co-op. If on the co-op track, it is required for graduation for ME, MNE, and CLSE majors.
- You’ve done it! You’ll graduate with six months to over a year of real engineering experience on your resume. Congratulations.
List of Classes related to Co-op (from VCU Bulletin)
ENGR 395. Professional Development. 1 Hour. Required for all engineering students who want to participate in the cooperative education program. All majors must take 395 before going on a co-op work rotation.
ENGR 398. Cooperative Education Experience. 0 Hours. All co-op students are required to take ENGR 398 concurrently with each co-op work rotation (class is online, zero credit). This is for all rotations, including summer rotations.
ENGR 498. Review of Cooperative Education Experience. 0 Hours. To be taken after completing all co-op work rotations to summarize, validate and complete the experience (class is online, zero credit).
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the difference between a co-op and internship?
A. 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.
Q. What do you mean by ‘a rotation’?
A. 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.
Q. Will completing a co-op push back my graduation date?
A. 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.
Q. When can I begin the Engineering Co-op Program?
A. 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.
Q. Where are co-ops located and how does housing work?
A. 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!
Q. How will a co-op impact my financial aid or scholarship?
A. 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.
Q. How do I find a co-op?
A. 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, Handshake, and other online career resources to view available co-op opportunities.
Q. What are the benefits of co-ops?
A. You will graduate with professional engineering experience, potentially less student loan debt, and improved employment opportunities.