Yesterday I attended an information session concerning the Co-Op program. I didn’t really know anything about the program other than the fact that you get to work with a company longer than a stand-alone internship would allow. The head of the Co-Op program was there and told us all about it. There was a student panel as well that spoke about their experiences and answered questions.
First off, the program is like its own academic track, with a minimum GPA requirement of 3.0. Over the spring semester sophomore year you look at companies and apply and interview with them. If you get accepted, which 40-50% of participants do, then you officially enter the program. Over the summer before junior year you take all of the classes you would normally take that upcoming fall semester. You do this because during that the upcoming fall semester you will be at the company that accepted you working. After those 4 months then you return to Lehigh for spring semester. Then during that upcoming summer you return to the same company and work another 3 months. After that you return to Lehigh for a full senior year.
What’s really cool about the program is that a lot of companies are local and so students can live at school but still work their Co-Op. This lets you stay in touch with campus and not miss out on much. Though, not all companies are local and some you even get to travel the country with. One student told us of how he worked for GE Transportation and got to travel all over the US. Another benefit of the program is that most Co-Ops lead to job offers. Most of the students in the panel received a job offer from the companies they worked for and some took it. That means going through senior year with the peace of mind knowing you have a job when you get done. Another benefit of the program is that fact that you get to explore different parts of the industry. In every Co-Op you have a different job for your first rotation than your second. This gives you the chance to try and find what you really want to work on after school is over. And while some students stay with the company they worked for others deny the job offer but search for another one knowing what they are looking for.
This program is really beneficial but it does have a few drawbacks. One is that it pretty much kills the opportunity of studying abroad. I personally am very interested in going abroad so I don’t think I’ll do the program. Also, there is the chance that you’ll be stuck with a company you don’t like or will be stuck with work you don’t necessarily like doing. For example, one of the students in the panel was a ChemE major and worked for Air Products but she was actually put in the sales division of the company which she said she wasn’t to keen on pursuing. For her next rotation however she was placed in a division she enjoyed so it’s unlikely you would get stuck with work you don’t like for both your rotations. And the another possible downside to the program is that some majors are more sought after than others. As an example, every student on the 8-person panel was either a MechE or ChemE. Now that doesn’t mean the program is specifically for just those two majors, but it is easier for those specific majors to get accepted. The program is open to anyone in the college of engineering, however there are fewer spots open for say a computer engineering major.
This program, like any other, has its pros and cons. For some it is a great option and it works out great for them. Others, like me may find that it might not be worth the sacrifices.