Is a Co-op Right For You?

With Spring ICE less than a month away, you might be wondering whether doing a co-op is right for you. This fall semester, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to do a co-op with Ethicon in Cincinnati. For me, as a bioengineering major who would like to go into the workforce right after graduation, doing a co-op at a medical device company seemed like a logical choice. It was a great experience that I enjoyed immensely, and I do not regret it at all. However, doing a co-op is not for everyone. Based on my own experiences, I will evaluate the different pros and cons of the co-op experience.

Pros

  • Making Money: I made good money for four months, during which time I was not paying tuition. Due to the extra income, I did not have to take out student loans for this academic year.
  • Student Discusses Opportunities with Toyota RecruiterGaining Experience: Working at a company is not like going to class (obviously) or even doing research at a university. No one is gently guiding you through the steps. It’s a completely different experience from anything I’ve done before, and I’m grateful I figured these things out during my college experience so I don’t make the same mistakes when I get my first post-college job. 

  • Getting New Insight: I asked an engineer I worked with, who was roughly five years out of college, if she did co-ops while she was an undergrad. She said she didn’t, and expressed regret because she had not gotten the opportunity to explore different industries while she was an undergrad, so she had to explore what positions she liked and didn’t like after college, when there is less job flexibility. When I was at Ethicon, I met many others who had the same major as me in college but took different paths. Some were design engineers, or manufacturing engineers, or quality engineers. Some were taking a technical path, and some were in people management positions. Some were consultants. Most had done co-ops when they were in school, and that helped them decide where they wanted to take their careers.

Cons

  • Pushed Back Graduation Date: I planned to graduate in May of 2018, and now I will be graduating in December 2018. In addition, plenty of classes for my major are only offered either fall or spring semester, so coming back in the spring I am unable to take some of the typical classes for a junior. I need to be very careful choosing classes, so that my graduation date isn’t pushed back even farther. This is something that, if you decide to do a co-op, you should discuss with an academic advisor.
  • Student Talks to Possible EmployersStudent Loan Repayment: I needed to start paying back my student loans. I talked to the school and my loan providers (federal and private) and because I dropped below half-time status (6 credits), I need to make a few payments until I am back at school at least half-time. I did not anticipate this when I started my co-op.
  • Application Time and Effort: Ethicon reached out to me about the position (I suspect they found me because I gave them a resume at Career Fair the previous fall) but I still needed to apply and go through two interviews for the position. If you are not so fortunate to have a company reach out to you, you have to find companies that are hiring and do all the difficult and time-consuming work of applying for jobs. Career Services would be a great resource for this.

Additional Considerations

  • To do a co-op and still be considered a Miami student, you need to register for a zero credit hour class. Which class to enroll in depends on your department, and you should reach out to your advisor.
  • If you are on scholarships, you should contact your scholarship provider. Many Miami University scholarships are done for a number of semesters, not years, so if you do not use them for one semester they are not lost, but you should definitely ask.

Conclusions

Doing a co-op was the right decision for me. However, whether you decide to co-op or not, getting work experience when you can will always be beneficial, whether you do a co-op, a summer internship, or an undergraduate research program. Talk to your advisor, talk to people who have graduated from your program, go online, and really think about what you want from your undergraduate education. There are so many exciting opportunities out there for you!

By Paige Smith