Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Second Guess Your Decision to Intern over Co-Op

This article is written from the perspective of an engineering student but may be applicable to other fields.

The road less traveled for engineers: interning. At most universities, engineering students are encouraged to take on a series of co-op rotations as a part of their education, and it’s an extremely common path for several reasons. You’re guaranteed undergrad work experience at a firm by participating. During a rotation, you gain work experience for a longer duration of time as opposed to a summer internship. Also, you typically get a few credits after you complete all of your rotations.

So a lot of people ask me, “Why aren’t you doing a co-op?” ?” While co-op is a great educational opportunity, it’s not meant for everyone and that’s perfectly okay.

Logistics and finances

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First of all, the co-op program isn’t free. It’s roughly $300 to participate in the program plus additional fees. Second, co-op means that you have to take summer classes at some point during your education. As a student from the Philadelphia area, I’d have to pay to live in Pittsburgh during the summer along with groceries and other necessities that I wouldn’t have to worry about if I was home. Also, a lot of the companies at the career fair are represented by offices local to the university and may not be able to guarantee positions at other offices. I’ve lived on-campus for the past few years because my family and I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of furnishing an off-campus apartment across the state. If I did co-op, I would need to find a sublease for the summer semester or possible summer rotation in Pittsburgh, so if you’re not from the area, you’re probably in the same boat. Financially, it made more sense for me to find an internship at a firm near home during the summers and spend my semesters in class at Pitt.

Personal goals

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The option to intern aligned more with my long term goals and personal preferences. For example, I wanted to graduate in four years and start my first full-time job immediately afterwards. As an involved student, I wanted to be on campus during the fall and spring semesters so I could take on leadership positions in student organizations. I didn’t want to take classes at Pitt during the summer, or potentially work in Pittsburgh during the summer, because I value the summer months as a time to spend with my family and friends from home since I miss out on a lot of events happening in their lives during the school year. During the summer following my freshman year at Pitt, I took two classes within a six-week period at a local college so that I could switch into the Swanson School of Engineering while staying on track to graduate on time. After that experience, I found that I definitely prefer to work during the summer rather than take classes.

Interning gives you the freedom to work in different fields and for different companies. There are so many disciplines under the engineering umbrella. If your heart isn’t set on a certain concentration in your engineering department, you may want the opportunity to explore them. The co-op program typically requires you to complete two rotations with the same employer; therefore, if you don’t enjoy your experience, you’re stuck at that company for another four months.

The intern experience

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People may ask what experience you’re going to gain at your internship that’s better than the “full-time employee” experience of a co-op.

Let me start by stating that the experience is totally subjective and depends both on the company and you. You don’t know what the company is actually going to let you do until you’re there, for both co-ops and internships. You might be contributing to the design of their projects – fantastic, that’s just what you wanted to do! Or you might be stuck doing the tedious busywork that the full-timers don’t want to do, because let’s face it, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole and you don’t have an engineering degree yet.

All that matters is what you put into your experience. If they like the way you perform and how you mesh with the company, they’ll throw more challenging tasks your way and most likely extend an offer to intern again, potentially at a higher wage. They might even let you work during winter break if you ask. The point is this: you can easily get your foot in the door of a company by interning too. While the university can guarantee you a job for your rotations, they cannot guarantee you a full-time job. It all comes down to what you bring to the table as a potential employee.

I loved my past internship experiences. I assisted with project design, reports and submissions. I also had the opportunity to go on a few site visits. They held training sessions for employees during lunches several times while I was there, so I was constantly learning. I also participated in their women’s group meetings, which is an awesome resource to have as the presence of women in engineering continues to grow. Again, it’s not only about what they’re providing but what I’m giving back. I was always doing my work, oftentimes coming in early or staying later than the eight hour shift to complete tasks and keep things moving. I also went to two township hearings to see our projects be presented to the public. These are at night and run a few hours, and while attending isn’t required for interns, I wanted to experience this aspect of the job as well. . I received offers to intern with them again for this past winter and upcoming summer, and I’m looking forward to my return!

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Overall, your choice to intern will provide you with just as much practical experience. Don’t feel pressured to co-op if you think it won’t be a good fit for you. During your internship search, conduct research on your companies of interest and network. Prior to applying for the job, ask if you can shadow an intern or staff engineer for the day to see what a typical workday is like. While you’re interning, go beyond what’s expected of you, get involved and connect with your coworkers. Be confident in yourself and your decisions, and you’ll be smooth sailing to a full-time job!