Rather than just getting your work experience over the summer, a coop means at least two terms of work, where at least one term is during the school year. You might work Jan-Aug and be done with it, or you might work in Summer, take classes Fall, work Winter, take classes Summer, work Fall. The length of the company and the terms they want you to work depends on the company.
Keep in mind:
Juniors and Seniors – It’s not too late, you can start a coop at any time during your stay. We’ve actually even had December grads postpone their graduation to have a coop position. So if the internship search didn’t go that well sophomore year, improve your chances: apply for coops too.
Think you shouldn’t do it because it might delay your graduation? That’s not necessarily the case. There are often summer courses you can take to keep up at least with non-core courses. Also, any delay to your graduation date is counterbalanced by the months of extra experience you gain by doing a coop.
I am really glad I had my co-op experience. I was really hesitant to take the position because I had a really strong ChE study group and I knew that I would be behind them once I got back. Also, since I am in a sorority a lot of my friends aren’t even engineers and graduated right at 4 years and I didn’t want to miss that semester with them. However, after the experience, I know now it was a great decision.
First of all, you get 6-9 months of continuous industry experience as opposed to a summer internship which at most is 4 months and nothing on campus can compare to that in the eyes of recruiters when you are looking for a full time position. Also, co-ops are so much easier to get at Michigan and honestly the recruiters like that better than a summer internship due to the longevity I think, at least I have gotten a lot of positive comments about it from recruiters. I had one co-op term during a winter semester and one during the summer and I liked the winter semester one so much better because I was able to be there so much longer (6 months) and I got to work on a way cooler project because of that.
Also, if you plan your courses correctly you can take a one semester co-op and work a summer term and still graduate when you were scheduled to. I would have if I had not gotten mono. And leaving behind your old ChE friends really actually is advantageous. They can act like your own personal tutor when they have already taken the classes you have to take, plus you get to meet another class of ChEs and network even more.
And finally, you probably will get a job offer with the company you co-oped for when you graduate (I have) because you have worked so long with them already and they basically already trained you for way cheaper than they would when they are paying you a full-time salary with benefits. You are a huge asset to the company once you have been there for so long. You do give up a semester with your friends, but if the co-op is close enough (I was in Neenah, Wisconsin) you can come back for a couple of weekends to visit people.
I can’t say how glad I am to have co-oped and gotten the experience that I did. I worked three terms in three completely different areas. This means for almost every job available, I already have work experience related to that specific job. At the career fair, every single recruiter commented on how great my resume was and how good it was that I had experience. Within a week of the career fair I have been contacted for interviews by nine companies. I know many people who haven’t been contacted by even one company. Co-oping is a great way to get experience and get a foot in the door at a good company. They are also pretty easy to get. I was one of only three people to apply while over 60 people applied to the same company’s internship that year.
The experience you gain from participating in a co-op is invaluable. At the company I worked for I was treated as a full-time employee and expected to meet deadlines and contribute to the larger goals of the business with the work I was doing. I remember specific instances when I was in meetings with people who were surprised when I told them that I was a co-op and that I would be returning to school the following semester, since the work I was doing was at the same level as the work they were doing. During my co-op, I was able to not only perform day-to-day roles for my specific positions but also work on more than one project for which I could see tangible business benefit in either monetary or efficiency terms.
I have been able to bring the perspective I have gained from my co-op to not only my next position but also my education here at Michigan. Another few awesome benefits of a co-op to consider: 5-6 months of paid work (about twice the amount you would make over one summer!), some time off of the rigor of the chemical engineering curriculum, and (depending on the way your class schedule has been planned) graduating only one semester late – many of your friends will be staying anyway for SGUS or minors, so what is 6 months in the grand scheme of things?