11 Dec

Both cooperative education programs (also known as co-ops) and internships are good opportunities for students aiming to gain experience in their chosen career path, applying the knowledge and skills they have developed. However, as similar as they may seem, they have some interesting differences, the main one being the time invested in each. 

Co-op vs. Internship

  • What is a co-op?

Co-ops are programs that are specifically thought out to grow a lasting relationship with the student as a long-term employee, so they provide different schedule options for students to balance work and school as best as possible. The disadvantage is that participating in a co-op program usually means taking up to five years to complete a four-year degree due to how demanding it can be. 

  • What is an internship?

Internships are short-term jobs that usually only last for one semester, meaning that the student can take part in several internships over the course of their college life and gain experience in many different companies, which makes for a great résumé. However, internships aren’t exactly known for being well-paid, and some aren’t paid at all, so it can be a con if you’re looking for financial stability while studying.

What are the Main Similarities and Differences?

  • Similarities

The main goal of both co-ops and internships is for students to have an early start on their chosen careers to gain the proper knowledge and skills to perform in the work field by the time they graduate. They’re similar regarding the level of responsibility the student takes since they no longer count on the classroom's safety net; it’s a real-life workplace that needs the student’s compromise.

  • Differences

As previously mentioned, the duration of each program is the main difference between the two of them. When you get an internship, it usually lasts one semester at most, while co-ops tend to be longer, having up to six work terms all throughout your time in school. They also differ in terms of income since co-ops are more lucrative than internships, which sometimes are not even paid at all.  

Advantages of Internships and Co-Ops

  • Networking Opportunities

You should always appreciate the importance of networking and how much of a difference it can make for future opportunities. Meeting a good amount of hard-working professionals while still in school makes you learn from them and gives you a head start for your forthcoming career. 

  • Experience in the field 

There is nothing as valuable for recruiters as tangible and ascertainable experience in an actual workplace, which will undoubtedly give you more and better job opportunities in the future. Co-ops and internships are the perfect way for you to fill up your resume early on in life. 

  • Trial and error

You don’t have to be a hundred percent sure of your preferred career path at such a young age. Being able to try many different jobs is a way for you to find the space you feel at your best, and that’s partly why internships and co-ops are so important for any student.

Disadvantages of Internships and Co-Ops

  • Losing focus on school

Balancing your time and energy between school and work isn’t easy for anybody, and the pressure can get to you sometimes. That can mean that your academic performance may not be the same as before, but that’s completely natural since you will no longer be investing the entirety of your life in it. 

  • Giving up on summer activities

As tempting as pool parties and sleeping in might seem, you should cut back on them during your summer break. These months are a crucial time for college students to enroll in summer internships or one-semester co-op programs to lighten the course load during the fall or spring semester, which is sometimes a possibility. 

When to consider an Internship or a Co-op

  • When should you consider an internship?

Internships are perfect for students in their early years of college because the short-term duration will require a lower level of commitment than a permanent position to keep the focus on school while still gaining the experience and skills necessary for the future. 

  • When should you consider a co-op?

When looking for stability, a co-op is the right option since you’ll most likely stay in the same company the entire time you’re in school. By the time you graduate, you’ll have long-lasting friends and will consider yourself an expert in the area you worked at. 

  • Which one is right for you?

It all depends on your priorities. Consider whether you prefer a full-time or part-time position, what opportunities and internship vacancies your school has available for your course of study, and the types of responsibilities you aim to perform in the program you choose. 


Both internships and co-ops were designed to train students for their future work life, so regardless of which one you end up sticking to, it can only be a great learning experience, and you can never go wrong with any of them. Just enjoy your program and try to make the best out of it.