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What's the Difference Between Co-ops and Internships?

Internships and co-ops are both great experiential learning opportunities in college. But what's the difference between the two? Our expert has the answer.

Francesca MorrisseyFrancesca Morrissey
Founder & College Consultant
Access Success LLC
Internships are readily available at most colleges and universities, but not every school offers cooperative (co-op) education opportunities.* One isn’t better than the other—they're just different approaches to experiential learning. Internships tend to be part-time, which means students attend school full-time while working a set number of hours as an intern a few days a week. While some internships may be paid, most of them aren’t because students will receive academic credit for their work—but if the position is paid, the hourly rate tends to be rather low. Internships must also be local for convenient access to and from campus. On the other hand, co-ops can be offered anywhere as they typically require a student to take a break from college coursework; with this type of program, students work a 40-hour week for a set period of months and do not take classes. You are usually paid between $25–$45 an hour for co-op positions while also receiving college credit, and many students are recruited by their co-op employers for full-time work after graduation. Internships may result in full-time job offers as well, though typically not as often. Co-ops can save students and their families some money as they don’t have to pay tuition during the program, but it may also make it impossible for a student to graduate within four years if course credit isn’t offered.

* A quick note about co-ops: Many institutions offer co-ops for select majors, but to the best of our knowledge, there are only four universities in the US that offer co-ops for all majors: Drexel University, Northeastern UniversityRochester Institute of Technology, and University of Cincinnati. If it’s important to you, inquire with your schools of interest as to whether co-ops are available and in what areas of study.

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