Although internships and co-ops are distinctly different, they share many of the same benefits. Either type of experiential learning activity can contribute to your professional development and help pave the way for your student-to-career transition.
Getting Real Work Experience
Co-op students and interns both get a close-up view of an organization, including how individuals and teams contribute to meeting objectives, as well as how the organization and industry function. However, your personal participation in the organization may differ somewhat depending on which type of job you have.
After some job training, co-op workers are required to perform all of the activities and duties that are common to the job they hold, just like any other employee. In the co-op environment, you'll be expected to speak up in meetings and contribute solutions and innovative ideas. As an intern, you'll also be given specific tasks to complete, but these may be more clerical or administrative in nature, especially in the beginning. As you progress and learn, you may be given greater responsibilities.
Building Your Resume
Internships and co-ops can be powerful additions to your resume when you start interviewing for professional roles after graduation. Both types of work experience demonstrate that you've learned valuable skills, developed professional abilities, and know what's expected in the workplace. If your employer was particularly happy with your work as an intern or co-op participant, you might even be offered a full-time job with the organization.
Establishing a Network
With both co-ops and internships, you'll have the chance to meet professionals in your field who may be able to help you advance in your career. While you're at work, you'll have opportunities to interact with your co-workers and show your enthusiasm for the organization and the industry. You might even consider connecting with some of them through LinkedIn, a social media platform for professionals, so you can maintain these relationships into the future.
Finding a Mentor
Mentors can be invaluable in your educational journey and your career. A mentor can share meaningful work experiences, help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and provide advice as you finish school and move into the workforce. You may be able to find a trusted mentor through either a co-op job or an internship.
Clarifying Your Career Path
Nothing can help you determine whether you're on the right career path like actually doing the job or working in the industry you have in mind. Genuine work experience may help you decide how you feel about the day-to-day activities involved in the job and may show you if your career choice is personally fulfilling for you. Either type of job may be useful in guiding your next steps, but a co-op may be more revealing than an internship because you'll be more heavily involved in the organization's work.