Co-operative Education

What is Co-operative Education?

Co-operative education is a unique form of university-industry collaboration that merges a student’s commitment to university education with an industry commitment to providing experiential learning.  

Co-ops typically insert one full time (35 - 40 hours per week) paid work experience with the same employer over at least one semester and adjacent summer (5-6 contiguous months) into the student’s academic program. Co-ops may be planned to be even more extensive, with additional full or part time work periods prior to graduation.

Employer expectations

When offering a co-op position, the company is generally committing to employing the student in work assignments related to their engineering major for at least one semester and summer (5-6 contiguous months), according to a mutually agreed upon schedule. The company’s commitment is subject to the student’s satisfactory performance as the co-op progresses.  The student will be assigned a co-op manager and may be afforded opportunities to broader learning assignments and experiences than would normally be extended to interns.

Employer benefits of a co-op

Co-ops are a great way to recruit, train, and evaluate excellent future employees. They can provide professional staff to assist on critical projects, and they provide a mechanism for the company to gain name recognition and a strong reputation as an employer within the university. 

Student benefits of a co-op

Co-op students are paid for hours worked at their co-op position.  This means that co-op students gain financial support along with significant professional experience prior to graduation. As they complete their program and when searching for a full-time job they enjoy a significant competitive edge. Many co-op employers also extend full-time job offers to their co-op students after they graduate. Because most co-op students might stay with an employer for several full- and part-time work periods during their program of study, they  encounter a greater variety and depth of experiences than students who do an internship. In addition to gaining technical skills, students also acquire many professional skills that are transferable to many industries.

Co-ops also give students the opportunity to see if a given career path is for them and can provide much needed funds to pay for tuition and housing.

Academic planning

Undergraduate Students

Although co-op students are not expected to take any classes during working hours during periods when they are working full time, individual employers may provide schedule flexibility that allows for limited exceptions, such as a 1st or 2nd semester enrollment in a Sr. Design project class, or an evening class.  Students considering a co-op opportunity should meet with their advisor to consider how planned classes could be rearranged in future semesters and summers to allow the student to work full time for 1 and possibly 2 semesters at the co-op company while completing their degree.  It is important to take into consideration that some required classes in a given major might only be offered certain semesters (fall or spring). An academic advisor can help a student make a plan that takes that into consideration.

Even with careful planning, the co-op student’s original graduation date will normally be extended by at least one semester, while the benefits of full-time experience and employment will accrue to the student as they progress.  The student’s consultation with their advisor is Key to the seamless integration of the co-op experience(s) with the student’s academic program.

Undergraduate students need to have a minimum of a 2.5 GPA overall and in the major (math/science/engineering courses) to be eligible for a co-op in this program. Freshman must have completed at least one semester (minimum of 12 units) at SJSU to be eligible.

Graduate students

Graduate students are not eligible for SJSU's College of Engineering Co-op Program. Graduate students may apply for internships open to MS students via SJSU's Handshake program.

How can a student find available co-ops?

All co-ops will be posted via SJSU Handshake. Please log into your Handshake account using your SJSU ID and password and search available positions with the string “SJSU Eng. Co-op”.  All co-ops that have been registered with the college will have that string in their title.  You’ll also see other co-ops listed without that string.  Feel free to apply to them also.  You can update our Notification Preferences in your Handshake settings to allow you to receive emails about events, internships, co-ops, and full-time positions for which you are qualified.

When should a student start a co-op?

A student ideally would ideally start a co-op in their 2nd semester, sophomore year. But co-ops may start later in a student’s program as well.  However, seniors who have completed one semester of the Sr. Design course are not permitted to begin a co-op. Students who are this near to graduation  are better suited for internships, which may be part time and better suited for their academic status.  

Will a co-op count for university credit?

The course: ENGR197 Cooperative Education Project (or a designated alternative) may be taken for course credit for work done in your co-op experience. The following programs will count it as an approved technical elective towards your major requirements: 

  • Aviation ** 
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Engineering Technology **
  • Industrial and Systems Engineering 
  • Interdisciplinary Engineering
  • Materials Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering 

** Register in Department course rather than ENGR 197

Of course, you can also do a co-op without registering for a class.

Do I need to pay tuition while doing a co-op? And will my registration at SJSU be dropped? 

You will only need to pay tuition if you register for a class, such as Engr 197. At SJSU, you can stop taking classes for one term (not including summers) without filing any paperwork. If you will be gone for two adjacent semesters (fall-spring or spring-fall), then you will need to apply for a leave of absence from the university.

Can I live in university housing while taking a semester off to work at a co-op?

Yes. The SJSU Co-Op Program Director will, if required, provide you with a letter to the housing office confirming that you are involved with an official university program.

Can international students engage in a co-op?

Visa regulations require international students to maintain full-time enrollment in most cases, so international students are not permitted to apply for co-op positions.

For further information or questions, contact  Dr. Freund is the College’s Co-op Program Coordinator.