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Intro to Co-op

What is Co-op?

Cooperative Education, or co-op, gives you the opportunity to gain meaningful work experience before you graduate! It will help you futher define your career path and fully realize the value of what you are learning in the classroom. For some of you it is a required, for others, it is an option.

Co-op is the best way for you to immerse yourself in the real world and apply what you’re learning and experiencing while at RIT. More than 4,300 RIT students completed more than 5,700 work assignments last year and were employed by nearly 2,200 employers coast to coast and abroad. RIT co-op students generated more than $45 million in earnings through their employment with industry, business, government, and the not-for-profit sector throughout the U.S. and in 40 foreign countries.

Cooperative education at RIT is full-time (35 hours or more per week), paid employment directly related to your field of study. The length of a co-op can be a single term or 2 consecutive terms. Visit the Co-op Schedule page for more details. Co-op begins after you have completed the first two years of coursework in your academic program, in most cases. (This may differ for masters degree students -- check with your academic department). Most students alternate semesters of coursework with semesters of co-op during the last three years of your program. Your academic department determines your co-op/academic schedule.

Cooperative education is a unique kind of education. It is different from summer employment, and different from an internship. Co-op employment...

... is related to your field of study
... is full-time, productive work
... is paid
... increases in complexity and challenge according to your academic level
... includes formal evaluation and documentation of your performance

Co-op gives you the opportunity to:

  • Apply much of the theory you are learning in your course work
  • Experience a typical work day and focus your career choice
  • Earn a reasonable salary which will help you finance your education
  • Take a breather away from your "grind" as a student
  • Develop additional technical skills and enhance vital personal skills such as judgment, written and oral communication, teamwork
  • Make contacts (network) that may be helpful when you seek full-time employment
  • Be a more attractive candidate for full-time employment after graduation and probably obtain a higher starting salary than students without co-op experience

Employers benefit from co-op in a number of ways:

  • Co-op students are flexible, highly motivated, technical employees who join the work force at relatively low cost to the employer.
  • Your presence can free up an employee's time for long-range projects.
  • Your abilities and potential for permanent employment can be assessed on the job.
  • Your new ideas and enthusiasm are often professionally stimulating to full-time employees.
  • You serve as the employer's "good will ambassador" to other RIT students and faculty, facilitating recruiting and other relationships.

How Financial Aid Works While You Are On Co-op

RIT does not charge tuition for enrollment in cooperative education.  With the exception of the federal Pell Grant, most forms of financial aid are not awarded for semesters of co-op employment.  Financial aid includes federal and private alternative loans as well as grants and scholarships.   If you have concerns pertaining to your living expenses during your co-op term, please contact your Financial Aid Counselor to discuss some various strategies as to how to cover these costs.

If you are a Pell grant recipient, the grant will credit to your student account after the drop/add period for the term.  You must register your co-op on the Registrar’s system and report your co-op on Job Zone.

Your co-op earnings will not negatively impact your eligibility for federal student aid in the subsequent year. You are asked on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to report earnings from a co-op. The reported co-op earnings will automatically be excluded from your adjusted gross income when calculating your expected family contribution (EFC).

If you have any questions regarding your co-op earnings and financial aid, please contact your Financial Aid Counselor at ritaid@rit.edu.

Housing During and After Co-op

Students who co-op in Rochester may stay in RIT housing. Students who co-op out of town are typically responsible for finding their own housing near the employer’s location. Some companies provide housing assistance in the form of subsidies or housing allowances, or space in locations they own or rent for this purpose. Most employers will at least provide a list of apartments or housing options to assist students.

Students who return from co-op are guaranteed on-campus housing, if they were in RIT housing prior to leaving for co-op, however, preferences are not guaranteed. RIT Housing Operations communicates with students via email and provides information on how to apply for housing when you return to campus.

International Students

International students need work authorization from RIT International Student Services and cannot co-op until after two consecutive full-time academic terms of study have been completed, minimally.

Co-op is considered Curricular Practical Training. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) must be in your field of study and an integral part of an established curriculum. This may be mandatory or optional cooperative education, internship or practicum. To be eligible for curricular practical training you must have F-1 status, and have completed at least two terms of full-time study in the U.S. If you have any questions, please contact your program coordinator (that works with your major) in our office for clarification.

As soon as an offer of employment is accepted, but at least one week before employment begins:

  • Notify the Office of Co-op and Career Services. You will need to complete and submit the Report Your Co-op online form and provide the information requested.
  • Register for co-op through your academic department.
  • Make an appointment to see an international student advisor to obtain work authorization. Bring your I-20 and offer of employment to the appointment.Make sure your offer letter clearly states a start and end date as well as the address where you will be working.

You may be authorized for whatever amount of curricular practical training your degree requires; however, you will be ineligible for optional practical training at the end of your studies if the number of authorized CPT days exceed 364 days.

Eligibility

Undergraduate Students must be in good academic standing with a minimum of a 2.5 GPA and (for the majority of majors) have completed their sophomore year. Students are not eligible for co-op after they have completed all their degree requirements.

Graduate Students must be in good academic standing with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA and have completed one academic year. Students are not eligible for co-op after they have completed all their degree requirements. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Am I guaranteed a co-op job? No. But, remember the Office of Co-op and Career Services does guarantee we will help you in any way we can with your search. By being flexible on your expectations and fully utilizing the resources available to you, you will become skilled in successfully conducting your job search.

Q: Do I receive credit for co-op? Standard academic credit is not given for co-op. However, you earn "credit" in that your department assigns a grade of "S" when you have met all of their requirements and have successfully completed your co-op assignment.

Q: Do I pay tuition for co-op? You do not pay tuition or any institute fees while on co-op even though you remain eligible to utilize all the facilities and services of the Institute - such a deal!

Q: How do I let RIT know where I will be working? You report your co-op online to the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education. Click on the "Report Your Co-op/Internship" link. You also need to register for co-op in SIS (this varies by program, so check with your program coordinator or academic advisor.

Q: How much do I get paid?: It is ultimately up to the employer, but they often base it upon comparable co-op salaries and a candidate's experience. There may be room for negotiation. Your employer also determines eligibility for benefits, if any. Check our web site for the latest co-op salary data.

Q: What type of work qualifies for co-op? You should strive to be in a position that will give you hands-on experience that you have never had before. Jobs, which are listed by the Office of Co-op and Career Services, are "approved" co-op positions. If you obtain a co-op position on your own and are not sure if it is acceptable, see your program coordinator, faculty advisor or department chair before accepting the job. Keep in mind that if the job meets the criteria it doesn't matter if a company calls the job an internship or temporary employment.

Q: Am I guaranteed a co-op job? The answer is no. You are not placed into a co-op position, but rather you apply and go through the same hiring process you will when you look for a job after graduation (which is great practice).
The Office of Co-op and Career Services do guarantee we will help you in any way we can with your search. By being flexible on your expectations and fully utilizing the resources available to you, you will become skilled in successfully conducting your job search.

Q: What is the length of a co-op? A single co-op block is the same length as an academic term. You may, in fact, work longer -- depending on your exam schedule the preceding term and on your employer's needs. A double block is two consecutive terms of work, without a break in between. Many students are scheduled for double blocks, others may choose to double block. (To be sure co-op will not preclude your taking courses you need check with your academic department before committing to a double block). You and the employer negotiate the start date and the expected end date of the work period.

Q: Can I stay in Rochester? Maybe. Some co-op jobs are located in the Rochester area. Depending upon your program, there may be many or very few positions in Rochester. Competition for these positions can be very keen. It is not advisable to limit your job search to any one specific area. You will enhance your chances of landing a professionally rewarding position if you are geographically flexible. You should seriously consider all co-op opportunities in your career field for which you qualify, regardless of location.

Q: Where will I live if I leave Rochester? Many out-of-town employers provide some help in finding temporary housing. The assistance varies: some companies will provide a list of possible apartments and room rentals; some will pay for a hotel for a few days while you are looking; some have co-op housing already arranged. It is a good idea to check with the colleges in the area because residence hall space is frequently available, especially in the summer. It is appropriate to discuss your housing concerns with an employer once an offer has been made.

Q: Can I work overseas? Yes, but start early! Visit our Work Abroad page for more information.

Q: Will my employer pay my relocation expenses? Maybe. Some employers, especially those located out of state, will pay for all or part of your relocation expenses. It is important to have a clear understanding of your obligation before accepting a co-op position if extensive travel expenses are anticipated.

Q: Do I have to pay taxes on what I earn? Yes. According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service salaries/wages paid to co-op students are fully subject to applicable federal income taxes. They are also subject to applicable state income taxes. Any type of personal income should be assumed taxable unless IRS regulations specifically declare it to be "excludable" (i.e., tax-exempt). There is no exclusion of co-op wages in current regulations. International students are required to pay federal and state income taxes but not FICA (social security tax). It should be understood that the above information/advice is provided only as a convenience for you and is not legally binding. Students seeking further info should contact the Internal Revenue Service.

Q: Can I collect unemployment insurance? Once your co-op employment with a company has ended, you are not eligible to collect unemployment insurance benefits.

Q: What if I don't get a co-op job? See your career services coordinator as soon as you feel anxious about your co-op job search. We can evaluate your search, make suggestions, and provide additional service that will assist you in meeting your goal. As a last resort, if co-op is mandatory for your program, a discussion with your academic department may be in order. Depending upon circumstances, it is possible that your co-op will be delayed or waived.

Q. Can I co-op after I graduate? No, Once you have  completed all your degree requirements you are no longer eligible for RIT's co-op program. Co-op is part of your experiential education while you are studying at RIT.