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Internships and co-ops: What's the difference?

Be aware that the terms "co-op" and "internship" may be used by different groups or individuals to mean different things.

  • Employers, and your academic department may have their own definitions.
  • Review their websites, and ASK for their definitions for these terms.
  • Be aware there are many ways to get career-related experience; not all are called co-ops or internships.


  • "Co-op" usually refers to a multi-work term agreement with one employer; traditionally with at least three work terms alternated with school terms, resulting in a five-year degree program for what would otherwise take four years. Co-ops are traditionally full-time, paid positions.
  • "Internship" usually refers to a one-term work assignment, most often in the summer, but not always. Internships can be full- or part-time, paid or unpaid, depending on the employer and the career field.
  • However, beware: Not all employers use these terms consistently or with consistent meanings!
  • Some employers use the term co-op to refer to a one- or two-term work assignment.
  • Internships can occur in fall or spring semesters, as well as summer, and internships can sometimes be multi-term programs.
  • Other terms, such as field study, may be used by academic departments and employers.
  • When you talk with employers about their programs, make absolutely sure you know their program requirements, and know what they expect of you so that you can seek good fit or match.
  • Both terms "co-op" and "internship" are in our program name because students in either type of work experience may enroll in CEIP.


  • Usually one summer or academic semester, but not always.
  • Could involve multiple work terms.
  • Paid or unpaid, depending on industry or field, and as determined by the employer.
  • Part-time or full-time, depending on employer's needs.
  • Your academic department may have its own definition of internship.
  • If your academic department grants academic credit for internships, it will clearly define the requirements for that academic credit.
  • At graduation, 58% of our graduates reported having paid internships during college; 19% reported having unpaid internships. (This is a "check all that apply" question, so some students may have had both.)

Cooperative education positions:

  • Usually multiple work terms, but not always.
  • Work terms alternate with school semesters.
  • Work terms include fall & spring semesters.
  • Usually full-time. 
  • Co-op positions have traditionally been paid by employers.
  • Co-op is open to all majors but internships are more common for most students.
  • At graduation, 7% of our graduates reported having done co-op in college.
    • Engineering majors have comprised 83% to 95% of students enrolled.
    • Business majors have comprised <1 to 10%. (varies by semester).

What are the requirements for the CEIP?

Learn more about the benefits and requirements of CEIP.