For students looking for a more immersive industry experience, electing to participate in the cooperative education (co-op) program can be a great way to do so. Formal arrangements have been established with employers that permit students to rotate four-month terms between the workplace and the classroom. While co-op typically delays graduation by a semester, students have close to a year’s worth of work experience, which can make them very competitive applicants upon graduation.
Undergraduate students are eligible to participate in the co-op program if they:
- Are a declared (or about to declare) Computer Science or Information Science major
- Are in good academic standing (GPA 2.0 or above)
- Have successfully completed at least the first semester of their sophomore year prior to the first rotation, but are not in the final semester of their degree
- Have not previously completed two co-op rotations
- Receive approval from their academic advisor by completing a course schedule mapping out the two co-op rotations and required coursework (graduation is typically delayed a semester)
- Have submitted a co-op for credit application via Handshake prior to working
- Have an application approved and be enrolled in the co-op course before add/drop ends – preferably submitted and approved a semester before working the first co-op rotation
Any questions regarding eligibility should be directed to a student’s academic advisor.
Students are expected to:
- Work two co-op rotations with the same employer on a full-time basis
- Not take any classes while on co-op (unless it’s the 2nd rotation and an evening class has been permitted)
- Request work authorization if they are on an F-1 visa
- Acknowledge they represent the university when they are off-campus and must act in a professional and ethical manner
- Alert the Manager of Experiential Learning if their duties or rotation schedule have changed
- Complete a midpoint and final evaluation during each co-op rotation
- Register for classes when they are not on a co-op rotation (the co-op office will register them for the co-op course)
Co-op employers are expected to:
- Provide a full-time work experience to students with increasing duties after the first rotation
- Provide a safe, inclusive work environment
- Complete a final evaluation regarding the student’s performance at the end of each rotation
Learning agreements for each co-op course (CS 1906, INFSCI 1082) can be found here. Any questions or concerns should be directed to the Manager of Experiential Learning, Emily Bennett, especially if they involve an unsatisfactory or unsafe work environment which needs to be dealt with in a prompt manner.
Any student interested in participating in co-op should meet with their academic advisor prior to securing an offer to ensure the program can fit into their schedule and so they can plan their remaining degree requirements. Undergraduate students typically complete two rotations (to fulfill the capstone requirement) but are eligible to complete up to three rotations. Please note that students cannot graduate in a co-op semester.
Sample co-op scenarios include:
- Second Year (Sophomore, 2nd semester) - Summer: rotation #1, Fall: courses, Spring: rotation #2
- Third Year (Junior) - Fall: rotation #1, Spring: courses, Summer: rotation #2
- Third Year (Junior) - Fall: courses, Spring: rotation #1, Summer: courses, Fall: rotation #2
- Third Year (Junior) - Summer: rotation #1, Fall: courses, Spring: rotation #2, Summer: courses
- Second Year (Sophomore, 2nd semester) - Spring: rotation #1, Summer: courses, Fall: rotation #2
- 6 month rotation option #1- Summer/Fall: rotation #1, Spring: courses, Summer/Fall: rotation #2, Spring: courses
- 6 month rotation option #2 - Spring/Summer: rotation #1, Fall: courses, Spring/Summer: rotation #2, Fall: courses
Back-to-back rotations are not encouraged, but in some instances may be approved by advising, the co-op site, and the co-op office.
Students can use this course schedule to map out their two rotations and coursework, but must have a finalized version approved by their academic advisor prior to submitting an application even if they have an existing offer.
Securing a Co-op Offer
- Co-op positions must be paid (average $20-25 an hour), full-time (32-40 hours a week for 12-15 weeks) and be external to the university (no on-campus jobs). The work can be done on-site or remote. The work should be integral to the student’s field of study and/or allow them to explore technical skills and disciplines not otherwise taught in the classroom.
- Companies must be vetted by the school before participating in the co-op program. Any company listed in the Handshake employer directory or on the SCI opportunities board is verified, although sometimes employer accounts can be hacked. For companies not listed or for any concerns about an employer’s authenticity, please contact the Manager of Experiential Learning, Emily Bennett.
- While the co-op office is responsible for building employer relationships and directing them to post positions on Handshake and the SCI opportunities board, students are responsible for applying and interviewing for positions. Pitt’s Career Center provides 1:1 resume reviews and mock interviews, as well as employer events and workshops (many times in collaboration with SCI). All Pitt and SCI career-related events are posted in Handshake. There are also self-guided career resources on the SCI Career Services site.
Please keep in mind that it can take 3-4 months to secure an opportunity, so students should plan accordingly.
Once a student secures an offer, they must log into Handshake (via the my.pitt.edu portal) and submit an application by completing the following steps:
- Navigate to the Career Center menu in the upper-right corner, click on Experience, and then Request an Experience
- Select the relevant course that matches the declared program major (CS 1906 for Computer Science or INFSCI 1082 for Information Science) and follow along closely with its related application guide (CS 1906 or INFSCI 1082). Failure to include all the required information will result in the application being paused or declined
- Navigate back to the Experience to upload the offer letter and approved course schedule after clicking Request Experience
- Immediately notify the co-op site/supervisor that they will be receiving an email from Handshake to complete a form, and if they do not complete third-party forms, email the Manager of Experiential Learning letting them know
- Please review the Course Learning Agreement and Tips for Success pdfs located under Attachments in the side column
The application now goes through a series of approvals: the co-op site (to confirm work details) and then the Manager of Experiential Learning.
Once the co-op application has been approved by the co-op site, a permission code email will be sent by the Manager of Experiential Learning, which will be used by the student to enroll in the appropriate course. Be sure to enroll before the experience begins or at the very latest, before add/drop ends.
Students must submit an application for each co-op rotation, regardless of whether it’s with the same employer. They can check the status of their application at any time in Handshake under the Experiences module and are responsible for following up with their approvers if progress isn’t being made after two weeks. Students can direct any questions they may have to the Manager of Experiential Learning, Emily Bennett.
Please note that students requiring work authorization must not begin working until an application is approved, they’re enrolled in the course, and a CPT request is processed and approved through OIS. The request requires proof of course enrollment and an offer letter with all the information listed in ‘How to Apply for CPT, Section #2’ in this document.
The co-op application approval process can take up to a month, so please plan accordingly. Students should make every effort to apply and be approved at least a semester in advance of their co-op rotation.
Students should apply to the co-op program with a secured offer at least one semester before they begin their first rotation. The approval process can take up to a month and sometimes longer if the employer isn’t a recognized co-op partner. At the very latest, the application must be approved and the student enrolled in the co-op course before add/drop ends for the semester working. Waiting this long is not ideal, since housing and financial aid can be impacted by a co-op semester and takes time to process.
Please note that students requiring work authorization must allow at least 2 weeks for OIS to process their request for CPT. Students must be enrolled in the course before the request can be reviewed.
Students must be enrolled in the 1-credit co-op course each semester they are working and must follow the application process for each co-op rotation. They are not automatically approved or enrolled. Be sure to enroll before the experience begins or at the very latest, before add/drop ends for the semester working.
During a co-op rotation semester, students are considered full-time students which allows them to keep their student housing and other benefits. Students pay the co-op course fee of $335, plus a prorated amount for the activity fee, wellness fee, and computer fee. They must pay the full safety and transportation fee unless work is conducted more than 75 miles away from campus. Tuition and fee rates can be found here.
While working, students on an F-1 visa must be on approved full-time CPT or pre-completion OPT. Please note that full-time CPT authorization cannot extend beyond 12 months or OPT is negated. Participation in co-op is limited to two rotations, since beyond fulfilling the capstone option requirement, co-op credit does not count towards the degree and per immigration rules, graduation should not be delayed. Student should discuss their plan to co-op with the Office of International Services (OIS) prior to securing an offer.
Successful completion of each co-op rotation involves the following:
- Students are responsible for completing a midpoint evaluation, as well as a final evaluation (with related reports)
- Co-op site supervisors are expected to complete a final evaluation for their student supervisee
- Both final (student and co-op site) evaluations and reports must be submitted prior to the end of finals week (regardless of the experience end date) to ensure a ‘Satisfactory’ grade
For a complete list of evaluation questions, please view the learning agreement under the relevant course dropdown listed here.
Successful completion of at least two four-month co-op rotations and a summary paper can be used to satisfy the capstone graduation requirement. However, the co-op does not count in place of any regular computer science courses.
The written paper must be submitted via Handshake at the conclusion of your second rotation (in addition to the final evaluations). Requirements are detailed in the co-op learning agreement under each course’s dropdown here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to most of your questions can be found in the information listed above, however, here are the most frequently asked questions about co-op:
What is the difference between co-op and an internship?
Co-op is an officially recognized program held in conjunction with external industry partners and the university. It provides students with full-time work experience directly related to their field of study. By alternating work and school terms, the program enables students to complement classroom studies with practical experience, technical knowledge, and financial gain. Students must complete two rotations with the same employer with increasing job duties during the second rotation. Students must complete two rotations to fulfil the capstone requirement.
Internships are standalone, short-term work experiences, which can be full or part-time. They are typically full-time in the summer and part-time in fall or spring. Full-time student status cannot be maintained if the internship for credit occurs in any semester other than summer and is the only class a student is enrolled. While students may be asked to return to their internship on a part-time basis, it’s by no means standard practice. Students must complete one internship (minimum of 120 hours) to fulfil the capstone requirement.
Can I switch an experience from a co-op to an internship or an internship to co-op?
No, this determination must be made in advance of any work done for the employer. Once you have committed to a co-op with an employer, your experience with that employer must remain a co-op. If you have committed to an internship with an employer, your experience with that employer must remain an internship.
Am I able to take classes while I am on a work rotation?
No, you may not take classes while on a work rotation. An exception for one evening class may be made during a second rotation, but requires consent from the employer, academic advisor, and the co-op office.
If I’m an international student studying in the U.S. on an F-1 visa, what work authorization issues do I need to consider?
Co-op registration must be designated as full-time, and the work must be related to the degree. Work can be achieved with full-time CPT or pre-completion OPT, but CPT is most common. Two co-op rotations are permitted, however, please note that full-time CPT authorization cannot extend beyond 12 months or OPT is negated. Students should discuss their plan to co-op with the Office of International Services (OIS) prior to securing an offer.
How can I secure a co-op offer?
While the co-op office is responsible for building employer relationships and directing them to post positions on Handshake and the SCI opportunities board, students are responsible for applying and interviewing for positions. Keep in mind that it can take 3-4 months to secure an opportunity, so students should plan accordingly. Please see ‘Securing an Offer’ above for resources and position requirements.
For More Information
An undergraduate co-op manual is coming soon, which will include the information above, as well as sample resumes, interview questions, and more.
The co-op office within the School of Computing and Information is run by the Manager of Experiential Learning. Please direct any questions or concerns to the current manager, Emily Bennett.