Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Frequently Asked Questions



What is Cooperative Education?

Cooperative Education is the rotation between school and full-time work assignments that relate directly to your engineering, chemistry, or computer science discipline. This program enables students to complement classroom studies with practical experience, technical knowledge, and financial reward.

Do I work full-time or part-time?

At the University of Pittsburgh, the student works full-time for a term, and then returns to school for full-time study.

How many terms do I work?

To complete the program requirements and receive certification, engineering students must work a minimum of three four-month terms. Computer science students work 2-3 terms. Some students have an opportunity to work four or more terms. As long as you remain with your co-op employer, you are considered a co-op student. Students who participate in the Program do not have the option of changing their status from co-op to intern to avoid paying the co-op fee. Students pay the co-op fee for the first three terms.

When Do I Begin?

Co-oping begins for many students upon completion of the sophomore year. Mechanical, chemical, materials science, engineering science, computer, environmental, and electrical engineering students have the option to begin work midway through the sophomore year. Work sessions begin in May, September, or January. Junior-level students can still participate midway through the year and easily satisfy the three-term commitment.

What are the eligibility requirements?

Students must possess a minimum 2.0 QPA overall, and should not be on term probation. Also, required coursework for each department must be completed. If you are in doubt regarding your academic status, see the co-op advisor in your department. (Some co-op employers will set a higher QPA requirement.)

Is co-oping mandatory?

No, co-oping is an option for any qualified student.

What types of positions are there?

The Cooperative Engineering Education office is committed to assuring a practical work experience for each student in their field of study. We work with a wide range of companies including public and private, small and large. We have placed students nationally as well as many in the Pittsburgh area. Some students have had international assignments with their co-op employers.

I'm a transfer student; can I co-op?

Yes! We have successfully placed many transfer students from regional campuses and other colleges and universities. Most transfer students begin at the main campus after the sophomore year and can begin co-op assignments after one term at the main campus. See your advisor as soon as possible to ascertain your co-op schedule.

What are the primary benefits of the co-op program?

Practical experience, technical knowledge, financial remuneration, confidence, assurance, and better understanding of academics are all benefits of the co-op experience in addition to the academic credits earned by the student. The co-op experience has also immensely benefited graduating students in their job search. Although many students eventually accept permanent employment with their co-op employers, many others find that they have multiple offers to select from; many with a higher than average starting salary.

How do I register with the Co-op program?

The co-op office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and located in offices 152 Benedum Hall.

In order to register with the co-op program, you need to apply online. The following link will allow you to register and verify your understanding of the program. You will also need to read and acknowledge the Statement of Understanding guidelines and requirements. https://usr.engr.pitt.edu/CoOpStudent

New in 2018, the co-op program will now post all co-op job notifications on the USR Portal. Students will gain access to the online portal once they’ve applied for the co-op program. Students can then search for jobs by their major and apply to jobs they’re interested in. Students can either apply online through a link posted, or simply check the “send resume” box if applicable, and the co-op office will send their resume directly to the employer. Once students accept a job offer, their access will then be revoked since they will be done with the co-op search process.

In addition to the online application, you will need to submit a resume (soft copy), and a sample schedule form. Once you accept a position, your academic advisor will need to approve your schedule.

How long will it take to get a job?

First of all, we cannot guarantee anyone a co-op position or guarantee that you will receive an offer within a specific time frame.  You may be one of those students who interviews for one position, receives an offer from the company, accepts it, and thus completes the interviewing process. Most students find, though, that securing a position is a waiting game. Most offers are tendered toward the end of the term, and many students find themselves deciding between two offers. Keep in mind that it may take more than one term to secure a position. You may want to apply to the co-op office as early as possible in your college career. It is our experience that if you are interested in only certain industries or certain geographic locations, your job search can become more difficult.

Don't give up! Many students think that because they haven't heard from a company they are not desirable candidates. That is simply not the case. Employers are extremely busy with varied responsibilities; the co-op program is just one area for many of them. Again, most students will receive offers if they sign up for a number of companies.

Will there be a job fair?

Yes! The co-op office hosts two annual job fairs for co-op employers and students during the spring and fall terms of each year. By attending this job fair, you will significantly increase your opportunities of finding a co-op position. A booklet of participating companies will be available the week of the fair and can also be found on our website. Please check with the co-op office for details on this event. Not all companies attend the job fair. The co-op office works with many employers and continues job development efforts throughout the term.

How will I know which companies interest me?

You should research any company that interests you on-line. Our job fair participants are listed on our website. We also have a list of participating companies from our annual reports but please keep in mind that this list changes constantly.

In addition, the co-op office has a file on each company. We sometimes have informational brochures on each company that you can keep or borrow. We also have salary information on almost all of our employers. Please ask us for this information if it is important to you!

What if I don't have the QPA or discipline the company requests? Can I still sign up?

It is important that we follow guidelines established by the employers. However, if you are truly interested in a company for which you do not meet criteria, please let us know. We will contact that company on your behalf. Many employers will agree to consider those candidates and some have received offers!

How will I know which companies are interested in me?

Once the resumes leave our office, one of several things might happen:

  • The company schedules an on-campus recruiting visit. You will be notified by email of the interview schedule. We will expect a response from you.
  • The company contacts you by telephone and discusses the position with you.
  • The company offers you a plant trip based either on your resume or telephone interview. (It is imperative that you have your voicemail set up on your phone. Companies will call during business hours when you are often not available. The greeting on your phone needs to be professional. If an employer is offended by a message, they may not continue the interview process).
  • The company will usually notify you by telephone or in writing to offer you a position.
  • Please note: All offers and plant visits must be reported to the co-op office.
  • Don’t forget to check your spam. Every now and then an employer’s email or offer letter is found there!


I've never interviewed with a corporation before. Do you assist us in preparation for an interview?

Yes. We strongly encourage all students to mock interview with our staff members or someone in the Career Services Office. Additionally, we will host a mock interviewing session during the fall semester that can accommodate almost 100 students. We have found that most students who utilize this service not only feel more comfortable during the interviewing process, but ultimately receive job offers. Co-op employers sometimes offer interviewing skills workshops through Career Services or our office. Check out our important dates to see if there are any professional development workshops coming up. It's important!

Is it appropriate to send "Thank You" notes after an interview?

Yes! Particularly if you are interested in the position. A sample letter can be found in our student handbook. It is appropriate to send by email or regular mail. The notes can be hand written if sent by regular mail.

If I get an offer, do I have to take it?

No, you do not. However, it is critical to turn down the position in a professional manner. There may come a day when that same company might be of great interest to you. If they've had a bad experience with you, it’s possible that they won't consider you for future employment with them. Be truthful but professional. If you have absolutely no interest in the position, don’t take up the interviewer’s time by accepting a plant visit. Here are two examples: we have had students register, interview, and then decline a position by saying that they will have trouble completing coursework if they co-op. First of all, schedules are in place to ensure successful completion of coursework. All students must see a faculty advisor before beginning to interview to have a schedule approved; the co-op office must have a copy of that schedule. Saying that Pitt does not offer the courses is not true and only serves to hurt other applicants. Also, after receiving an offer, some students have said that they do not want to move out of town, or that their parents do not want them to move. These are issues that should have been resolved before the student's first interview. We suggest that you be open, but realistic. If you absolutely know you cannot leave Pittsburgh, indicate that under Geographic Restrictions on the Interest Form. Yes, it will limit you, but it is only impeding the chances of other students who are more interested. 

What if I interview and then decide that co-oping is not for me?

The first thing you need to do is notify the co-op office. We will make certain that your resume is not circulated to any additional companies, to save you the responsibility of explaining your decision to them. Do not continue to interview or go on plant trips. Tell any employers who contact you that you are no longer available, but thank them for considering you. You may also want to add that you might re-submit a resume to them during senior year.

Will I be told if I don't get the position?

Usually. However, some companies just notify the students they wish to extend the offers to for co-op employment. If you have not heard from a company you are interested in, ask someone in the co-op office. We are usually up to date on what is happening with each company.

Are all positions paid?

Yes; all positions are paid. The average starting salary is between approximately $12-21 per hour for undergraduate students and between $16-30 per hour for graduate students. All positions are full-time.

What if I accept a position with a company but a better offer comes along?

We ask that you consider any job offer very seriously before accepting or rejecting. If you have an offer but are waiting for a possible offer from another company, it is perfectly acceptable and in fact a good idea to call them to ascertain your status before making a decision. We are also available to help you obtain any needed information.

Once you have made your decision, however, we expect you to consider that a commitment to the company. Reneging on job acceptance may cause dismissal or suspension from the co-op program. We recommend that students ask questions and get details regarding the position before accepting. Information can be gained from: 1. Employer 2. Internet 3. Other Students 4. Professors. 5. Co-op office. Take advantage.

Do I remain with the same employer for all work assignments?

The co-op students at the University of Pittsburgh usually remain with the same employer for all work assignments. Our philosophy is that by completing three or more terms with the same employer, the student receives increasingly challenging work assignments, and is typically performing as an entry-level engineer by the last session. This is dependent upon both the student and employer's satisfaction with the program. Students do have the ability to change employers, however. Please review our section on “changing co-op employers" which is on page 27 of the handbook. We expect our students to have at least two rotations with the same employer. Additionally, employers are not required to take back a student whose work performance does not meet their standards.

Can I accept a "summer only" position through your office?

No. You still pay the co-op fee if you got the position through the efforts of this office, regardless of the number of rotations spent with them or when they occur. We will contact the company to be sure of their commitment to our program.

What if I lose my co-op position before I complete three terms?

If you are laid off by the employer for economic reasons, you may re-enter the program and look for another employer for the remaining terms, or you may leave the program with an “S” grade as long as your evaluations are completed. If you lose your position for poor work performance, you must meet with the Co-op Director. A determination will be made regarding any further participation in the program. If you are suspended for academic reasons, you must raise your GPA before continuing in the program.

If I co-op, can I still get the courses I need in order to graduate?

Yes, each student has a co-op faculty advisor and courses have been scheduled to accommodate the co-op students. Your advisor will complete a schedule form for you, which can be picked up from the co-op office. The schedules are to be completed as a part of the application checklist before you accept interviews. It is the student's responsibility to give a signed copy to the co-op office and his/her department. You also need to keep a copy for yourself.

What is my student status when on co-op?

The one-credit co-op course maintains your full-time student status each term that you work. 

Will I lose financial aid and/or on-campus housing by participating in the co-op program?

There are liaisons in both the financial aid and housing offices who will work with you to provide a smooth transition from full-time student to co-op student each term. Beginning with the FAFSA application for the 2010-11 academic year, co-op wages reported on a student’s IRS return will be subtracted from any other earnings the student might have had for that tax year. This is the same practice that applies to Federal College Work-Study wages. Financial aid is generally not available to students while they are on co-op assignments; this aid will be available for the terms when students are in class. State funds (PHEAA) might be affected by earnings.

Students may live in the dormitories while on a work rotation as long as they have a current housing contract. Also, on- campus housing is contingent upon participation in the housing office's lottery system. We can obtain a reduced meal plan for co-op students if requested for students who need to leave the area for co-op.

What if I accept a job outside of Pittsburgh and need temporary housing during either my school or work rotations?

Accepting a co-op position outside of Pittsburgh is a great way to broaden your horizons and for you to see what it’s like to live in another part of the country or even internationally for a finite period of time. Most companies will offer some form of housing assistance for those positions outside of Pittsburgh. Inquire at the co-op office or ask the company during your interview. When you return to Pitt for classes and need a sublet for 4 months, you can let us know and we will email your housing needs to current co-ops through Blackboard. Please see the housing section on page 25 of the handbook for additional details. The housing office will allow students to break their contract and will work to make sure that you have a dorm room when you return. They cannot guarantee you the same space, but will assist every way they can. Also, the university offers a sublet site at www.ocl.pitt.edu/.

Are there any co-op fees?

Yes; engineering co-op students will be registered for a one credit course entitled Engineering 1090P (Pittsburgh campus) or 1090J (Johnstown campus); approved arts and sciences co-op students for Engineering 1091; international co-op students for Engineering 1092; and computer science co-op students for Engineering 1093. The fee for this course is $305 plus the part- time safety & transportation fee, activity fee, wellness fee, and computer fee. Students will be registered for this course prior to the commencement of each work term. After completing three terms, registration for the co-op credit is optional. Regardless of whether you register or not, if you remain with your co-op employer for additional terms, we still consider you part of the co-op.

Note students do not pay the standard university resident or non-resident per-credit charges, the co-op substitutes instead. University tuition charges can be found at www.ir.pitt.edu/tuition/tuition-rates-fees/.

*Students working more than 75 miles from campus may be exempted from the wellness fee and the safety and transportation fee.

Is there any negotiation with the fee?

No. If a student uses the services of this office to gain employment, the fee must be paid for the first three terms.

Is there any flexibility with the co-op rotations?

Although the majority of our students are on four-month work and school cycles, some employers have programs that require deviations from that model, which is usually an extension of the work term. If academic schedules permit, the co-op office and academic departments will usually grant approval for a change in the rotations under those circumstances. If something comes up during your tenure in our program that interferes with the alternating semesters, please email the co-op director. Additional information on this subject can be found on page 28 of the student handbook.

Can I work summers only?

No, we do not have a "summers only" program. Our students complete the program by rotating work and school.

Will I be drug tested before beginning an assignment?

You'll most likely be drug tested. Companies have the right to rescind the offer in the event of a positive testing. Also, many companies complete background checks, and can also rescind an offer based on the results of that check.

Can I Study Abroad and co-op?

Yes, but it takes planning. When developing your co-op schedule, the co-op office advises you meet with the Study Abroad Office in addition to your departmental co-op faculty advisor. You must inform the co-op office when you apply to Study Abroad in order to coordinate your rotation schedule.

What happens if i have multiple co-op job offers at once?

You will have to decide which offer you want to take. You will have to let the other company know that you are declining their offer and thank them for their interest. You can ask the co-op office for assistance with this and advice on how to handle having one offer on the table while you're still waiting to hear back from another company as well.