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 undergraduate engineering or computer science/information science discipline. This academic program enables students to complement classroom studies with practical experience, technical knowledge, and financial reward. Students also gain academic credit when participating in co-op that can take the place of an elective.  

Graduate level engineering students can also participate in co-op. 

How do I start with the ELPE Co-op/Intern division? 

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

In addition to the online application, you will need to submit a resume for review, and a possible co-op sample schedule form. If you accept a co-op position, your academic advisor will need to approve your final schedule. 

The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and located on the first floor, 152 Benedum Hall. You can contact anyone in the ELPE office to set up an appointment or use Pathways to schedule.  

Do I work full-time or part-time? 

At the University of Pittsburgh, the undergraduate co-op student works full-time during a 6-month rotation, and then returns to school for full-time study. Graduate level students can work a possible different timeframe rotation, but still working full-time.  Students typically work full time during the summer months for internship positions. 

How many terms do I work? 

To complete the program requirements and receive certification, engineering undergraduate students must work a minimum of two 6-month rotations. Computer science/information science students work one 8-month term.  

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 each time they complete a six-month rotation and gain academic credit. 

When Do I Begin? 

Some students will start a co-op as early as the spring semester of their sophomore year, while others may start the summer after. Mechanical, chemical, materials science, engineering science, computer, and electrical engineering students have the option to begin work January through June. Industrial and Civil and Environmental engineering students can consider the June/July-December timeframe. Junior-level students also have some options to still consider a co-op.  

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-op mandatory? 

No, co-op 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. Global Co-ops and Internships are also possible. 

It is suggested to meet with an ELPE staff member to talk more about industries and the opportunities available.  

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 schedule, and learn if a co-op or internship works better.  

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 tend to have the opportunity to 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. 

Co-op allows you an extended timeframe to work at a company, so you can contribute more to a project from start to possible finish and gain more experience and skills. 

Can I look for both a co-op and an internship to increase my options? 

Yes, but just understand that most employers who are recruiting for co-ops will want you to work the 6-months and not just a summer. If you obtain a 6-month co-op you will also register for the credit and pay the fees involved. It ends up costing you less credit-wise to complete a 3 credit co-op than to pay for a technical elective. You are also gaining professional experience and a paycheck in the process. 

How long will it take to get a job? 

Note there is no set timeframes in the recruiting process, and we cannot guarantee anyone a co-op or internship position or guarantee that you will receive an offer within a certain time.  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 connect with ELPE 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 though! 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; hiring for co-ops and interns are just one area for many of them. Again, most students will receive offers if they apply with a good number of companies. Try and be flexible with rotations, start dates, locations, types of positions as much as you can.  

Will there be a job fair? 

Yes! The co-op/intern division of ELPE office hosts two annual job fairs for employers and students during the fall and spring terms of each year. By attending these job fairs, you will significantly increase your opportunities of finding a position. Information on participating companies will be available the week of the fair and can also be found on our website. Please check with the ELPE office for details on this event. Not all companies attend the job fair. The ELPE 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 information on each company we partner with if you need assistance with company exploration. 

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 can try to 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 must be reported to the ELPE office. 

  • Don’t forget to check your spam. Every now and then an employer’s email or offer letter is found there! 

  I have 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 utilize other services such as the Career Services Office or other practice reviews. 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. Employers sometimes offer interviewing skills workshops through our office. Check out up-coming events to see if there are any professional development workshops scheduled. 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. In addition to thanking them for their time, state why the interview increased your interest in the position, or reiterate why you believe you are a good fit.  

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 representative’s time by accepting a interview.  

Here are two examples: we have had students register, interview, and then decline a position they are not interested in using the excuse 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 should review the sample schedules and  see a faculty advisor before beginning to interview to discuss any concerns. 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.  

If you need assistance with deciding on a co-op or internship offer, please contact someone in the ELPE office to help you review the offer and think things through.  

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 or internship employment. If you have not heard from a company you are interested in, ask someone in the ELPE office. We are usually up to date on what is happening with companies that are advertising opportunities. 

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 deciding. 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 working with the ELPE. 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/Intern office. Take advantage. 

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

Co-op students at the University of Pittsburgh have the option to work both 6-month rotations with the same employer, or they can choose to look for a different employer for their next rotation experience. The employer and student should discuss this during the end-of-term evaluation. Additionally, employers are not required to take back a student whose work performance does not meet their standards. 

What if I lose my co-op position before I complete all the rotation requirements? 

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/Intern 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, and there are sample schedules you can review beforehand. An approved schedule is required from your department before you can start your co-op. It is the student's responsibility to give a signed copy to the co-op office, as well as keeping a copy for themselves. 

What is my student status when on co-op? 

You are considered a full-time student while on a rotation. Students will be registered for a full 1 credit during their spring or fall terms, and .5 credit during the first or second six weeks in the summer session when they are still working.  

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. 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 University housing 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 ELPE office or ask the company during your interview. When you return to Pitt for classes and possibly need a sublet, you can let us know and we will email your housing needs to current co-ops. Panther Central 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.  

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); international co-op students for Engineering 1092; and computer science/information co-op students for CS1906 or INFSCI1082. The fee for this course is $335 plus part- time fees: 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.  

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. Note that students will not be charged the professional development fee when they are out working during a spring or fall term.  

Can I negotiate the fees?  

No. If a student obtains a co-op through the ELPE office they need to register and pay the fees, whether or not they need the academic credit. This is only fair to all students who abide by the program policy. 

Is there any flexibility with the co-op rotations? 

Although the majority of our students are on the 6-month rotation 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 standard 6-month rotation, please email the Co-op/Intern director.  

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 a representative in the Engineering Global office in addition to your departmental co-op faculty advisor.  

Short term experiences are available (summer or spring break) opportunities.  

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. 

What happens if I do not complete 2 six-month co-op rotations? 

If a student decides not to complete both two 6-month rotations and only completes one, then they do not earn the 3 credits towards a technical elective, nor will they receive certification on their transcripts.