For many students, cooperative education programs are a great way to gain valuable work experience while still in school. Unlike some internships, students can earn money and receive class credit while participating in job activities that give them real-world experience applicable to their future careers. These programs are especially popular as students get closer to entering the working world.
As an international student, you may wonder if you are allowed to participate in cooperative education programs due to your F-1 status in the United States. While each university handles cooperative education programs differently, the following are things to keep in mind that are common for nearly all international students:
You must maintain your F-1 status for at least one year before participating in undergraduate Curricular Practical Training (or CPT)
Curricular Practical Training is an employment authorization that allows students to work as long as their employment duties are central to an established curriculum. The curriculum and duties must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. CPT does not conflict with Optional Practical Training (OPT) unless you participate in CPT full-time for 12 months or more.
Ensure you have accurate information before applying to a cooperative education program
Reach out to your campus co-op office to make sure you are in compliance with its requirements. This may mean working with the international student affairs office and/or a designated school official (or DSO) to establish timelines and to clarify how your co-op would work, both academically and financially. Typical requirements to apply and participate include being a full-time degree-seeking student who is not on academic probation and who maintains a given GPA.
Give yourself enough time to prepare for employment
Network inside and outside your campus community to find co-op opportunities that you are interested in. Polish your resume and LinkedIn profile to make yourself marketable to potential employers. Apply at every place you are interested in, and familiarize yourself with the terms of employment at your co-op location. It may take a bit of time for your co-op paperwork to process, so it is important to make the most of this time by being as prepared as possible to impress.
Cooperative education programs can prove to be invaluable for an international student who would like to obtain work experience in the U.S. They give you the opportunity to find out if your major is a good match for your skills and interests. You can “try on” different work environments to determine which one is the best fit for you, all while earning academic credit and gaining access to a network of professional contacts. Participating in a co-op program as an international student gives you a unique advantage in a highly competitive employment marketplace.
Niki Bridges is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.