Undergraduate Academic Guide: Cooperative Education Program

For many years, alumni, potential employers and students have demonstrated a need and encouraged our department to establish an Undergraduate Cooperative Education Program. Established in 1995, employers throughout the country and the world are eager to hire our students for co-op employment.

Our Cooperative Education Program invites students to gain valuable experience in employment that relates directly to their major and career goals. At the same time, it provides employers with opportunities to evaluate students as potential full-time employees, while having them complete meaningful projects. Participation in this program is voluntary, and obtaining a cooperative education assignment is competitive.

The co-op experience

The co-op experience begins in the spring semester of the junior year and comprises two phases. The first spans the eight-month period from January through August or May through December of the student's third year at Carnegie Mellon, and the optional second phase spans May through August following the student's fourth year at Carnegie Mellon. The contiguous eight months of Phase 1, built upon our flexible curriculum, is the unique feature of our co-op. Typical students will thus require 4.5 academic years from matriculation at Carnegie Mellon (but still eight semesters) to graduate. The accelerated students, who will be able to complete our degree requirements in seven semesters, will now graduate in four academic years. These students will only participate in the first phase of the ECE co-op program. We therefore require a minimum of eight months of co-op experience to identify the student as a co-op student on the transcript.

Students apply to the ECE Undergraduate Office for the program at the close of their sophomore year. The Undergraduate Office maintains the list of acceptable employers and co-op job descriptions from these employers. While on co-op assignment, students are participating in a recognized CIT educational program, retaining their full-time student status, akin to our students who study abroad in established exchange programs (such as EPFL) for one or two semesters. The Cooperative Education Program agreement may be discontinued if the employers do not provide the students with career-related work experience or if the students do not meet the accepted level of performance as defined by the employers.

Responsibilities of students

The students are expected to begin their co-op assignment in accordance with the university's academic calendar: January through August (preferred option) or May through December (alternate option). Students participating in this co-op program must apply to the Undergraduate Office by May 1 of their sophomore year for the January – August co-op option and December 1 of their junior year for the May – December co-op option. To be eligible for the program, students must have a minimum 3.0 cumulative QPA for their first four semesters. (The minimum 3.0 QPA is the admission requirement for our Integrated M.S./B.S. Degree program.) The students are required to submit a formal application consisting of a resume and a one-page statement of purpose including a plan.

Interviews for these positions take place through the Career Center's on-campus recruitment program. Adherence to all policies and procedures established by this program is mandatory. Students have the option to interview with multiple prospective employers. The Career Center must be notified at least 24 hours before the time of the interview if a cancellation is necessary. If a student misses an interview without this notification, a review will be conducted to determine the action to be taken; this may include loss of privilege to participate in the program.

The students must accept/decline co-op job offers by November 15 for the January start date and April 10 for the May start date (by filling out a Job Acceptance Form). No more than one eight-month cooperative education work assignment will be given to each eligible student. They may also work any additional summers if not attending school. If the work defers a student's graduation beyond one semester, approval must be received from the student's advisor. Participating students contemplating changes in major or transfers to another university should immediately consult with their department advisors and co-op employers. The students are responsible for housing and transportation arrangements during the co-op work period. To ensure receipt of important university and department mailings, the students are responsible for notifying the department advisor and Enrollment Services of their address while on assignment.

Upon returning to Carnegie Mellon, students are required to submit for approval the following two documents to the Undergraduate Office:

  1. A three to five page technical report of the co-op work
  2. A one-page evaluation of the co-op experience.

The students will behave ethically and professionally during the recruiting process and cooperative education experience.

Responsibilities of the employers

The employers will provide a challenging work experience, which must directly relate to the students' majors and class levels. Project titles and descriptions must be provided to the Career Center when the employers register for on-campus interview dates. ECE must approve the job descriptions before the students interview for the positions. The employers will coordinate co-op interviews through the Career Center's On-Campus Recruitment Program, adhering to all policies and procedures established for this program. All direct communications to Carnegie Mellon students should be copied to the Co-op Department Contact. Job offers are to be made within the designated time periods (November 1 for January co-op start dates, April 1 for May co-op start dates). The employers recognize that Carnegie Mellon international students on F-1 visas are eligible for employment and that Carnegie Mellon has established procedures to provide appropriate authorization for students pursuing a co-op experience. The employers provide appropriate orientation to the organization and the students' work environment. Professional supervision will be provided as well as technical mentors to guide the students in accomplishing their job responsibilities. The employers monitor the students' progress and activities and provide the students and academic department with performance evaluations after the work assignments. The employers are encouraged to review and discuss the evaluations with the students before their departure from the employer sites.

Responsibilities of Carnegie Mellon

The Career Center will administer and coordinate the Cooperative Education recruitment process, including keeping job descriptions, publicizing job opportunities, and scheduling interviews. Upon the students' initiative, ECE will approve/disapprove all job descriptions before students interview for positions. The department will meet with students before their work assignments to ensure students' successful transition to the co-op experience. This process will include assisting students with registering for their co-op experience and handling residence life housing issues. The department will maintain records of student interest, job acceptances, student evaluations, and employer evaluations.

A win-win situation

The Cooperative Education Program proves to be a significant benefit to students and employers alike. Students get a chance to apply the knowledge they have learned to hands-on projects in industry. In the eight months of their co-op, students actively participate in actual company projects. Students return to school with a renewed interest in their studies along with a better idea of their course and career preferences. Additionally, after satiating their thirst for industry, some chose to continue their studies in the Integrated Masters/Bachelors or Graduate Programs. Lastly, the co-op provides a potential career opportunity with the participating company. The companies benefit also from the co-op program. It gives them an opportunity to observe students over a sufficient amount of time to evaluate pertinent performance. With this familiarity of student work ethic, employers can make sound judgments in recruiting decisions. Both students and employers alike report that their co-op experience was both productive and beneficial.


For more information, contact your assigned ECE Academic Advisor.

Employers actively participating in the ECE Co-op program

Adobe Compaq Microsoft
Allied Signal (now Honeywell) Delphi-Packard Electric Mobay
Andersen Consulting FORE Systems Motorola
Annapolis Micro Devices General Electric/Capital National Instruments
Ansoft Harris Electronic Systems Quantum
BBN Corporation IBM Schlumberger Limited
Bankers Trust Impact Unlimited/Pittsburgh St. Jude Medical, Inc.
CSCI Arlington Intel Sun Microsystems
Case Corporation Inventure Texas Instruments
Caterpillar Lucent Technologies Transarc
Central Intelligence Agency Lutron USX
Cisco Systems