Co-Op? Internship? Work Study? What’s the Difference?

Many students plan on working in some capacity while they attend college. There are a number of different ways to make this work out: work study, co-ops, internships, off campus jobs. What is the benefit to working while in college, and what are the differences between all these different opportunities? Broadly, a co-op or internship is part of the student’s learning experience. It will be in their chosen field and will be part of their education. This is different from off campus or work study jobs which are ways that students can make money to help support themselves while in college. Let’s take a closer look at all four.

Off Campus Jobs:

These are the simplest to understand. An off-campus job is just that: a job. The employer is not affiliated with the college or university and the work does not count as part of the student’s education. This would be a normal full or part time job that a student finds for themselves to supplement their income. Many college students work in retail or in food service as well as in other industries. These jobs can have good pay rates, but because they are unaffiliated with the college or university, however, it can be difficult to find one that will work around the often hectic schedule of a student.

Work Study and On Campus Jobs:

Work study is a type of on campus job. Students can work in many capacities for the university at a set pay rate. The difference between work study and a regular on-campus job is simply where the funding comes from to pay the student. Work study funds are part of a student’s financial aid package and come from governmental institutions whereas a regular on campus job would see the student paid from a department’s budget or other pool of money on campus. These jobs will essentially look the same to the student- they just be careful if they aren’t approved for work study not to apply for jobs that are advertised as work study: there might not be funds to pay them!

On campus and work study jobs can be very varied. They might include working as a teaching assistant, manning a front desk, making copies, selling concessions, taking tickets at sporting events, helping the grounds crew, and a myriad of other opportunities. In the opinion of this author, the best jobs are the ones that are simple enough that a student can complete homework at work (working a desk), or in an area that can help a student build connections (working for a professor) but they all pay, so if a student needs supplemental income, any will do in a pinch.


Internships are generally off-campus “jobs” that are set up in conjunction with the college or university in order to help the student get real life work experience. Many (if not most) internships are unpaid, so students who need financial support should ensure that they are working at paid internships prior to starting. The primary goal of an internship is educational, not financial. An internship is a part time job in addition to a regular class load and is often actually part of a class. If a student is interested in an internship he or she should talk to a professor or career services about finding one. Internships can be a good way to get a foot in the door with a possible future employer.


A co-op is also a learning opportunity. Unlike internships, however, co-ops take the place of classes on campus for anywhere from a summer to a semester to a full year. Co-ops are full time work and as such should be paid opportunities. Different colleges may handle co-ops differently. Make sure you ask about tuition policies while in a co-op: some colleges will waive tuition for a co-op while others might not! Co-ops are great opportunities for hands on learning and financial support, however, because they take the places of classes, students need to make sure that a co-op will work with their graduation timeline. Academic advisors are great and assisting with such questions!

Regardless of which option they pick, students should plan to work in some capacity in college. Upon graduation, students who will be applying for jobs will find that any kind of work experience on their resume will give them an advantage of students who have no work experience at all.

If you have any questions please get in touch! We’re happy to help you better understand college working options.

Michal Strawn