Co-op Is Not “One Size Fits All”

by Abbey Holland

Many things at college, and in life in general, make us compare our paths, including our successes and failures, to the people around us. Co-op at Northeastern is a prime example of this and feeling like everyone somehow has things figured out while you don’t. (Spoiler alert! That’s usually NOT true!) I have definitely fallen victim to these beliefs, that my co-op process is doomed while everyone else is accepting amazing offers, and I have learned and grown through each of my co-op search experiences. As a rising fifth year going on my third and final co-op in the fall, I’m going to share my co-op journey with you with the hope that it somehow eases your nerves and reminds you that it all works out in the end!

1. Camp Harbor View – Summer Group Leader & School-Year Leadership Academy Intern

When thinking about the average co-op search, it looks like taking a co-op class (this looks a little different for each college/major) in order to learn about the process and to set you up for success in finding your first co-op. While in co-op class, most students are applying to a series of co-ops, interviewing at some of them, and then coming to the point of accepting a job that best fits them. I, however, decided to go outside this typical experience and create my own opportunity for my first co-op in the fall of my third year.

I had been involved with a local non-profit organization called Camp Harbor View since I was partnered with them for a service-learning class my freshman year. After that experience, I worked at their summer camp on Long Island in Boston Harbor and continued to volunteer with them throughout my second year. Because of the amazing experiences and relationships I was developing at CHV, I couldn’t imagine going a summer without working at their camp, so I somehow came to the decision that I would make a co-op with them. This vision would allow me to work at camp from June-August and have a more “normal” co-op experience from September-December. 

I luckily had immense support from my co-op advisor as well as the staff at CHV, so actually creating the co-op ended up being pretty simple. We had a few conversations about what my co-op would look like and what role I would play at the organization as well as what Northeastern needed from them in order for me to eventually get credit for the co-op. I am still so glad that I was able to take the initiative to propose a co-op with them and grateful that CHV was willing to give it a try. This position was the perfect first co-op experience to set me up for the rest of my time at Northeastern and following co-op searches.

2. Walker Therapeutic & Educational Programs – Direct Care Counselor 

After my first fall co-op, I planned on skipping a co-op cycle to get more in-class experience before pursuing another job. However, once the pandemic hit and it was unclear what classes would look like in the fall semester, I decided in June to go on co-op again in the fall. I was still working part-time with Camp Harbor View for the summer, so I searched for a four-month co-op for the fall. I applied to a wide variety of positions listed in Northeastern’s co-op system, not being too picky and simply waiting to see which organizations were still looking to hire a co-op. 

Once I applied to a variety of positions and talked through possibilities with my co-op advisor, I was invited to some info sessions and interviews with a few jobs. I knew I wanted an experience that was very different from my first co-op, so for my second co-op, I was looking to go out of my comfort zone and was hoping to find a job in direct care. One of the positions that I was invited to interview with was with Walker Therapeutic & Educational Programs in Needham, MA. I had heard about this position and organization initially on a co-op panel when I was a second-year in co-op class. From my initial understanding of the position and the potential to interview, I knew I was interested in co-oping with Walker and I was so excited to get the interview.

After an initial phone screening with Human Resources, I had another phone interview with one of the directors of residential programs at Walker and was invited to a walkthrough of the campus to see where I would be working and to learn final details about the job. Each of these steps led me to eventually getting a job offer to work in Walker’s Intensive Community Based Acute Treatment unit, a job that was incredibly different from any experience I had before, which was exactly what I was hoping for. I didn’t have my co-op offer finalized until July, and although it felt like this was late timing compared to my peers and the “typical” co-op process, my second co-op search and the job that I accepted worked out perfectly for what I was looking for.

3. St. Ambrose Family Shelter – Direct Care Co-op

Somehow I have reached the point of being a rising fifth year and pursuing a third and final co-op. Despite feeling qualified and experienced going into my final co-op search, for a few weeks at the beginning of my search, I was feeling incredibly defeated about finding a job. Once again, I am continuing my work with Camp Harbor View for the summer, so I was only searching for a four-month co-op once again this summer. I was confused at the beginning of my search because I honestly wasn’t even sure specifically what I wanted to do for my last co-op. I applied to a wide variety of positions that seemed interesting, and I simply waited to see if and where I got any invitations for interviews.

It took a couple weeks, and lots of anticipation and impatience from me, but I was finally invited to interview for various different co-op positions that I was interested in. I was certain that I was looking for a four-month co-op to be able to balance co-op and my job with Camp Harbor View, so I made the decision to ask each organization I interviewed with if they would be able to accommodate this if I were selected for the position. After my first few interviews, I was getting what felt like endless job rejections, potentially related to the fact that I am not looking to work the full six-month co-op cycle. Eventually, I was invited to a Zoom screening, phone interview, and in-person interview with St. Ambrose Family Shelter in Dorchester. After each conversation I had with St. Ambrose, I became more and more excited about the potential to co-op with them, so I was thrilled when they offered me the position, and they are even able to accommodate a four-month opportunity. As my final co-op search, I was hoping the process would be easier or more straightforward than previously, and that was certainly not the case. Despite my frustrations and worries about finding a co-op, once again, it all worked out in the end and I cannot wait to begin this position in the fall.

None of these stories I share are me trying to tell you to self develop a co-op, wait until the last minute to decide to go on co-op, or anything else that I have done on my co-op journey. Instead, I hope it is clear that everyone’s path is different and there is no “right” way to do co-op. If you’re really set on finding a job, there is something out there, and even if it isn’t your dream job, there are always lessons to be learned from any co-op. Next time you find yourself comparing your path to someone else’s, remember that you’re on different paths for a reason. Embrace your journey and do what is best for you!

This photo is from my first summer working with Camp Harbor View, where I eventually pursued my first co-op 🙂