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Guide to Internships and Cooperative Education (Co-op) for External Employers

This information is not intended for internal departments, units or offices of George Washington University.  If you are a GW internal employer and would like information about hiring interns, please call the Career Center at 202.994.6495.  Internal departments are not permitted to hire GW students into co-op positions.

Welcome and thank you for considering a GW student to fill your intern or co-op needs—two employment programs that afford you temporary staffing.

You gain numerous benefits from hiring GW interns and co-op students:
•  name recognition for your company at GW
•  the labor and skill needed to complete a special project
•  an opportunity for your staff to gain supervisory experience
•  a potential employee whose abilities you’ve assessed
•  a talent pipeline from GW to your organization
•  increased retention rates of permanent hires who were once interns or co-op students
•  a link between your company and GW, which can provide opportunities for possible research, teaching and recruitment.

GW students are ambitious and eager to learn, and come to Washington, DC, specifically seeking real-world experience in the workplace.  We regularly receive employer feedback praising the quality of GW interns and co-op students!

Internships & Co-ops Explained

Hiring Guide

Build a Successful Internship or Co-op

Evaluation of Co-op Students


Kelly McVicar, Employer Relations Coordinator / 202.994.8633

Internships and Co-ops Explained

How does GW distinguish between an internship and a co-op jobs?


We consider an internship to be an employment opportunity that can be paid or unpaid, but is ideally comprised of these elements:

•  an intentional experiential learning strategy
•  an emphasis on professional development
•  performance assessment (formal or informal)
•  an opportunity for the student to reflect on the experience

There are no University-wide restrictions on any of the following:

•  which student(s) you can hire
•  where students can intern
•  where a student learns about an internship
•  whether the internship is paid or unpaid
•  how much compensation is offered (if paid)
•  duration of employment
•  work schedule

Cooperative Education (Co-op)

The term “co-op” comes from “cooperative education.” The National Commission for Cooperative Education says, “Cooperative education is a structured educational strategy integrating classroom studies with learning through productive work experiences in a field related to a student's academic or career goals. It provides progressive experiences in integrating theory and practice.”

We define a co-op job as a paid position whose content always relates directly to the student’s academic studies. A co-op job contains all of the following elements:

•  The experience must last a minimum of ten (10) weeks during a given semester.
•  The student must work a minimum of 15 hours per week.
•  The student must be paid an hourly wage.
•  The nature of the work must directly relate to the student’s academic course of study.
•  The nature of the work must be substantive as opposed to administrative.
•  The employer must complete a written evaluation of the student at the end of each semester.
•  The employer must provide a detailed job description on GWork.

GW’s co-op program matches the requirements of the SCEP (Student Career Experience Program) offered by many federal agencies.  If you are an agency with a SCEP position to fill, a co-op student is your solution.  We will post information about the new federal Pathways program as it becomes available.

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Hiring Guide

Which type of student best suits my needs?

If you would like assistance in deciding how to classify the employment opportunity you’d like to offer to GW students, please call us. The following broad guidelines apply:

An internship is most appropriate if:

•  the position is unpaid or paid in a manner other than an hourly wage
•  a commitment of ten weeks in a given semester is not appropriate
•  the student will not be working at least 15 hours per week consistently and
•  the work content is not directly related to the student’s academic course of study.

A co-op job is most appropriate if:

•  you are willing to pay a competitive hourly wage
•  you are seeking a more experienced student who plans to enter your professional field
•  the job is structured similarly to that of an entry-level employee in your organization and
•  the time commitment (15 hours per week, 10 weeks per semester) suits your needs.

How do GW students find internships and co-op jobs?

Students at GW benefit immensely from the wealth of opportunities in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  As such, there are many avenues through which students learn of internship and co-op opportunities.  A GW student may locate an opportunity through:

•  GWork, our online job and internship listing database
•  an e-mail listserv maintained by an academic department or student group
•  a professor with industry contacts
•  a roommate or friend who’s had or heard of a quality employer
•  a non-GW online job search engine or
•  a job fair (for example, our Internship Fair held every Spring semester)

Because the boundaries between GW’s urban campus and the city are blurred, students have many options.  Unless a student seeks to fulfill specific academic requirements imposed by an academic department, no one method prevails over another.  Most students will explore several of the avenues listed above.  (Please note, we do not provide paper listings—books, binders or bulletin boards—to post openings but use GWork to enable students to view thousands of opportunities online 24/7.)

The University does not place students into specific internships or co-op jobs.  We believe that the acquisition of job searching techniques and the mastery of job searching skills are critical components of a student’s education.  Internships and co-op jobs help students to sharpen these skills and provide tools that will be put to use many times in the course of an evolving career.  The GW Career Center offers many services to help students develop these skills.

What’s the best way to interview interns/co-op students?

Interns don’t bring the workplace experience that a full-time professional does, so alter your interview questions appropriately. Here are some hints. This list is not exhaustive.

•  Focus on future goals instead of professional experience.

Ask: How do you think this internship experience will prepare you for your career?  What are your plans for after graduation?

Listen for: Proof that a student is thoughtfully considering a certain career path or paths, and is that your internship will enhance the student’s capacity to make career-related decisions.

Ask: What do you hope to learn?

Listen for: A belief that learning is important and is an objective in and of itself.  A student who’s only seeking to fulfill a requirement may not be ideal.

•  Discuss academic experiences instead of professional experiences.

Ask: Describe methods you use to manage your course load along with extracurricular activities.

Ask: How did you decide on your major?

Ask: How do you prioritize your academic schedule?

Listen for: Evidence of decision-making ability, time management skills, an ability to think before responding in order to formulate a concise response. Ask questions to determine the candidate’s work ethic.

Ask: What extracurricular activities have you been involved in, and how has this prepared you for a professional workplace?

Listen for: Evidence that the student can recognize transferrable skills and apply them in different settings.

Ask: In what kind of class projects have you been involved that required teamwork? Tell me about the role you played.

Listen for: An ability to assess a task from a holistic perspective, recognize individual strengths, and contribute accordingly.

How do I bring a GW intern or co-op student onboard?

If you extend a job offer to a GW intern, you may bring the student onboard at any time that is mutually beneficial to you and your new intern.

If you extend a job offer to a GW co-op student, the student must start working before a certain date in each semester in order to complete the required minimum of ten weeks of work during that semester. 

If you extend a co-op job offer to a GW international student, other non-negotiable considerations apply so the student may remains “in status” with his/her visa requirements and you and the University remain in compliance with U.S. Department of Homeland Security work rules. Click here for information about hiring international students.

Job applications, reference checks, security clearances and other requirements may be required at your discretion.

What should I do when I hire a GW intern/co-op student?

Please notify us when you hire a GW student. It’s important for us to track trends about where our students find opportunities.  You can complete the “Hires” section in your GWork homepage.

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Build a Successful Internship/Co-op

What’s the best way to attract students to my internship or co-op opportunity?  How can the Career Center help?

The best way to attract students to your organization is to get involved on campus! The GW Career Center offers you the integrated “one stop shop” approach with the broadest reach across campus.

•  You can post your internships/co-op online through GWork at no cost for viewing by all registered GW students. 
•  We can help you develop online job postings.
•  We can target news about your opportunity to the most appropriate academic units or student groups on campus based on your job description. 
•  We communicate daily with the “dedicated” career offices on campus who serve restricted populations: the GW School of Business, graduate students at the Elliott School of International Affairs, the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the School of Public Health and Health Services).
•  We can arrange for you to host on-campus information sessions.
•  We will take time to understand your needs and direct you to appropriate resources on campus.
•  We host several fairs each year, including the sell-out Internship Job Fair.

What does a student look for in an internship/co-op?

Your intern or co-op student is seeking:

•  hands-on work experience in your field
•  the acquisition of transferrable skills
•  an opportunity to meet professionals in your field (and your organization)
•  a supervisor who has the time and inclination to provide proper training, oversight, constructive feedback, peer introductions, and professional insight, and
•  the chance to “test drive” a career field that is of interest to him or her.

How should my organization prepare for hiring an intern/co-op student?

Consider the following questions before bringing an intern onboard:

•  Is top management committed to providing a meaningful employment experience?
•  Is a full-time staff member available to communicate regularly with GW?
•  Do we have meaningful and manageable work for interns to complete?
•  Do we have staff members who are capable of supervising and guiding an intern?
•  Which projects will an intern work on? In which departments? At what time of year?
•  Are the financial and physical workspace resources in place to support an intern?

Consider the following additional questions before bringing a co-op student on board:

•  Can we pay the student?
•  Can we guarantee at least 15 hours of work per week?
•  Can we guarantee at least 10 weeks of work during a given semester?
•  Can we ensure that the work relates directly to the student’s academic course of study?
•  Can we complete an evaluation on the student at the end of each semester?
•  Can we sign an Employer Co-op Agreement with GW if the student is not a U.S. citizen
•  Can we manage the requirements that keep the student in status with his or her visa and that keep us in compliance with U.S. Department of Homeland Security work rules?

How can I become an effective supervisor?

An effective supervisor is also part mentor and coach.  These elements distinguish an internship or a co-op job from a part-time job. When you supervise an intern or co-op student, you can reasonably expect to:

•  display patience while working with interns who are new to the field
•  teach by example and constantly check to make sure that knowledge is being absorbed.
•  provide consistent, constructive feedback.
•  convey the organization’s overall mission, culture, and position in the marketplace.
•  explain how the student’s role contributes to the unit’s and organization’s mission
•  be able to relate to college students (most of whom are members of the “Millenium Generation”)
•  exhibit a positive and professional attitude and have a positive experience with the organization
•  be approachable and available and
•  maintain contact with interns in the future to provide letters of reference.

What about academic credit?

Employers do not “offer” academic credit; universities do.  If a GW student wishes to earn academic credit for an internship or co-op experience, the student must consult his/her academic advisor.

The GW Career Center does not play a role in determining whether an internship or co-op job qualifies for academic credit; neither do you as the employer. Your role, if any, would be to assist the student by providing any information requested by the academic advisor so that a determination can be made about what kind of academic credit might apply.

Keep in mind that when students earn academic credit, whether in the classroom or in an experiential setting such as at an internship, tuition must be paid to the University in exchange for that credit.  A student’s individual course load and financial profile will determine whether or not he or she seeks credit for an internship experience. Most students do not seek credit for co-op jobs because the job pays a competitive hourly wage.

How should I develop a good job description?

A well-crafted job description will attract the right students to your position. These elements are essential:

•  a descriptive job title that calls attention to the position
•  an honest and complete list of job tasks
•  a description of the organization, including links to relevant websites
•  an accurate estimation of the compensation (if applicable)
•  a list of specific skills required to successfully perform the job
•  the address of the job site and any public transit links to that location and
•  detailed applications instructions.

What are experiential learning agreements and do I need them?

For your intern:

An experiential learning agreement is a document that you and your intern voluntarily sign.  The agreement is a tool that fosters a clear understanding of the desired outcomes from the very start of the internship experience. An experiential learning agreement sets forth:

•  an overview of the experience
•  the methods of supervision
•  student learning objectives
•  activities in the workplace that will bring about the desired learning objectives and
•  methods for determining whether objectives have been achieved.

Download GW’s Experiential Learning Agreement.

For your co-op student:

An experiential learning agreement guides you in structuring your job effectively.  It is a requirement that you and the student you’ve hired sign this form, referred to as the GW Employer Co-op Agreement.  The co-op experiential learning agreement is different from that for interns—most co-op students are closer to graduation (and many are graduate students) so they don’t always require the support embodied in the intern’s experiential learning agreement.

How do I get students to recognize and know my organization?

Raise your organization’s profile on campus and make lasting connections.  We offer numerous venues where your expertise and professional insight will benefit our campus community.  Please check our Increase Your Visibility page to get started.

Click Here to Evaluate Your Co-op Student

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