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How diversifying your co-op experience could benefit you

It is a misconception that what you study in college will be what you do in life, that simply isn’t true. According to a Washington Post Washington Post – Only 27% of college grads have a job related to their major with interviews with Jaison Abel and Richard Dietz of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only 27% of college graduates will have a job related to their major. Many of you may think then, well if that is the case, what is the point of getting a college degree, if the classes you take are not going to help you? As a current college student, I can tell you college is about discovering your passion and developing useful skill sets. And classes and experiential learning experiences, for better or worse, can help you achieve that.

The past spring, I spent my second co-op at the U.S. Commercial Service in the Department of Commerce in Boston. For full disclosure, my first co-op was with the Office of Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, which “makes sense” because I am an International Affairs and Political Science major, with a Law and Public Policy minor. Going to law school, working at the White House or on Capitol Hill is the typical path that people like me embark on; but I want to use my second co-op to embark on a new route, to try something new.

Scarlett on co-op at Office of Congressman Stephen F. Lynch

Scarlett on co-op at Office of Congressman Stephen F. Lynch

And it turned out to be a life-changing experience for me. The issues of export regulation, documentations, sanctions on Iran and Cuba (back then), that I encountered as an International Trade Intern, despite the fact that I have never taken a business class before, showed me a different perspective of international affairs. My responsibilities were substantial, from briefing my boss on important client inquiries, to spearheading the social media campaign, to creating the first quarterly newsletter on the Marine Technology sector, I feel I was being valued and was part of the team. More importantly, the skill sets that I acquired, namely communication, writing, and interpersonal, could be translated to my future jobs, as they are critical to most fields.

At the end of the day, it is how you sell yourself from your past experiences, and what substantive things you have learned from it that makes you stand out in an application. It is not as much the title of the job as it is what you do in your role. The bullet points on a resume are the things that matter, that get you the job. For example, say you are applying for a PR or political campaign job that requires interpersonal and communication skills, even though you experience as a waiter/waitress might not seem relevant at first glance, but the complaints you handled, or the positive attitude you exuded while waiting tables demonstrate you are an easy-going yet professional candidate for the job.

Lastly, as mentioned earlier, college is about finding your passion, and it is okay to use your co-op to discern what you like and don’t like — that is why it is called “experiential” learning. I have friends who told me they wanted to go to law school, but after doing a co-op at a law firm, they now know the law-firm culture is not for them. It is better to know this as a fact using 6 months, than have this realization after graduation at your first job. So, incoming students, use your co-op opportunities at Northeastern to do something different, try something new, and discover your passion. Feel free to reach out personally if you have any questions or concerns.

This blog post was written by Scarlett Ho, an international affairs and political science combined major with a minor in law and public policy. You can reach her at

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