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5 Years in School - Co Op vs MEng

lessonwitch2lessonwitch2 Registered User Posts: 556 Member
Hello! I am a 2nd year Mechanical engineering major ( this up coming year) and I was just looking over my degree plan and I realized I have a very light load for the rest of my school term . Since I took about 50 hrs freshman year and I came in with college credits, It looks like I don't have very many classes left to take. If you want the question, read the last paragraph.

I am already doing 12-14 hr semesters for the rest of college with the exception of spring of senior year where I am taking 3 hrs (senior design) . I have looked and tried, their is no way to speed up graduation because of a fixed sequence so I was debating if I should consider a single Co Op near my school senior year or If I should try to complete an MEng Fast track program

In my case both programs could take 4 years to graduate because I can take 12 hr during the Spring of senior year, 6 hr during the Fall of Senior year I could finish 18 hr during senior year alone. But a friend pointed out that if I take 6 hr during Junior year and 6 hr during summer in addition to that 18, I would have the 30 hours needed for an MEng . Since internship experience can count as up to 6 hrs of credit for the masters, I really wouldn't be doing too much extra work . On the flip side, I could just do an additional co op since employers care more about experience at the end of the day.

The thing about this method is if I attempt the Masters program I need to know by the end of the fall of sophomore year so I can get approval in spring for the summer . And I don't think their is any repercussion in stopping the masters if I don't like it.

So I guess it comes down to what people would suggest if they had an extra year in school for long term professional growth? Would you do a Co Op or an MEng. Both would take me 4 years, but I am interested to know what other people would chose if they had the choice.

Replies to: 5 Years in School - Co Op vs MEng

  • Gator88NEGator88NE Registered User Posts: 6,244 Senior Member
    Texas A&M?

    You have the right overall strategy, by looking for ways to take "advantage" of your light (12 to 14 credit) class load. Either strategy works.

    Both of my kids are in similar situation, with both bringing in 45 or so credits and only needing to take 12 to 14 credits a semester. My daughter will graduate this Fall. She will have earned a minor, completed two internships, and spent 3 years in leadership roles in her engineering sorority (very time consuming). My son, same year as you, is also looking at a "fast track" (called a combined degree at his school) program.

    If you go the co-op/internship route, you still will have a light load (12-14 credits). Look into getting involved with a design team (which really helps when it's time to get an internship/co-op) or/and perhaps one of the ME minors (which at other schools would be called "concentrations").
    These ME "minors" will add "depth" to your course curriculum. Which is a bit different from minoring in something like CS.

    Design teams can be very time consuming, which is why they work well with a "lighter" class load (especially as a freshman or sophomore). Texas A&M racing is a good example of a time consuming design team.

    If you pursue the MEng path, look into undergraduate research. It will help when it's time to line up the required letters of recommendations (and will give you some insight into graduate school).

    Good Luck!
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,827 Senior Member
    edited August 10
    My son was in the same boat. His school offers a co-terminal BS/MS. He started taking graduate level classes his third year. Now, the summer after his fourth year, he's doing his thesis work. He has one quarter worth of classes left, but will likely take a few beyond that for his own interest since he will still be writing his thesis anyway. He will have both in 5 years or less. He was also able to do two internships, participate in clubs, did a very robust Senior Project, and has a job.

    My advice would be to do the Masters over the Coop, but to slow your schedule a bit in order to get an internship after your third year. If you walk with a Masters in 5 years or less, you'll be way ahead of the game. As @HPuck35 routinely reminds posters, you will have a LONG career. Don't cram just to get out a semester or two early.

    Good luck. You are doing all the right things.
  • HPuck35HPuck35 Registered User Posts: 1,858 Senior Member
    My advice would definitely be Masters over Co-op. Internships and Co-ops are interesting for the student because they are new and different. They also prove the "plays well with others" attitude and that one can show up to work and be responsible. However, there are other ways to show that and you may even still get an internship in. The knowledge gained from the Masters will prove much more useful in the long run.
  • CaMom13CaMom13 Registered User Posts: 677 Member
    I'd go for the masters, get as much project/research work in as you can during the school year and apply for summer internships to get some outside experience on your resume and make industry connections. My nephew did his masters and bs in 4 years and worked two summers, he was able to immediately step into really exciting jobs after graduation.
  • colorado_momcolorado_mom Registered User Posts: 8,653 Senior Member
    One benefit of co-op is you might better understand desired area of specialty someday for Masters. But... grad school applicants do need research experience too, and it might be hard to do both.

  • lvvcsflvvcsf Registered User Posts: 2,203 Senior Member
    I am going to take the contrarian opinion here. First, what do you want to do with your engineering degree? If you are interested in working in industry then I think working as a coop student would do you more good. When my D was interviewing for position as a Chem E she was not asked about her degree but her work experience. She had done a 5 term coop. She now has a good job making an above average salary. I have heard it said (this is only hearsay) that often if companies want you to have a masters degree they often will pay for your masters degree. The added advantage is that coops often pay rather well. Again I only have anecdotal evidence and frankly don't know many engineers with Masters degrees but just about every student I know who has cooped has a good job at this time. Good luck in your decision.
  • Engineer80Engineer80 Registered User Posts: 425 Member
    In my school a course could not be used as credit twice, i.e., if one takes a graduate course for undergraduate credit and it is included in the credit requirements for an undergraduate degree, it cannot be reused for credit towards a graduate degree. I'm surprised TAMU allows that.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,407 Forum Champion
    edited August 14
    I sort of agree with @lvvscf, but with a few caveats. Personally, I don't think an engineering student should ever pay for a graduate degree. If a student wants to go directly to graduate school after their BS, that is great, and I encourage that, but they should be doing so for a research-based degree that has a decent chance (or in the case of a PhD, near guarantee) of funding. Otherwise, if a student is only interested in getting the piece of paper and not in research, it would be better to go to industry and let them pay for that eventual coursework-only MS/MEng.

    I am generally a big fan of research degrees, but they aren't for everyone. @lvvscf is correct in saying that for most jobs, they aren't really asking about the degree so much as experience. The one big difference is if you are trying to find jobs that have any sort of research flavor to them, at which point the experiences gained as part of a research-based graduate program can be a major leg up.

    Regarding the dual credit issue mentioned by @Engineer80, this is actually quite common these days provided the school has some kind of dual BS/MS program in place to manage such issues. Many schools (but not all) do. My own does not have this option, though I think we probably will in the relatively near future, as it comes up in meetings all the time. Both schools from which I have earned degrees do have 5 year BS/MS programs (though I never participated in them).
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,827 Senior Member
    This is a different situation than most though, one that is only applicable to a FEW students. They are ahead in their curriculum, but cannot get out early due to the cumulative nature of the curriculum. Arguments like "your job will pay" sort of fall by the wayside, because the student will be in school either way, not at a job. We aren't talking stay a whole extra year versus taking a job. The question is what to do with the found capacity.

    In my son's case, he could have done a co-op, but he realized that there are advantages to a MS, both in eligibility for jobs and in starting salary (which will follow through ones entire career). His additional advantage is that he knew specifically what he wanted to do for his MS. Not everyone does. He also knew that you never know exactly what you might be doing at an internship or a co-op. Some are very fulfilling. Some serve only the purpose of letting a student know they never want to set foot in that company again. He also knew that neither are assured, no matter how qualified a student is. He was also fortunate to be funded.

    That may not be the best approach for everyone, but it seems to have been a good fit for him.
  • Parentof2014gradParentof2014grad Registered User Posts: 781 Member
    edited August 14
    My daughter was in a similar situation to OP and did a coterminal masters (structural engineering) along with some internships over summers and a part time internship during one semester. The coterminal degree was covered by her scholarship (up to five years of study) and she finished both degrees in four years and a summer. She is employed by one of the companies she interned with.
    I don’t think there’s a bad option here, but I, too, would lean toward the masters degree.
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,827 Senior Member
    edited August 15
    @lvvcsf said, "When my D was interviewing for position as a Chem E she was not asked about her degree but her work experience."

    The degree and relevant coursework are typically listed on the resume and many companies require a transcript. All info pertaining to that is pretty self explanatory. What one does/did in a job can't be so neatly and completely summarized.
  • lvvcsflvvcsf Registered User Posts: 2,203 Senior Member
    "The degree and relevant coursework are typically listed on the resume and many companies require a transcript. All info pertaining to that is pretty self explanatory. What one does/did in a job can't be so neatly and completely summarized."

    True but you must bring something to the interview. Whether it be discussing research, projects, internships etc. Having relevant work experience to discuss (assuming you can discuss it well) is valuable. Not all coops are equal. Some companies have organized programs which take the student into various departments and jobs. Others are not as organized. Some companies use coops as a means to recruit students and attempt to keep those they feel would work well in their organization. Those with coop experience usually command a premium entry level salary.

    If the OP were to choose the route of pursuing his Masters he must be prepared to discuss his reasons (and in my opinion just having the time might not be an adequate answer) and explain how his experience better prepares him to be an engineer. I would also think that most starting engineering positions require a BS rather than a Masters so those with MS degree must bring something to the table that adds needed value to the position they are seeking. Just like all coops are not equal I also believe not all MS in Engineering programs are the same. I don't know if Masters programs have the same accreditation requirements as the BS has but I would think that an MIT or CIT Masters would carry more weight than a lesser name school. I think the difference in undergraduate programs is less variable.

    In the end both are good routes. If ones goal is to get an entry level engineering position then a coop can certainly help you get valuable work experience and help you get your foot in the door. If one is looking to advance in the more technical aspects of engineering then perhaps a Masters would give him an advantage. In the end I am just an observer in all of this. Good luck to the OP.
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,827 Senior Member
    edited August 15
    "I would also think that most starting engineering positions require a BS rather than a Masters..."

    This would not be a correct assumption. Some jobs specifically seek MS or even PhD level candidates for entry level positions. Why? They need candidates with higher levels of theoretical education than the typical undergrad. Using my son as an example, he has a far deeper back ground in controls systems and fluid mechanics than anyone could obtain with a BS alone. It's simply a time thing. Plus, his thesis project is much more involved than anything he'd be entrusted with as an intern or a co-op student.

    I do agree though that the job aspect is important too. That's why I suggested the OP not cram summers with coursework, but rather, take a little more time and intern during the summers. They'd walk with the best of both worlds.

    As for which MS holds most sway, that depends on what one is studying. In general, stand alone MS degrees are big money makers for schools. Many do not have a thesis component. Texas A&M is a respected institution though. Plus, the OP is ahead, so if nothing else, they are simply deepening their education.
  • LakemomLakemom Registered User Posts: 2,995 Senior Member
    One thing to consider is the MS degree you think you want to study while you are still in school may not be the one you want once you have been working a while.

    My Mech E son has been working with a start up for the last 2 years. While in school, he would have leaned toward more product design only. Now that he is working and has been asked to be the lead on certain projects, he has become more interested in the Project management side.

    You can't know what you will be drawn to until you actually work.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,407 Forum Champion
    Lakemom wrote:
    You can't know what you will be drawn to until you actually work.

    I don't necessarily agree with this statement. It really depends on the individual. Some students don't really know where they want to focus until they work. Others know where they want to focus and seek out job opportunities specifically based on that.

    There's no way of knowing whether your son would have been just as happy as he is now if he had studied more product design and got a different job in that realm. He might have been equally happy in either.
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