When confronted with the question, “Why did you choose Drexel?” I tend to hear the same response, which usually seems to revolve around co-op and how that makes being a student at this university so appealing. I won’t pretend and say that I am any different. There is no denying the fact that co-op was a deciding factor that led me to Drexel University. If you are as indecisive as I am, then you know that getting the opportunity to see how you perform within your field before binding yourself to it is something that you could not pass up. I chose a more “creative” career path, thus forcing me to push myself to build a portfolio and create connections. Co-op seemed beyond advantageous at that point, as it gave me the chance to network and have real hands-on experience to give me the leverage I needed in the future.
Genuinely, in the beginning, it all sounded too good to be true. It turns out, in a minor way, I was right.
Co-op seemed like a dream that surpassed any ordinary internship. The positions were better and allowed you to do real work, you get paid if you were lucky, you don’t have to worry about studying or taking exams or 3 hour lectures and, of course, you are able to come home and relax after work. Looking back at my naivety from then makes me laugh because I now recognize how truly wrong I was. I was beyond excited to start this year because I would be starting it with this amazing job that gave me the impression that I sort of had my life together. But, of course, with all good things comes the bad.
I, by no means, am saying that I regret my decision to come to this university or that co-op was a wrong move on my part. When I take the time to think of all the experience I am getting and just how much knowledge I can take away from this job, the small things don’t seem to matter as much. I still fully support anyone’s decision to come to this school for the co-op program because it definitely does have the potential to give you the boost you need in terms of experience and networking. There is no doubt that experiences such as these provided by this program are rare and I’m so grateful to have taken part in it. But with that being said, I certainly was not ready to feel so overwhelmed by the negative aspects that I personally found within it.
My co-op happens to be a straight Monday to Friday, nine to five job at a large, corporate office in Center City. Sounds like the typical job, nothing overly special or intense. Walking into a building like that for your new job will make you feel just as enthusiastic as it makes you feel nauseous. You feel like a real adult with your life together but you also feel incredibly out of place. The mixed emotions set in right away, but I was not going to let that hinder me from absorbing every single thing this co-op could offer me.
It felt that way for about the first week or two. Soon after, the exhaustion began to set in. Setting a 6 a.m. alarm turned into setting 20 different alarms that went from 5:45 to 7:00 a.m. because my body refused to be awake before the sun was even up. The daily routine seemed to get more difficult with each passing morning. It felt like I was waking up for high school all over again, except this time it came with higher ramifications. During high school, I was able to keep on my sweatpants and I could leave for school about 15 minutes before homeroom would begin since it was not a far commute. This was much different. No matter how late I was running, I had to be sure to maintain a professional appearance and I had to be sure to grab all my work materials as well. Commutes to Center City are not as simple as leaving 15 minutes beforehand. The time, weather and holidays all played into how I would be getting to work each day, and somehow making it on time.
Having dance practice late at night, meetings beforehand and time to schedule important appointments somewhere amidst that is not a simple task. Yes, it is my own decision to partake in extracurricular activities while on co-op, but I am still a college student at the end of the day. I don’t want to abandon the activities and organizations I enjoy being a part of because of co-op, but it does make the experience that much more difficult. It causes us to quickly have to figure out how to balance an adult job while still being a college student. Full-time adults and full-time students may be incredibly busy as well and there’s no denying that. The situation just came on strong and hit me with a wave of exhaustion, as each day I would have to rush home to make it back on campus and head over to a meeting that was set directly after I got back from work that I always seemed to be late for as the commute took so long. Practices at night meant that I had about an hour to make myself dinner and actually eat before running off again. Even after that, I had to focus on the class I am enrolled in and complete whatever assignment I had to do. For others, they might even have a physical night class to attend. Within these nights, there was barely time left to do activities that I would think “real adults” had time to do such as meal prep, relax even for a little while, have a social life or even sleep at a decent time.
Believing that co-op would help fix my sleep schedule was the biggest lie I told myself. Each night was different as was each morning. Within the congestion of each day, I had to somehow find space to take care of necessities such as doctors appointments that somehow always seemed to be very early in the morning, go grocery shopping, clean and even call my family. Taking care of things that I could not push off made my schedule sway with each day and never gave me a steady routine to get used to. It seemed like a constant move, I was always on the go and my only rest seemed to be the few hours I would sleep each night. I do take responsibility for making myself this busy, but it definitely also is due to the fact that having a nine to five job does not leave space to do much else for those hours and then having to cram the remainder of your life within the few hours of the night can be beyond exhausting.
Being a student on co-op made me realize why every single adult cherishes the weekend more than anyone else. The opportunity to finally sleep in and not be stuck in an office building for the entire day as you can actually see sunlight during the weekend rather than getting to work before the sun rises and leaving after it sets. The expectation that co-op would mean I could go home more often during the weekends was completely false. Weekends are spent making up meetings, work and other responsibilities that I could not fit into the week.
Weekends are even more valuable to me nowadays as that seems to be the only real break I have. I have the fall/winter cycle and with that comes the fact that I do not have a winter break nor do I have a spring break. Getting used to Drexel’s quarter system that did not allow for a summer break was an adjustment on its own however, no longer having the other two biggest breaks within the school year meant that for about a solid 9 months, I would be working full time and then transitioning immediately into being a full-time student again without any extended breaks. After beginning the year in September, I would not receive my first extended break until June. While I am able to request time off, at the end of the day, it is a full-time job and it isn’t very realistic to ask for a month off during December.
The search process for my next co-op has already begun and registration for classes for spring term is soon. Drexel never stops and clearly I’m not allowed to, either. As much as I want a free weekend, most seem to be the complete opposite.
I still firmly do believe that it is difficult to be a college student or to have a full time job as an adult. For me personally, having to strike a balance between the two came as more of a shock than I expected. Internalizing the fact that I would have to endure that exhaustion for three straight years with minimal breaks was an even harder pill to swallow.
I am in no way undermining what co-op has done for me and how it has vastly increased what I can bring over to my next job. I have made the most out of my experience and I am extremely glad that I made sure to learn and do as much as I could. If I were going to dedicate the majority of six months to this job, I was not going to let it go to waste. I will continue to support this program and preach about all it can offer, but I also want to be clear that it comes at the price of a large adjustment. Balancing the scale of being an adult working in Center City from nine to five with being a college student who is involved in various organizations is not a simple task.
I certainly do hope that after this first go at co-op, I am able to minimize how imbalanced the scale between the two parts of my life becomes. I take away this first year as a trial of life as an adult.