Everything You Need to Know About Co-op Programs as an International Student

By Tess Campbell Modified on September 07, 2021
Tags : Academics | Careers

Are you considering adding a co-op program to your degree? Have all your questions answered in this one article!


When choosing your programs of study, you've probably seen the term co-op tossed around. You may even be deciding between a biology degree and a biology degree with a co-op placement. But what exactly is co-op education and how do you decide if that is what you want?

Keep reading to get all your questions answered!

What is co-op in Canada?

Co-op, also known as co-operative education, combines your school studies with an official paid work term. Ultimately, you gain valuable experience in a career you're interested in while earning your degree.

What do I have to do if I choose co-op?

Choosing to participate in a co-op program means you must do a bit more work than a traditional study-only degree. Luckily, the work is rewarding!

The main goal of a co-op program is to mimic a career in your field. This includes the process of applying for positions. The type of co-op placements you apply to will be related to your program of study. With the help of your school's co-op office or career centre, you will create a resume designed to amaze your potential employers and help you get to the next step of interviews.

As a co-op student, you are not guaranteed a co-op job. Just like the workforce, you must impress employers and compete against other students for a position. This could mean that you're interviewing for a dozen positions before you're offered one.

After you've landed a co-op position, you will begin your work term in an entry-level position with managers and supervisors helping you along the way. The main goal of your co-op is to introduce you to the type of tasks that you would be doing if you continue in this career. For example, if you study psychology, you could end up with a co-op position in a hospital research lab where you would help participants in a study, collect data, and draft papers.

Where would I work?

You would join a company that does work in your field of study. Each school has a list of approved companies and organizations that they are partnered with to provide students with co-op placements. This list will include companies that the school has worked with in the past and has had positive relationships with.

Your placements are not always limited to your school's list of employers. Depending on your school, you can find a co-op position outside of their list, but the placement must follow the school's standards and requirements of a work term to be approved.

Am I eligible for co-op programs as an international student?

Yes! According to the Government of Canada, International students can participate in co-op programs if:

  • You have a valid study permit
  • Work is required to complete your study program in Canada
  • You have a letter from your school that confirms all students in your program need to complete work placements to get their degree, and
  • Your co-op placement or internship totals 50% or less of your study program

You are not eligible for a co-op work permit if you're taking English or French as a second language (ESL/FSL), general courses, or courses to prepare for another study program. However, this doesn't mean you can't work in Canada. You would simply have to apply for a work permit as well.

What are the benefits of a co-op program?

A co-op program can be a great addition to your degree. If you're thinking about doing co-op, then here are some benefits to think about:

  • You gain great experience in your field
  • You get paid for your work as a co-op student
  • You can network with employers and make valuable connections
  • You can learn more about your potential career and discover if you like it or not
  • You get to take a break from classrooms
  • You gain incredible interviewing and resume-building skills

Read about more benefits of work-integrated learning (co-op) with this SchoolFinder.com article.

What are the negatives of a co-op program?

A co-op program is not meant for everyone. You may decide that you only want to study while in school. Here are some negative aspects about a co-op program that you should think about:

  • Your degree can take longer to complete
  • It takes more organization to plan your degree because some courses are only offered at certain times
  • The workload can be demanding
  • There may be some additional costs to your degree for adding co-op
  • You may have to relocate to another area or city for work
  • There is no guarantee of a co-op position
  • You are not guaranteed a job after graduation

What's next?

If you want to learn more about co-op programs, check out the website for Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning and their co-operative education information page.

The next step you should take is to check out more information on and requirements for co-op programs at your future school! Many schools will have articles and information about co-op programs, such as the University of Waterloo's Guide to Co-op and How to Make the Most of it.

Good luck with your decision!

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