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

By Tess Campbell Modified on February 09, 2024
Tags : Academics | Careers

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

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

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 is co-op in Canada and how do you know if it’s right for you?

Keep reading to get all your questions answered!

What are co-op programs in Canada?

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

As an added bonus, co-op is typically paid experience! If paying for school, rent, and other bills is something that you’re concerned about, co-op is a great opportunity to get an in-depth look at what your career could look like, while also earning some money.

What can I expect from a co-op program?

If you’ve chosen to do a co-op program, then this means you’ll have to do a bit more work than a traditional study-only degree. Luckily, the work is rewarding! A co-op program will make your degree take longer to complete since you’ll be adding in a work term each year.

The main goal of a co-op program is to mimic a career in your field. This includes everything from applying to job positions to working on projects by yourself and with others in a company. 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 resumé 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 interview 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. This will 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?

The sky is the limit when it comes to where you could end up working in your co-op placement. Usually, you’ll join a company, organization, or other type of employer that relates to what you’ve chosen to study in Canada. Schools will have a list of approved companies and organizations that they’ve partnered with before to provide students with co-op placements.

Keep in mind that your placements are not always limited to your school's list of employers. Depending on your school, you could find a co-op position not on their list that you’re interested in and work there as long as the placement follows the school's standards and requirements of a work term. This means that you could end up working anywhere! You don’t need to find a co-op in the same town as your school. You could move anywhere in Canada, or even go to another country!

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

Yes! According to the Government of Canada, International students can apply for a co-op work permit 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 being in classrooms
  • You gain incredible interviewing and resumé-building skills

What are the downsides 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 you’re in school. Here are some downsides to co-op programs that you should consider:

  • Your degree will 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 explore schools and programs you’re interested in to learn more about requirements for co-op programs. 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. Still not sure if co-op is for you? Try chatting with students who are in a co-op program to get a sense of how it’s going for them.

Good luck with your decision!

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