Are Co-Op Programs and Internships for You?

By University of Waterloo Modified on July 22, 2020

Learn about the pros and cons of co-op programs in university.

Co-op and internship opportunities abound at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada!

Wouldn't it be great to gain experience in your field, make connections, and earn money — all at the same time?

Consider co-op: a unique opportunity to include paid work experience with your studies while learning more about yourself and the future direction of your career.

What is co-op?

Co-op — officially known as co-operative education — is a great way to explore possible careers and to earn money while completing your degree. Co-op provides work experience related to your field of study, like an internship except that you're paid! Depending on your college or university, you'll have one or multiple work placements. For example, in Waterloo's co-op program, students alternate between 4-month school and co-op terms, graduating with 4 to 6 different co-op work terms.

At most universities, securing co-op jobs is a competitive process with students selected by employers based on their resumé, grades, extracurriculars, and, of course, an interview.

Fortunately, all universities have advisors and career centres to help you prepare for the application process including help with resum— writing, interview tips and guidance into which employers and industries suit you best.

"Co-op truly helps students prepare for their future by enabling them to make decisions based on experiences they gained themselves — and that's powerful," says Ross Johnston, executive director of Co-operative Education at the University of Waterloo.


1. Try out different careers

A co-op program can help you figure out what to do after graduation. By trying different types of jobs, you can quickly learn what you do and don't like. With most co-op programs, you choose which jobs you apply to, which means you can choose the jobs you want.

2. Develop new skills

The more jobs you try, the more skills you can learn. Co-op is a great way to get hands-on experience and start to really develop your skills. You can enhance soft skills like communication and teamwork while on co-op and hone your technical skills by learning from your colleagues.

3. Make connections

Whether you meet fellow co-op students or get a good reference from your boss, the connections you'll make from co-op will be beneficial for your future. Co-op helps you start building your professional network.

5. Graduate with experience

Having work experience puts you ahead in the job search after graduation. Some co-op terms may even turn into a job offer for when you graduate! Companies are always looking for people who have work experience, and co-op provides that.

6. Graduate with less debt

Paid co-op terms mean that you can make money while earning your degree. So, you graduate with less debt!

Things to consider

1. Moving

Your co-op job may not be in the same city as your college or university, so you'll likely have to relocate for your work term. If you like the change of scenery, great! But moving frequently isn't for everyone.

2. Applying for jobs

When deciding if a co-op program is for you, keep in mind that applying for jobs isn't always easy. You'll have to manage your time well, as you'll be submitting applications and attending interviews on top of keeping up with your classes.

3. An extra year of school

Choosing a co-op program can take longer to complete your degree but you'll graduate with valuable work experience to help launch your career.

If you're interested in learning more about co-op at Waterloo, check out our student-written articles.

Learn more about Co-op at Waterloo

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