What's the Difference Between a Co-op and an Internship?

By University of Waterloo Modified on August 21, 2023
Tags : Academics | Health and Wellness | STEM | Tech

Both co-ops and internships help to set you up for your future career path, but how do they differ? Is taking one as part of your degree worth it?

What's the Difference Between a Co-op and an Internship?

There are a few differences between co-ops and internships you should know about. Once you know about the differences it's easier to make the right choice for you — maybe it's co-op, maybe it's an internship, or maybe it's neither!

What is co-op?

Co-op consists of academic study terms and paid terms of relevant work experience. This means that what you learn in class can be applied to real-world jobs — and what you learn in the workplace can be used in the classroom. Co-op allows you to try out possible careers before you graduate.

A great thing about co-op is that it's paid! At the University of Waterloo, the co-op program typically alternates every four months between study terms and work terms. The alternating work/study format allows you to earn an income one term and use that money to help with costs for the next study term. By the time you graduate, you already have up to two years of work experience on your resumé, and less student debt to pay off — it's the best of both worlds!

What is an internship?

Internships tend to be less intense and only happen once throughout your degree. They often occur during the summer season, meaning you don't need to pause your study terms or extend your degree any longer. An internship can be paid or unpaid, depending on factors such as employer decisions or industry standards. You'll typically be able to stay at a specific job longer than in co-op, which can help you build trust with your team and receive more projects.

Is a co-op or an internship the right decision for you?

Co-op programs and internships offer fantastic opportunities for you to gain practical experience and prepare you for your future career. While co-op programs require an additional year of study, they also offer structured work terms with employers in your field, allowing you to apply your academic knowledge in a real-world setting. The co-op job search process may be challenging, but it provides an opportunity to develop your job search skills, such as updating your resumé, networking, and preparing for interviews. It's important to know what to expect in co-op and make sure you're prepared.

Internships, on the other hand, provide a flexible alternative to co-op programs, allowing you to gain practical experience while completing your degree within the traditional four-year time frame. Internships may not always be paid, but they offer an opportunity to gain experience in different industries and roles, allowing you to develop more skills and explore your career interests.

Overall, both co-op programs and internships have their benefits and drawbacks. It's important to consider your personal goals and priorities when deciding which is best for you. You can also speak with an academic or career advisor at your school for more insight.

With the right mindset and preparation, either option can provide you with valuable experience that will set you up for success in your future career!

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