All You Need To Know About Canadian Co-op Programs!
If you are an international student looking to study in Canada, you might be wondering what a cooperative program actually is. Cooperative study programs are popular in many schools all across Canada, as well as in other nations. Here is some useful co-op information:
What is co-op?
It is basically like an
internship or work placement. But unlike internships, which usually
consist of 1 year of continuous employment, in co-op you work for
different companies in different positions over the course of your
degree. You combine your classroom education with practical
employment experience. You usually alternate terms between studying
The co-op job hunt process is similar to a true job-hunt in the real world, where you apply and compete for jobs with other people - rather than be "placed" in a job. Usually universities will provide a database of jobs for you to apply to, but also encourage you to find jobs on your own.
For example, I'm currently in a co-op program at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Canada. I studied for two consecutive semesters in my first year. From that point forward, I worked for 4 months and then studied for 4 months. Depending on your co-op program, it will typically look like this - an alternation between work and study.
What are the advantages of a co-op program?
From everything I've explained so far, you can probably see the advantages of a co-op program. It's really a great opportunity for any aspiring student. You get to meet lots of new people, discover new ideas and even live in different cities. Here are some benefits of co-op:
- Get paid! Finance your studies with the money you earn during co-op positions.
- Gain work experience that relates to your studies. This won't only improve your future prospects, but it may count towards required experience for MBA programs, professional designations like engineering, and more
- Discover hidden job markets and get industry exposure
- Make professional contacts and build a network
- Get to try out different positions, fields of work and companies - and therefore exploring a range of career options you might never have even thought of
- Learn skills such as resume writing, interviewing, and job performance, which will help you in finding a full-time job later on
- Co-op students are more successful in gaining employment after graduation than regular students1
More things to consider:
Experience- Speaking from personal experience, there can
be a lot of pressure to find a great job while keeping your grades
up. While there is a high success rate of finding a co-op job, some
people end up with an unpaid co-op internship or unemployed for
that work term. An unpaid internship can provide a lot of great
experience. Co-op programs can show you the real prospects of the
job market out there, which will make you better equipped for your
No summer breaks. At least, in my co-op program. Usually students get the months of April to August off for the summer, but in co-op, you study and work back and forth - no breaks in between, except maybe a week after exams. Sure, it would be nice to have a longer break once in a while, but for international students that's actually a great thing. You don't need to spend money without studying in the US, or risk visa problems by going back home for the summer.
time. The time at which you apply for jobs and go through
the interview process is the same time you're studying in school
and having midterm exams. I know a friend who had about 22 job
interviews while having several mid-term exams as well. Talk about
stressful! The trick is to know which jobs you really want and are
qualified for. You'll learn how to utilize your time effectively,
and that's an important skill.
The co-op fee. It's important to recognize that usually the school adds on an extra fee for being in the co-op program, which pays for co-op advisors, work report markers, resources and other such things. There are tons of resources that can help you during co-op, take advantages of them to get the best value out of your tuition.
Is co-op for me?
Take this quiz called Is co-op right for me?. It should help you get an idea of what co-op has to offer!
Requirements for the co-op program
Universities have different criteria for their co-op programs. Usually the privilege of being able to get work experience and represent your university in the workplace requires a higher average than a regular program. For example, at the University of Waterloo, a co-op program in the Arts is only available if you are in the Honours program, and it requires an average of at least a 75 in your Major. For an Engineering major, one must maintain a 60% average to keep in their program. Here are some more notes on co-op that you should consider:%
1. Since co-op is part
of your academic studies, it also counts as a credit. You are
usually required to a work report at the end of
every work term and will be graded on it. You will also be
evaluated by your employers at the end of every
term - Poor, Satisfactory, Good, and so on.
2. You will probably be required to take a short online course before or while you work - this is in preparation for workplace communication, handling workplace conflict and learning how to create a proper work report.
3. Keep in mind that you have to keep your grades up, have good evaluations with your employers and complete all the co-op work terms, courses and work reports that are required from you.
4. You must be eligible to work in Canada for off-campus work placements.
programs in Canada
Here's a list of several universities with prominent co-op programs. Usually once you have completed your first year of study, the school will decide whether or not you get into their co-op program. This is just a short list. There are many universities with great co-op programs!
University of Waterloo - Waterloo, Ontario
The largest co-op program in the world. It has over 11,000 students enrolled in co-op and more than 3,000 employers. Their famous engineering program is co-op only (no regular stream of study). Their 5-year co-op program included up to 2 years of work experience.
Bill Gates has said: "There are many years where Waterloo is the university we hired the most people from of any university in the world, and Waterloo has always been in the top five every year."
Wilfrid Laurier University - Waterloo, Ontario
Laurier has a top co-op business program. The program is very competitive - only one third of students who start in first year enroll. It offers 3 four-month work terms.
Carleton University - Ottawa, Ontario
Their co-op program has work placements of 4, 8, 12, or 16 months in duration. Students typically require an additional year of study to complete the co-op work terms and fulfill the academic requisites of their specific program.
University of British Columbia - Vancouver, British Columbia
UBC offers co-op programs in various faculties such as Arts, Commerce, Engineering, Science and Forestry. Their coop program can also be combined with other exciting UBC programs, such as the Go Global exchange.
University of Alberta - Edmonton, Alberta
While high grades help for success in their co-op program, broad work and volunteer experiences are also very valuable to potential employers. There are approximately 240-280 co-op students on work terms or actively searching for a placement each term.
1 From Education at Work Ontario, a member of the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education.