To Co-op or Not to Co-op

When you’re looking for programs you’ve probably come across one that offer a “Co-op” stream or Cooperative Education. I stumbled upon Co-op when I visited a university fair at the Rodgers Centre when I was researching which school to go to. I asked one of the school reps: “What is the biggest tip you can give me?”, and he answered with, “If you can, do Co-op.” I remember writing down Co-op on my little notebook and a few days later I finally looked up what it was.

Cooperative education (or co-operative education) is a structured method of combining classroom-based education with practical work experience. A cooperative education experience, commonly known as a “co-op“, provides academic credit for structured job experience. Cooperative education is taking on new importance in helping young people to make the school-to-work transition. Cooperative learning falls under the umbrella of work-integrated learning (alongside internships, service learning and clinical placements) but is distinct as it alternates a school term with a work term in a structured manner, involves a partnership between the academic institution and the employer, and generally is both paid and intended to advance the education of the student.

So you gain work experience, it’s part of your program, and you get paid. Why doesn’t everyone apply? Unfortunately, not all programs offer Co-op. It depends on the school and available resources and job openings. It can also be difficult to find a co-op placement that is directly in your field of study.

As a previous co-op student, I was exposed to a variety of industries that opened my eyes on how the industrial world works. I have met and kept in touch with my co-op friends, both from my school and other students I met on work-terms. I can talk about other work term experiences with other students such as clinical placements and international experience. All of which are information that can help me plan what I would like to do with my degree. Throughout my undergrad, I have heard all kinds of reasons to opt out of a co-op program:

  • It takes longer to graduate
  • It’s not guaranteed
  • You have to apply in
  • I didn’t know about it
  • It’s not relevant to my field
  • I don’t want to go out of sequence with my friends
  • You have to pay Co-op fees

And honestly, there are some valid reasons that co-op may not be needed for you. One of such reasons could be: If you know exactly what you want to do and it required post-grad studies, not work experience. Other than that, I personally haven’t heard of any other reason why going into co-op will not benefit you in some way. Now, there are probably plenty of reasons not to do co-op and please feel free to share your thoughts by commenting.

Lets break down each of those reasons.

It takes longer to graduate

Co-op does increase the length of your degree but by the same length of time you have added work-experience to your resume. In 5 years, you would have a 4 year Bachelor and 1 year work experience. If you opted out of co-op, you would have a 4 years Bachelor and would then need to look for experience yourself after. If you know you need to complete a post-grad for your dream job, this may not necessarily be that important to you.

It’s not Guaranteed and You have to apply in

And so does everyone in that same program… If you are worried about the requirements, then talk to the various resource groups on Campus. Each school offers guidance on applying. Use their resources and ask senior student what they have to do to get into the program. You never know unless you try.

I didn’t know about it.

You’ve been informed.

It’s not relevant to my field

Like I have mentioned before, if you are sure, then maybe it’s not required. But if you are having doubts, co-op will be a great experience that can help you narrow down job titles that you didn’t realize you liked, or it could help you identify jobs that you for sure DON’T WANT TO DO. Either way, Co-op is meant to further your education and knowing these is part of that.

I don’t want to go out of sequence with my friends

It is no doubt that your friends in undergrad are going to be your lasting friends. And whether you are in a co-op term or not will not sever your deep ties with them. Most of my close friends were ones that I completed co-op terms with.

You have to pay Co-op fees

For my fees, its was $260 CAD per term, academic or not. So it did add up. However, the pay I was receiving from the actual co-op position had paid for more than the co-op fees combined. I even had enough saved to buy a car and pay tuition for my final year. If you plan and budget accordingly, it could really help pay for your education.

I am definitely an advocate for experiential learning and I hope you see the benefits that I am talking about. I was able to find a job through my co-op and that has really laid the base to start my career. Goodluck!

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