Co-op or Not?

Are you planning to apply to a co-op undergraduate degree, but not certain how helpful it will be? 

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So, you are considering a co-op program, what does that mean? 

Many undergraduate programs offer a co-op or internship (professional experience). To help you understand why this is a good option and what you can do to increase its benefit to you, we have prepared a short explanation. 

What is a co-op or an internship? 

A co-op allows undergraduate students to apply their academic knowledge in a professional environment. The length may be four months, 12 or 16 months. Some may be unpaid or paid.  Some of the co-op opportunities may be arranged through your college or university, while others may have been arranged on your own. 

Each post-secondary institute will have its own criteria about what constitutes a co-op or internship, but generally, it needs to enhance your education and be relevant to the degree you are pursuing. 

Some post-secondary institutes are known for the strength of their co-op programs. 

What does this mean? Will they guarantee you a co-op?  There is the odd exception, but in general NO, they do not guarantee you a professional position.  They offer mock interviews, help with your resume, or they may offer a job bank for students to apply through, organize job fairs for companies to come to school to interview applicants, and may have a team working at the school to encourage companies to hire their students, but in the end, they do not guarantee that every student will receive an offer. 

Are many short-term co-ops or internships better than long-term placements or vice versa? 

Some schools only offer short-term placements, while others offer long term. When you speak with students and employers about the advantages and disadvantages of each they have many conflicting ideas. 

Some advantages of a short-term co-op that they speak about are that you have the opportunity to experience many different work placements, learn to adapt to different work situations, develop strong interview skills and learn early on what you want and do not want from a workplace. 

Disadvantages may be that you are constantly applying to and interviewing for co-op positions and perhaps having to change your location to work and looking for short-term accommodation. This may be stressful for some students. 

Advantages of a long-term co-op are the opportunity to work on long-term projects throughout, from the initial start-up phase to completion; build relationships with employers and colleagues and gain substantial professional experience before graduation. You do not have the stress of looking for a co-op and can settle into one place for 12 to 16-months. 

Disadvantages may be that you realize early on that the type of work or place of work does not suit you, you may start to develop bonds and then have to pull up and leave again, or you may not be able to develop a circle of friends over the entire time. 

Why should you choose a co-op program? 

Graduating from an undergraduate or college diploma is not enough to guarantee your success in the job search after graduation. At university, you learn the academics, but can you apply the knowledge in real life?  Having experience on a co-op gives you an edge over the other graduates who have not completed a co-op and proves your ability to apply the academics to the workplace. 

Many companies want applicants who have some work experience already. Not only the ability to perform a job within their chosen field, but also the skills to work as a team, to manage professional relationships, show initiative, time-management and the professionalism that is not taught at university. Having worked in a co-op position will also allow your future employer to access references who know you in a work environment. 

A co-op experience will allow you to learn more about yourself and what you would like to do in your career.

You meet & develop relationships with hiring managers and co-workers and these contacts can also serve as career mentors and help you find your first job. 

How can you increase your success at securing a co-op position? 

With the many students that I have spoken with, the following stand out as consistently helping them find a position: 

  • A professor told them about a position or recommended them for a position.
  • The professor liked them and took them on as a research assistant. 
  • They had a strong GPA in their studies, or in the course of the professor who recommended them. 
  • They were involved with leadership positions on campus, played on varsity teams showing their skills as a team member, were involved with volunteering to build job skills. 
  • They took advantage of the Co-Op office’s assistance with resume writing, mock interviews and attended job fairs. 
  • At each and every co-op position they took initiative, worked hard, and took the job seriously.

    In summary, a co-op position with definitely improved your ability to find a job after you graduate. 

No one will guarantee your success; in both school and in your job search, success depends on your dedication to the process of searching for a job, your academic success, and networking skills. 

 

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