Thoughts on Co-operative Education and How to Approach it

By on April 7th, 2020

Co-operative education programs (Co-op for short) are opportunities offered by most universities and can be similar to an internship. These Co-op placements are usually paid and an excellent chance for students to gain professional experience, earn a paycheck and start to network. But there is more to Co-op than merely making money and boosting your career opportunities after completing your university degree. This is a time of exploration – it is time to understand what it means to work as an accountant or to understand the different sub-cultures of the IT industry! Or maybe you know exactly what profession you want to go into and want to know more about the difference between working for SAP, 3M, Flour, or Siemens. Co-op is about understanding what type of industry or career you're interested in, how to transition and grow towards your dream job.

Most universities have Co-op programs and career counseling offices and will design their programs differently. The various Co-op structures offer students distinct opportunities. Is it better to work for one company for 12 months or three companies for four months each? It is never too early to ask questions about the Co-op programs, their structure, and how they can benefit you. Here are some sample questions you can ask: 

  • Does the university have a Co-op program? If not, how does it support your transition into a professional career after graduation? Maybe it has a different name, or the university has different ways of helping you. 
  • Does the university have a Co-op program for the faculty of your interest? Some universities will have Co-op for all faculties, and some will limit it for business or engineering. 
  • How is the Co-op program designed? Will it be one Co-op opportunity for 12 months or many shorter opportunities? Is Co-op offered every year or just in the third year? 
  • How are Co-op opportunities awarded? Is it through the interview process, does previous experience matter, does your GPA affect your chances? How will the university help you gain experience before applying for your first Co-op? 
  • Is a Co-op placement or opportunity guaranteed? Is it a program requirement that all students must complete? 
  • Does the university have opportunities outside its location? Some students will use Co-op to travel or gain experience in a different country. 
  • What organizations, companies, and governments usually take on Co-op students from the university of your interest? 
  • If the salary is important to you – ask about it.  

Remember that Co-op is as much about boosting your career as it is about understanding your career options. It is essential to start this journey with a good plan and a flexible mindset. Having worked with Co-op students, I have three final pieces of advice: 

  • Always ask questions – your university and your Co-op employer are also there to support and mentor you. We also want you to be successful! 
  • Think about what your priorities for Co-op (experience, international exposure, understanding industry, and organization culture, etc.) and keep that in mind when looking at opportunities. The biggest brands might not offer opportunities that match your goals.  
  • While on your Co-op – work hard and volunteer for projects and tasks outside your job description, and have fun! 

There is more information about Co-ops, internships, and how to make the most of your opportunities below: