student walking into Waterloo's co-op building
Written by Jacqueline (she/her), student

To co-op or not to co-op?

This is an important decision you will have to make when choosing a program at the University of Waterloo. Here’s the inside scoop to help you decide if a co-op program is right for you!

What is co-op at Waterloo?

Back when the University of Waterloo was created, the founders wanted the first class of 57 students to apply what they were learning in the classroom to real-life situations. Today, with more than 21,000 co-op students, co-op is one of Waterloo’s defining features. But, why would you want to choose a co-op program at Waterloo?

Co-op is an opportunity to spend four-month work terms with employers and transfer the information you learn in your classes to a work setting. You can then take all that practical experience you learned on your work term back into your classes.

However, just because Waterloo has one of the most robust co-op programs in the world doesn’t mean you’ll just be handed a co-op position. Much like in the real world, you go through an application process to prove you are a good fit. The good thing is you can apply for any job, regardless of your program.

Well designed resume.

What are the benefits of co-op?

One of the best parts of co-op is the money! Co-op work terms are paid experiences. Not only are you getting real-world work experience, but you are getting paid to learn.

You can expect to earn $8,400 to $19,800 per four-month co-op work term in Canada. You can use this money to pay for tuition and costs of living. How much you make varies widely depending on your employer, your program of study, your work term level, and your overall work experience, so do your homework and review the average earnings for Canadian work terms.

The experience you get through co-op truly sets you up for success after graduation. You can get up to two years of meaningful, relevant experience in your field before graduating. You’ll also get unique professional development opportunities. This gives you lots to talk about in an interview for a full-time job.

The experiential learning was amazing! The knowledge you gain from going through the co-op hiring process is beneficial for applying to full-time jobs after graduation. It makes me feel very prepared.

HAYLEY, fourth-year Environment and Business, Co-op

If that’s not BEYOND amazing, I don't know what is.

How does co-op work? 

To apply for co-op jobs, you will use Waterloo’s WaterlooWorks website. This site allows you to apply to employers looking to hire a co-op student. You’ll be competing against other Waterloo students for these jobs, so you may be competing against people in your program, in upper years, or even from different programs or faculties.

However, this allows you to learn how to market yourself, a skill that will always be very important. After deciding what jobs to apply for, you create your résumé and cover letter to the job posting to make you stand out from the other applicants.

You are also able to arrange your own co-op job, although there are certain guidelines the job must follow to receive co-op credit.

Students in a co-op program dressed in business attire at a table outside.

Tips on preparing for interviews

After submitting your résumé and cover letter, you’ve wowed your employer and have been offered a job interview! Now what?

Prepare for your job interview. Re-read the job posting and go over talking points for each skill the employer is looking for. Know why you applied to the job and why you are a good fit to work for the organization. Make sure you have researched the company you are interviewing for!

Things to bring to an interview

  • Cover letter
  • Résumé
  • References
  • Portfolio of your work if applicable (include relevant reports or assignments or prototypes)
  • A folder to store all these papers

Odds of finding a job

There’s a 97.6 per cent co-op employment rate and a 95.5 per cent first work term employment rate. A few ways to give yourself a greater chance of getting your first co-op job are to prepare ahead of time, dress to impress, be open to a variety of work locations and organizations, even if they're outside your comfort zone.

If you don’t find employment on your first term, do not be disheartened. Co-operative Education will continue to work with you to help you find a job into the beginning of the work term.

I was very nervous my first couple of interviews. It was a learning curve that I’m forever grateful for. Little did I know how much I would be learning and growing from that first co-op experience.

ZAHRA, Management Engineering student

Wait, I need help!

Everyone needs help, especially their first few times through this process. Fortunately, there is a TON of support.

One support is the Centre for Career Action, which is excellent for résumé critiques, mock interviews, and career/co-op advice. The Centre for Career Action also has a lot of online resources. They have online modules, quizzes, and other tools to help guide you through applying for jobs, interviews, and so much more.

Student with career advisor in Tatham Centre.

Final tips

Here are the key takeaways for you.

  • You’ll go through an application process to land a co-op job.
  • There are so many amazing co-op opportunities to take advantage of, regardless of what program you’re in.
  • There is great co-op support at Waterloo.
  • Make the most of your co-op experiences! This is the only time you’ll easily be able to try out a bunch of jobs.


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