How to manage a successful co-op term

Female employer and co-op student meeting while on their laptops

Whether you're a small or large organization, you need to hire employees who will work hard, learn on the fly, be willing to do a wide variety of work and get the job done.

A co-op student can be an extremely valuable asset - but they need to be managed right in order to thrive.

With more than 26,000 co-op students across 120+ programs, Waterloo has access to a lot of data about what makes a successful work term.

Our research has highlighted one key fact: the success of a co-op student’s work term is defined by their experience at a company more so than their actual job title and daily work.

Five tips for managing a successful co-op work term

  1. Make sure your co-op students know who they report to. At a small company, this structure is not always clear. If co-op students don't know who their supervisor is, they can feel lost and unsure of who to turn to for help.
  2. On-board your co-op students. If you don't have an official on-boarding process - make one. It doesn't have to be complicated, but it's important that you think about what your students need to know and understand in order to be successful in the job from day one.
  3. If you're supervising co-op students, build time into your schedule to meet with them regularly one-on-one. This is a great opportunity to touch base, learn what's going well and find solutions to roadblocks together.
  4. Set clear expectations. This includes things like outlining work hours, vacation time, overtime, dress code, goals and due dates. 
  5. Take time to invite them to meetings and explain why things are changing. Your company might move fast. Really fast. Although this is a great experience for co-op students, it's important to ensure they aren't left behind.

Make sure your co-op student can offer maximum value to your organization

Follow a few best practices to ensure a great experience for both you and your co-op student:

  • If possible, the student's supervisor should be on-site for at least a few days per week. This allows the student to ask questions when they need to and gives the supervisor an opportunity to mentor the student and ensure their professional development.
  • Low level, repetitive tasks might be part of the job, but don’t confine students to these tasks every day. Commit to providing them with opportunities to work on projects beyond the basic scope of their job.
  • Give co-op students permission to network, work shadow and explore the company. Pull them into meetings where they can meet new people and learn about other projects.

Remember that mentorship is key for co-op student success

Remember that the employment relationship is a partnership between you and your co-op students.


  • Create a supportive atmosphere where your co-op students learn new skills and solve problems – while also feeling comfortable asking questions and turning to you for guidance.
  • Set expectations at the beginning of the work term. It's important to discuss work hours, job responsibilities and mutually agreed upon goals. 

Remember that Waterloo co-op students:

  • are high performers who are excited to contribute to your organization and put the knowledge they've gained in the classroom to work.
  • want meaningful jobs where they will learn new skills and contribute to the success of your organization.