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Advantages and challenges of the Co-op System of study

Is the co-op system of study right for you?

Although it is possible for students to switch from co-op back to the regular system of study, please keep in mind that to maintain a robust and viable co-op program, Waterloo must be able to provide its co-op employers/partners with access to not only junior co-op students but also senior co-op students who have greater knowledge, skills, and abilities.

We encourage applications for admission to co-op from those who understand the advantages and challenges of the co-op system of study and who intend at the outset (time of application) to stick with the program through to graduation.

Also see further details provided by the Co-operative Education Department.

Advantages of the co-op system of study

  • a break from school every four months.
  • gain experience interviewing for jobs.
  • gain knowledge through observation, 'hands-on' experience, and communication with supervisors and fellow employees, for example,
    • about careers, job characteristics, organizational climate and working conditions at different settings,
    • about the effects of different leadership styles on morale and productivity,
    • insight into your work values and working style (e.g., prefer to work alone or in groups), etc.
    • insight into your vocational interests and aptitudes which may affect your:
      • educational goals e.g., whether or not to pursue further studies and if so in which area,
      • employment goals e.g., what sector you want to work in (e.g., business, education, government, treatment facilities, etc.) and/or the target audience you wish to work with (e.g., children, adolescence, adults, the elderly, those with attentional and or recognition impairments due to brain damage, etc.)
      • course selections e.g., prerequisites for further study or particular job related courses,
      • choices of co-op positions,
      • motivation e.g., aspire to achieve higher grades in order to achieve new goals.
      • See examples of Psychology work terms.
  • opportunities to practice skills learned in your course work (e.g., analytic, numeracy, computer, oral and written communication skills) as well as to develop new marketable skills.
  • receive valuable feedback from employers about your skill development.
  • opportunities for networking.
  • earn income (in most cases) to fund school term

    Hourly and weekly earnings of co-op students
  • build a resume that future employers may find attractive.

Challenges of the co-op system of study

Psychology course offerings are limited in the Spring term

Psychology course availability

For example, on-campus offerings in the Spring term typically include:

  • 1 or 2 of PSYCH 392, 394, 398 (Natural Science Research Methods Courses),
  • 1 to 3 of PSYCH 304 through PSYCH 380 (Advanced Psychology Courses),
  • 1 of PSYCH 453-463 (Honours Seminars).

Minimize these challenges by planning your course selections ahead and consider the following opportunities for the Spring term:

  • online courses,
  • Directed Studies courses (PSYCH 480-486),
  • Research Apprenticeship course (PSYCH 264 or 464),
  • Honours Thesis (Psych 499A/B/C) - note enrolment restrictions. Check the availability of the potential thesis supervisor (e.g., is a sabbatical planned) for the proposed enrolment terms for each of PSYCH 499A/B/C.

Requests for changes to the school/work term sequence on the basis of limited Spring term course offerings are not normally approved.

Double/Joint Honours Programs

Course time conflicts between required courses in two disciplines could cause a delay in graduation. Forward planning is essential and the need to access additional courses toward your second major does not constitute grounds for changing your work term sequence (in most cases, and extra academic term(s) will be required). 

Taking courses elsewhere

Limits on course load

Co-op students cannot enrol in more than .5 academic units during a work term.

Taking extra courses during school terms and/or taking courses during work terms could actually result in needing to take extra courses for your degree. See (Fast tracking) Accelerated course completion for further details.

Demands of being a Co-op student

Participation in co-op employment activities (e.g., applying for co-op positions, going to interviews, etc.) during academic terms is very time consuming and can be as much work as taking an extra course. Take into consideration the additional demands on your time when planning your study time and extracurricular activities (e.g., part-time paid work and volunteer work) particularly if you have other stressors. Please be realistic about what you can cope with. See student success for details.

During work terms 2, 3, and 4 you will be required to do one Professional Development (PD) courses  each work term (not for academic credit). Consider those as advantages and opportunities (skill development) rather than disadvantages.

Exchange programs

Consider carefully course availability at the host school and at the University of Waterloo in relation to your target for graduation when deciding the timing of the exchange program. Be sure to check the start and end dates for the school term at the host school because the dates might not coincide with the UWaterloo school term.

There could be complications regarding the search for a co-op position for the term following the exchange program. We advise that you either arrange your own co-op position or return to a previous co-op employer for that work term. Your Co-operative Education and Career Action (CECA) Advisor will be able to advise you on the CECA process for students going abroad on academic exchange

Advice for those planning to participate in an international exchange program.

Additional financial costs

Psychology Co-op students are charged a co-op fee (e.g., $676.00 Fall 2016) and a work-term report marking fee (e.g., $14.00 Winter Fall 2016) each full-time school term. Departmental Psych co-op students begin paying their assessments in 2B. These fees are necessary to offset costs incurred by the University in operating the co-op program (e.g., soliciting co-op positions, co-op coordinators visiting students on the job, additional course offerings, etc.) which are not provided for in the operating grants received from the government. Co-op fees and work-term report marking fees are not refunded to students who do not obtain co-op positions or to those who find their own co-op positions. The good news however, is that typically 95-100% of Psychology Majors obtain co-op positions each term.

There are also costs associated with moving every four months.

Housing arrangements

Although some students enjoy the opportunity to live in a variety of locations, some co-op students report that they don't like changing housing arrangements every 4 months (i.e., school term versus work term).

No guarantee of a co-op position

Although every effort is made by the Co-operative Education Department to find a sufficient number of work term positions for all co-op students, no guarantee of employment can be made. The employment process is competitive and academic performance, skills, motivation, maturity, and attitude will determine whether a student is offered a co-op position.

Those not prepared to be flexible regarding the types of positions and/or locations of co-op positions will miss valuable opportunities.

Some students are seeking specialized employment opportunities that are not currently available through JobMine.

Some students report they are discouraged by the types of co-op positions available for year 2 students. Keep in mind that co-op students typically report that the responsibilities of co-op positions become more challenging as they progress through their work terms as a result of their developing knowledge, skills, and abilities.

See psychology co-op students are valued contributors in the workplace for further details.

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Last updated: December 13, 2016