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The benefits of university programs that incorporate work experience

Many students who have been checking out programs at various universities have been confused by terms such as “co-op” and “internship.” A co-op program is one in which students typically spend their first year in academic study and then, commencing in their second year, begin to alternate terms of study and work for various employers in their fields of interest. An internship program is generally organized so that students study in the traditional manner for their first three years and then are placed with one employer for a term of 8, 12, or 16 months; the students subsequently return to university to complete their final year of study.

While both types of programs may take 5 years rather than 4 years to complete, they offer students the great advantage of relevant work experience on their résumés before graduation. Obviously, such work placements allow students to explore potential careers in a very substantial fashion as well as impressing future employers. Because these are paid jobs, students have the added benefit of earning a good income to help out with educational expenses. Both co-ops and internships are common in fields such as engineering and commerce, but are increasingly available in arts and science programs as well.

Because, as IB students, many of you will be granted advanced placement in your 3 HL subjects, you may be able to complete a co-op program in 4 years rather than 5.

Students with relevant work experience have a much easier time finding employment in their field: most co-op programs boast that over 90% of their students have lined up good jobs before they graduate. Waterloo, Laurier, Ottawa, and Victoria are particularly known for their extensive co-op offerings, but many other universities have co-op or internships available in at least a few programs.

In a commentary in the Globe and Mail, David McKay, the president and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, wrote about how his co-op program at the University of Waterloo was instrumental in launching his career. As a computer science student, he had not considered banking as a possible option—his first work term at RBC opened his eyes to a range of exciting possibilities.

McKay points out that with “its blend of higher learning and real world practice, co-op education has become a proven way to prepare students for a world in which change is accelerating and challenges are growing ever more complex….For our next generation of graduates, co-op learning provides exposure to new ideas, different ways of working and, most critically, a diverse world of experiences.” Check out the full article here.