Combining study and work experience with a cooperative degree in Canada | Top Universities

Combining study and work experience with a cooperative degree in Canada

By Pratibha Muthukumarasamy

Updated February 29, 2024 Updated February 29, 2024

Universities across Canada are offering a twist in their educational programmes by investing in co-operative education, alternating shorter study semesters with work placements. The programmes aim to give students significant practical experience, producing work-ready graduates who are ready to jump straight into their careers.   

Typical degree programmes usually offer work experience on top of the core academic learning, whether it’s in the form of shorter internships or year-long placements, but co-op degrees have a more equal weighting of academic knowledge and industry experience.  

Programmes vary among universities, but at the University of Waterloo, where I study environment and business, I study four months of work experience alternated with four months of study. In total, I’ll complete three years of study and two years of work experience before I graduate. The university offers over 120 co-op programmes in various disciplines across all six faculties. 

At the other side of Canada on the west coast, the University of British Columbia gives students the option to choose a co-op programme after the first year of studying a regular degree. Students must apply again and will be invited for an interview before they’re accepted onto a twelve-month co-op programme.  

Why choose a co-op programme?  

I am enrolled in a five-year co-op programme, which costs more than a regular undergraduate degree, but I’ve definitely reaped the benefits.  

I was interested in the split of studying and working, because it can provide respite from academic and exam stress, and you can turn your focus to something different and more practical for a few months.  

Plus, most work experience roles on a co-op programme are paid and the salary increases after each term of employment as your experience grows. It has helped me to pay for student life, like rent or weekly expenses. You could even put it towards tuition.  

As a student at the University of Waterloo, I receive extensive resume critique workshops and cover letter sessions that help me to understand what I need to portray to potential employers. The job portal also shows part-time and full-time (New Grad) postings. Even as a graduate, I can still access the university’s job portal featuring roles across the city and beyond.  

Is a co-op degree worth it? 

Having two years of work experience has allowed me to try out different companies and job roles. It’s exposed me to life as a business analyst, marketer and a project manager for organisations including Microsoft, Maple Leaf Foods and Linamar. I’ve learned a lot about the recruitment process, and what day-to-day life is like as a professional.  

Working while studying has also provided insight into various aspects of the working world, like whether I prefer working as a team or individually, which leadership style I like in a manager, and how to use the feedback I gain from employers to develop myself further.  

Being able to alternate study semesters with a period of work experience has helped me to absorb everything I’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to my work to solve challenging problems. I’ve also learned new things from industry that I’ve been able to take back to my studies and understand further.  

I feel like I understand what employers are looking for in graduates and how to apply for roles once I complete my studies. At the University of Waterloo, lots of previous students were re-hired by their placement companies after graduation, so they walked straight into their first job.  

Is a co-op degree right for you? 

Like all wonderful things in life, we all have to put in the effort to reap the full benefits of our degrees and that’s especially true for a cooperative degree. Applying to a co-op programme does not guarantee a job. I have to submit multiple applications, and give several interviews while I’m studying, to be ready for my placement term.  

I think the best way to understand whether a co-op programme is right for you is to speak to seniors, alumni and current students to get a real feel for whether you’ll enjoy it. Look at the graduate stories on university websites and watch videos.  

My university Reddit thread was also useful in helping me to choose my programme. It's a major life decision and you should consult every resource available to you. 

Co-op is definitely advantageous in terms of gaining Canadian work experience. The application process will teach you how to be patient and persistent. The interview process will boost your communication and body language skills. The entire process will make you open to receiving feedback and not lose hope when you get a rejection.


I’m grateful to have selected a co-op programme for my degree. It has helped me gain significant industry skills and amazing memories that I will take forward into my career. My resume already looks full of experience before I’ve even graduated, and the roles I’ve had have helped me to pay off my international tuition fees.  

I’m excited to start working now I have a better understanding of what I want to do. I’d like to start a career in marketing after enjoying my work experience in this area.  

I highly recommend choosing a co-op programme for a well-rounded university experience. 

Frequently asked questions

What is a co-op programme?

A co-op programme is a degree course that allows students to split their time between learning academic material on campus and gaining practical experience at a work placement or internship. They allow students to explore a range of different career options so they have more perspective about the exact job that they would like to pursue by the time they graduate.

What is the purpose of a co-op programme?

A co-op programme means that students can spend more time in a working environment before graduating so that when they do graduate, they will have the experience and practical skills to thrive in a workplace environment.

Do you earn money from a co-op degree?

It will depend on the company, but students are often able to find paid positions for the work placement parts of a co-op degree. This means that they will be able to support themselves while studying, save money for the future or start thinking about repaying student loans.

How do I apply for a co-op programme?

Students can apply for a co-op programme on their university's website. Sometimes students will be able to transfer to a co-op programme after their first year of study. In this case they should speak to their tutor.

Which universities offer co-op programmes in Canada?

Many Canadian universities offer co-op programmes, including:

It is important to check your desired university's website to find the availability, entry requirements and tuition prices for co-op degrees.

What are the entry requirements for a co-op programme in Canada?

Entry requirements will vary depending on the university and the subject area of the specific programme. It is important to check the university's website to ensure that you meet the courses specific requirements before applying. Having said this, most Canadian universities will require that the student is able to speak English and sometimes French. International students may have to prove their language abilities by sitting the IELTS (English test) or TEF (French test). Generally, Canadian universities will require a minimum of 2.5-3.0 CGPA or equivalent. They may also require a prospective student to sit and exam such as the GRE or GMAT to prove their academic abilities.

This article was originally published in September 2022 . It was last updated in February 2024

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

saved this article

saved this article

Explore Events

Get assisted by higher education experts

Our expert teams can help start your academic journey by guiding you through the application process.

Related Articles Last year

Most Shared Last year

Most Read Last year