Applying for co-op jobs is tedious, nerve-wracking and a long process. But I want to reflect on how choosing a co-op program was the best decision I've ever made. I initially wrote this blog post when applying for my last co-op term in university. At the time, I didn't post it because I was frustrated with not getting interviews. I have re-written it as a student who has now completed co-op! This shows you that although it can be frustrating and a long process, I still believe that entering a co-op program was the best decision I have made.
University of Waterloo Co-op
University of Waterloo has been known over the last sixty years for its experiential learning. We take pride on being able to fuse high academic achievements with experiential learning. There are many programs that offer co-op, but not many in the Arts faculty. However, my Sociology program offers four opportunities to experience co-op. After my second-year of university, I began a cycle of four months on co-op, four months in school until I graduate. Fortunately, at the University of Waterloo, we are not required to take classes while on co-op (besides an online professional development course).
Experience like no other
Even though so far I have had my three out of four co-op terms at the University of Waterloo, each experience I have had has benefitted me in ways that I did not realize at the time. Working in the professional sphere has allowed me to grow myself in ways that I could not have without these experiences.
Being a student but also a staff member at UWaterloo is interesting because you get to see all of the behind-the-scenes, but also get the participate and appreciate the fun. Knowing how much work goes into the logistics of the University is fascinating to me. I have also learned professionalism and all of the necessary skills that go into being an employee for UWaterloo.
I am very proud of my work term experiences but look forward to more. There are many co-op students who have gotten internships at Facebook, moved to California, and created their own businesses through co-op at UWaterloo. #CaliOrBust. Now is the time we need to do these things. Experience life, jobs and people in ways that we can't once we're eventually caught up with commitments.
Networking and connections
Some of the connections I have formed on my co-op will stay with me throughout my professional career. Between the first manager that hired me and I still see on campus, to my most recent manager who I will definitely call upon as a reference when necessary.
Not only does meeting new people mean learning from them and gaining more experience, but it also means making new friends and connections with people you might not have ever thought you would. I have spent time getting to know some interesting people in the offices I have worked. They have opened me up to their lifestyles, traditions, and areas of knowledge I would not have been keen to look into without them!
A break between classes
Taking classes and doing assignments is not my favourite thing about university, honestly. Don't get me wrong, I love learning, but when you have 3 tests and 2 assignments due all in one week, you really aren't too thrilled about your current situation. Having just four months of a consistent schedule in between those crazy academic terms makes it more bearable. I personally prefer working a 9-5 job and know that I have evenings and weekend free, than have class 5 times a week but are constantly doing school work on my off time. I think most people can agree with that!
I'm not quite sure why it is such a faux-pas to mention the monetary value of having a co-op job. At UWaterloo, it is a requirement to be paid at least the minimum wage of the location of your job. I want to say now that we are extremely fortunate to have this rule in place. There are many universities that make you search for jobs on your own, where most of them are unpaid, and you are most-likely doing something not directly related in your field. I am fortunate enough to be given access to Waterloo Works, a service to co-op students that have jobs listed that can be searched for by faculty, field and interests.
Having the opportunity to work full time and also get paid has enormous benefits. Not only do you get a good look at what "real-life" is like, post-grad, but earning money allows for the means to do so. For me, co-op has enabled me to pay for my following academic terms, my rent, text books, whatever I need during that time. It is very valuable to be able to work hard and (hopefully!) graduate debt-free or with very little left of student loans.
In the end
If you're choosing between accepting a university program or considering switching your current program, I would highly recommend looking into a co-op program. Most people don't know that you can take the exact same program at two different universities, but if one has a co-op program, you will be gaining even more out of your degree for a little bit more time. In the end, I think that even though applying for co-op jobs and waiting for responses is stressful, it is the best choice I have made in my academic career.
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