Three years ago, Cindy Huang was accepted into the University of Toronto’s management co-op program on their Scarborough campus. She was looking to gain experience in her field and earn money while she was at it.

She’d soon find out there was more to the co-op program than she expected.

When it’s time to choose universities, picking between a co-op program and a regular one is a difficult decision. The job experience and money you can gain are good incentives, but it does come with its cons.

For Huang, one thing she doesn’t like is the application process. Her program’s policy requires her to complete 25 initial job applications, only in her field of study.

It also states that if a student rejects two or more offers without good reason then they are unable to apply to any more positions offered by the co-op office during that term.
“You will probably get a job, but maybe not the job you want,” says Huang. “Some of the jobs available are bad and no one wants it.”

Not only that, but she’s also required to go to all of her interviews.

“Most of the time you need to give up your lecture and go for an interview,” says Huang. “Even though you have exams and you want to study you can’t.”

On the other hand, Alison Kuepper, a co-op field coordinator at the University of Waterloo, says having a lot of interviews is actually a pro and part of the learning process.

Despite the cons, Huang does like that co-op helps her work toward her future career.
“If you’re not in co-op and you search for a job it’s hard to find a job that matches your future career,” she says.

Ming Qu, a third-year system design engineering student at the University of Waterloo, chose to go there because of its co-op program.

However, it turned out to be a bad situation for him. He had issues during his work term at a software company in downtown Toronto with his co-worker. It got to the point where he became disinterested in his position, yet had to endure it for four months.

At the University of Waterloo, coordinators have available information about the placement and the general opinion of the work environment. Qu checked this beforehand, but he says sometimes it doesn’t help.

“There’s really very little (you can do) because you can’t really tell until you start working,” says Qu. “You can’t tell what you like, even from other people’s opinions.”

In a situation like this, Kuepper says this is where her job her comes in. She suggests that the student talks to the employer about the situation, but it should be brought up with the coordinator first.

Even with his experience Qu says he still thinks co-op is well worth it.

“At school you have to be good academically, but in the workforce you have to have very good communication and on top of that, organization,” says Qu. “In school if you know the stuff you don’t need to study as much and you can be lazy, but all of that has to be tidied up when it comes to work.”

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