This post is directed towards prospective students (or entering students, or students wanting to switch from regular) about Waterloo's co-op program. The co-op program at Waterloo is what makes our school stand out. For many people, it's a deciding factor between this and that program from school X and Waterloo. You will take an extra year to graduate compared to your other peers that plan to go to York, Queen's, UofT, etc. but you get tons of work experience on your belt (up to 2 years). This is extremely useful upon graduation, considering our unpredictable economy.
I don't regret co-op at all. My past two co-op experiences have been amazing, and I'm looking forward to my next one. But is co-op for you?
Now without going into too much detail, here are some pros and cons about being in co-op:
1. Likelihood of finding a job after graduation greatly increases; if you find co-op jobs that are related to your field of study, that is. Note that it is very common for students to return to their old co-op placements as returning co-ops and full-time employees.
2. Allows you to have breadth of different working environments, industries, size of company, etc. You have 5 or 6 four-month co-op terms (depending on your program). Use them to your advantage to try out different companies. Although, you can also keep going back to the same placement if you found your workplace enjoyable, and if your employer wants you back, of course (mutual decision).
3. Rather than just focusing on schoolwork and social life, you will be able to see a 3rd side: your career. To me at least, co-op has helped me realize that marks aren't everything. To succeed in almost any type of careers), you need a mix of social skills, passion, organization, teamwork, etc. These career and professional development skills are developed throughout your coop terms.
4. Great way to help pay tuition. You may make enough to cover tuition for the following term. As you gain more co-op experience, you should be earning a higher salary after each co-op term.
1. Being in co-op means that you will often be off-stream with some of your UW friends (and possibly boyfriends and girlfriends). This may explain why Waterloo has the stereotype of being a non-social school, where no one parties (which is completely untrue by the way!).
2. Stress. First round interviews usually start during midterm season. Depending on your interview rate, it may be very stressful. More on this later.
3. No vacations (Always in school or at work). Not necessarily. You definitely don't get as many summers or breaks like your friends at UofT/Western/etc. have. But depending on the job and location, it may very much be like a vacation every co-op term. It is also possible to take a co-op term off, but you need to ensure you have at least 4 or 5 (depending on your program) to graduate. Speak to your co-op adviser if you decide to do this.
4. Being in co-op means you pay about $600-700 more than regular students (per term). This value is based on administration fees, salaries for all the co-op advisors and peeps, work term report marking, etc. Hopefully you will make more than that during your co-op term, though, and the experience will be worth it.
I don't have any with me, but I remember seeing myself that Waterloo is advertised to have a 90% employment rate for all coops (or something of the like). Although it sounds hopeful and so very attractive, it doesn't mean much. If you're anti-social and only booksmart, you'll have a difficult time getting a job (or even getting the interview), no matter how large the availability is.
If you're a prospective student reading this and thinking you're going to jump in, write up a resume in 30 minutes, and get interviews in a snap, you're wrong. The likelihood of getting an interview is low during your first round, especially during the early rounds of the job matching process. You may end up having to keep waiting and applying and interviewing until final exams before someone finally wants you.
As pessimistic as it sounds, it is completely true. The process can be very stressful for some people, and when they finally find that job, they are placed into the huge 90% that our school advertises our program to be. So it's not an easy 90!
If you'd like to look at detailed stats, check out this site: http://www.ceca.uwaterloo.ca/students/statistics.php You can only use it if you have a UW id (so, you either need to be a student or a prospective student that has been admitted).
Jobmine is a poorly written web app that co-op students have to use throughout their undergrad to apply to jobs for their co-op terms. You don't HAVE to use Jobmine. Applying outside of Jobmine is also an option. You just need to report it to CECS as soon as you can by filling out an online form.
It's a little complicated to explain how the system works in detail if you have never seen it; but to keep it brief, you can have up to 50 active job applications at one time.
Companies from all over the world post jobs, but most are in Southern Ontario (or more specifically... Toronto). You can apply anywhere you want, just make sure you are willing to work at the company and that you are willing to move wherever the placement is. Also make sure that you apply for a job you actually want. If you really want a developer job, don't apply for QA (quality assurance) or help desk jobs and be disappointed once you get there.
After each 'posting' closes, companies will eventually look at everyone' resumes, and create an interview schedule. You will then have to choose a time that suits you. Here comes the stressful part. Getting the time slot you want. You cannot just spend the whole day at school and NOT check Jobmine. You may be screwed, and end up with an interview during an important lecture, or possibly conflict a midterm. For the latter, CECS advises students to contact other students on the interview list to do a switch. But that honestly never works out because no one is ever willing to switch times, so just go into the Tatham Centre and fill out a conflict form. Most of the time, the company will be flexible to reschedule.
Are there good co-op positions for my program?
Waterloo is well-known for math, engineering, CS, and also AFM. So I'll be honest here, if you're coming for science or arts co-op, you will have a harder time finding an above average job (in terms of pay, type of work, location, etc). The variety and amount of CS jobs have jumped in the past couple years; whether it be many startups being created, or more big companies learning about Waterloo's coop program. If you want to work for a big company or a cool startup, come to Waterloo. You will have a pretty big chance of landing an internship for 1 of the above. I won't really talk about the kinds of jobs (maybe in a later post), because it varies with each company.
Co-op vs. UofT PEY
UofT and Waterloo, both great schools for engineering, provide their students with professional experience outside of academics.Waterloo has a strong standing program for various faculties, and from what I have read, PEY is mainly for engineering, computer science, and pharmacology majors. Obviously this entry is biased towards Waterloo co-op, so please take that into consideration. In the end, it is your own choice.
The major differences between the two programs is that PEY is a "depth" approach which exists only for 3rd and 4th year students, and lasts for 12-16 months, while Waterloo co-op is a "breadth" approach which is recurring throughout a student's undergrad. Co-op terms are typically 4 month, but 8 month terms are also common. Apparently, it's also possible to do 12 month co-ops, but I have never heard of anyone doing that. UofT also has a shorter-term PEY program called eSIP for rising Juniors (4-month placement), which seems to be a new thing they are trying.
In the real world, 4 months is a great "trial period" to see if an employee actually suits their role and fits into the culture of the company. So just because you did an internship for 8 months longer, does not mean you have a lower chance of receiving full-time offers. I know many graduating Waterloo students that already have full-time offers waiting for them once they do graduate (many from their past co-op placements, some from new companies they have not worked at).
Also... the other way to think about it is - if you really dislike your placement, as a co-op, it's not a big deal since you won't be there for too long to suffer. I don't know what the terms are as a PEY if you dislike your placement (probably don't have a lot of flexibility).
I am not sure if there are fees associated with PEY, but even if there are, I assume they would be minimal.
If you are in Waterloo engineering, you will have an extremely restricted and demanding schedule to deal with due to co-op sequencing, so if you prefer to have flexibility, UofT is probably a better choice. It's not overly demanding, but just a word of warning that you will likely be moving every 4 months (probably more of a hassle for us ladies : P).
A big question that I see getting asked is - What is the point of going to Waterloo if I didn't get into co-op? (Note that Engineering is co-op only, there is no regular Engineering.)
There's still a chance that you can transfer into co-op. Co-op students have different requirements to uphold to stay in co-op, regular students will likely have less strict requirements. With this, you can do extremely well and transfer if there is enough room. Usually there is enough room if people drop out of co-op or switch programs. Remember that the capacity is usually measured by the amount of jobs that are posted for your field of study.
Now the other method of getting on the same foot as co-op students is finding your own internships, and using your connections, because finding jobs is not just about applying everywhere and seeing what happens. Networking has a huge impact. I have a friend who is in regular CS. He found his own co-op because his co-op CS classmate recommended him. My friend did well on the interview, and got his first co-op job. Huge step ahead of anyone who's never done an internship at all. He also saved 600 dollars because he didn't pay for any co-op fees, AND he didn't have to go through stress or annoyance of using Jobmine.
So there are still ways to excel and succeed without co-op. It just depends on whether you want to make the effort (also takes a little talent + social skills of course ;))
I've given a large overview of the coop system at Waterloo, hopefully it has helped answer any questions or round down any decision-making. If you're already admitted to Waterloo co-op, then hopefully this helped you gain a better understanding of what to expect. If you are applying in the future, hopefully you have a better understanding of how the co-op system works, and whether it is suitable for you.
I think I covered almost everything. If not.. comment below with your questions or send me an email, I'll be sure to get back to you : )