What's the Difference Between Co-ops and Internships?

By University of Waterloo Modified on May 24, 2023
Tags : Academics | Careers | Money

Both help to set you up for your future career path, but how do they differ? Why choose one over the other?

What's the Difference Between Co-ops and Internships?

There are key differences between co-ops and internships you should know about. Once you know about the differences it's easier to make the right choice for you — maybe it's co-op, maybe it's an internship, or maybe it's neither!

What is a co-op placement?

Co-op integrates academic study terms with paid periods of relevant work experience. This means that what you learn in class can be applied to real-world jobs and then you can bring your workplace experience back into the classroom. Co-op allows you to test-drive potential careers early on.

One of the most enticing aspects about co-op is that it's paid! At the University of Waterloo, the co-op program typically alternates every four months between study terms and work terms. The alternating work/study format allows you to earn an income one term and use that money to help with costs for the next study term. By the time you graduate, you already have up to two years of work experience on your resumé and a manageable amount of student loans left to pay off — it's the best of both worlds!

What is an internship?

Internships tend to be less rigorous and only happen once throughout the duration your degree. Internships normally occur within the summer season, meaning you don't need to pause your study terms or extend your degree any longer. An internship can be paid or unpaid depending on factors such as employer decision or industry rates. You'll typically be able to stay at a job longer than in co-op, which can help you build trust with your team and get handed more projects.

Is co-op or an internship the right decision for you?

Co-op programs and internships offer fantastic opportunities for you to gain practical experience and enhance your career prospects. While co-op programs require an additional year of study, they also offer structured work terms with employers in your field, allowing you to apply your academic knowledge in a real-world setting. The co-op job search process may be challenging, but it provides an excellent opportunity to develop your job search skills, such as updating your resumé, networking, and preparing for interviews. It's important to know what to expect in co-op and make sure you are prepared.

Internships, on the other hand, provide a flexible alternative to co-op programs, allowing you to gain practical experience while also completing your degree within the traditional four-year time frame. Internships may not always be paid, but they offer an opportunity to gain exposure to different industries and roles, allowing you to develop a diverse skill set and explore your career interests.

Overall, both co-op programs and internships have their benefits and drawbacks. It's important to consider your personal goals and priorities when deciding which path to pursue. With the right mindset and preparation, either option can provide you with valuable experience that will set you up for success in your future career!

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