Why a co-op is better than an internship

Is it better to stay in school longer and get a variety of work experiences or focus on a four-year end date? It might seem counter-intuitive, but staying in school longer leaves some Canadian students better off in the long run.

Driving the news: Canadian students are taking the opportunity to "earn while they learn" by participating in co-op programs that take a bit longer to complete but give graduates real-world work experience.

  • Co-op programs require students to complete several work terms while they pursue their degree, resulting in a few extra semesters at school.

  • Students get placements in jobs related to their field of study. As they gain experience and expertise, they can take on more complex roles within companies—it isn't just getting coffee and picking up dry cleaning. 

Why it's happening: Being a student is expensive. Canadian tuition has nearly doubled over the past two decades, not to mention inflation in food and housing. Taking a break from the books for some work experience can help finance the next semester's tuition. 

  • Co-op students must be paid, according to the chair of the Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada Accreditation Council, something many internships don't require

Why it matters: Co-op placements don't just pad your pocket—they provide valuable insight into an industry and allow students to pivot their careers in one direction or another based on what they learn during their work terms. 

  • It's also a great networking opportunity as many students can find part-time work with employers or even secure a full-time position upon graduating after a successful series of working semesters. 

  • It's also a win for employers who benefit from fresh ideas and energetic employees. It allows them to develop relationships with talented candidates about to enter the job market.

Bottom line: Pursuing a co-op could be a career accelerator for many students as it allows them to develop essential workplace skills, build relationships and gain the confidence necessary to secure a good job post-graduation.