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Co-operative Education & Career Action

The Co-operative Education System

The Co-operative Education System
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The Co-operative Education System

Co-operative education (co-op) is based on the principle that an academic program combined with work experience in alternating terms, is relevant to, and desirable for, effective professional preparation. Work-term employment, which varies from sector to sector and location to location (opportunities exist around the world), enables students to acquire experience in their areas of career interest, while academic terms are devoted primarily to fundamental and theoretical studies. These practical experiences and academic studies complement one another.

The Study/Work Sequence

The co-op system requires students to alternate periods of study with periods of employment. The period of employment is called a work term and is normally four months in length. Study/work-term sequences vary by program. Some sequences begin in the first year of study while others begin in the second year. All sequences contain at least one eight-month school term and some will contain one eight-month work term (see Study/Work Sequence). Students are expected to be enrolled full time during their study terms. 

Change of Study/Work-Term Sequence

Students are expected to follow the sequence to which they have been assigned or as prescribed for their program. Deviation from the prescribed sequence requires the submission of a formal request to change it, as well as, approval; first, approval from the student’s Faculty, and then, approval from Co-operative Education. Requests that involve work terms longer than eight months will not normally be considered. Students may not end their academic plan with a work term.

Ordinarily, requests will be considered only if they are received no later than one month prior to the beginning of the term in which the switch will occur. The student’s academic and co-op performance must be in good standing. A student’s academic sequence may be restricted due to a lack of availability of core or elective subjects during particular terms and this circumstance does not constitute grounds for a sequence change.

Study and Work-Term Dates

The work term usually begins on the Monday of the first month of the term and ends the last Friday of the fourth month of the term. Please refer to the Calendar of Events and Academic Deadlines section of this Calendar for the suggested work-term start and end dates for current and upcoming work terms. Start and end dates may vary depending on the needs of the co-op employer so work term dates should be confirmed with the employer before the start of the work term.

Co-op students must work for the entire term and may not shorten its length. Work terms shorter than the expected 16 weeks of employment are approved by exception only. See details on work term length on the Co-operative Education website.

Co-op Preparation - PD1/First-Year Engineering Classes 

PD1 course materials lead students through resources and activities to provide them with the tools to be competitive in their employment search and prepare them for a successful work term. This helps students understand the co-op employment process and how it fits with their career development. Upon successful completion of the course, students will have the skills to:

  • Identify where to find key information about co-op education at the University of Waterloo
  • Use WaterlooWorks in their job search and the application process
    • Decide where to apply
    • Prepare résumé packages for their first co-op work term
    • Check for interviews
    • Use the ranking and matching system
  • Interview effectively
  • Succeed on their first work term


The employment process is highly competitive and factors such as academic performance, skills, motivation, maturity, attitude, professional conduct, flexibility, and performance potential determine whether an employer offers a student employment.

Co-operative Education builds and uses its wide network to find a sufficient number of work-term positions for students enrolled in all co-operative programs. Still, the openly competitive nature of the hiring process, and the fact that job offers come from employers, means that no guarantee of employment can be made.

If a student does not, for reasons beyond their control (e.g., shortage of employment in particular sectors, unexpected cancellation of posted jobs), secure employment through an interview process administered by Co-operative Education, every effort will be made to support that student's attempt to find a suitable work experience from alternative sources. Students are expected to work closely and remain in regular contact with Co-operative Education, especially while searching for co-op employment.

A student who neglects to apply to a suitable quantity and variety of jobs, or who impairs an interview opportunity through unprofessional conduct, will be removed from the employment process and will not be given assistance by Co-operative Education in finding employment for the next scheduled work term.

Work-term employment agreements are between the student and the employer. The University of Waterloo is not a party to these agreements and assumes no financial or legal responsibility with regard to events or actions by either party that affect the employment situation for any co-op student (e.g., layoffs, intellectual property issues, confidentiality agreements, strikes). Students are encouraged to seek whatever professional advice and/or guidance about their agreements they feel is necessary.

The University monitors work terms and records the employer’s evaluation of the student’s performance. Every co-op student must receive an evaluation for every work term and may not opt out of recording, or having submitted, an evaluation of their work-term performance.

Responsibilities of Co-operative Education, Employers, and Students are detailed on the Co-operative Education website, Expectations & Responsibilities.


If a student experiences either harassment or discrimination in a co-op workplace, the student should contact their work-term support person (student advisor); a harassment advisor in Co-operative Education; the Director, Conflict Management and Human Rights at the University of Waterloo; and/or Counselling Services.

Similarly, issues of safety or expectations to engage in any behaviour that may pose a risk to the student’s well-being should be brought to the attention of the work-term support person immediately.

Discipline and Appeals

Disciplinary action is at the discretion of Co-operative Education and/or the Faculty in which the student is enrolled. An appeal process for students (Policy 72) provides that disciplinary decisions made by Co-operative Education (alone or in consultation with the Faculty Associate Dean) may be reviewed or appealed at the request of the student.

Student Work-Term Status

Please review the Co-operative Education website section on co-op student status.


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