Cooperative education is a structured method of combining classroom-based education with practical work experience. Typically, students alternate a semester of academic coursework with an equal amount of time in paid employment, repeating this cycle several times until graduation. A less-used method involves splitting the day between school and work, typically structured to accommodate the student's class schedule.
Almost all post-secondary schools in Canada offer a co-op option to their academic programs (there are currently 80 schools with a co-op program, with over 80,000 students). Some co-op programs are well-known internationally: University of Waterloo has the largest co-op program in the world (and had the first co-op program in Canada), and includes 24 months of work experience, the longest in Canada and most likely in the world.
The Canadian Co-operative Education Directory is a comprehensive listing of the post-secondary co-operative education programs of member institutions in Canada. Here is a listing of accredited co-op programs in Canada.
Most schools with co-op offer it as an option to their regular program curricula. Generally, admission is competitive and given to those with high academic marks and a favorable interview. Most optional co-op programs allow entry in the fall of the second year of study. This allows the student to gain a solid foundation in their first year. In their foundation year, they can also complete a number of workshops and activities, such as networking events, industry information sessions, career exploration, and work seminars.
Generally, co-op students pay a one-time program fee for each work term, which gives them full-time student status (this also allows them to be eligible for things such as scholarships, access to athletic facilities, and other perks of full-time student status). The fee is used for thing such as job search training and career counseling, and access to co-op jobs. Given that co-op work terms are paid (the student is an employee), this fee is more than paid for by the employment gained (and then some).
Most placements take place with local companies off-campus (there are sometimes on-campus locations as well). But, some students opt for non-local or even international placements if they are available. International placements can sometimes be combined with exchange programs and provide the student with a more valuable experience.
As part of their services, the co-op office usually makes job placements available to prospective students. Generally, they will also keep a database of previous companies who have supported co-op and accepted students in the past, and communicate with these companies on a semester-by-semester basis to determine if they have any upcoming co-op placements that need to be filled. Students are also encouraged to find their own co-op placements, which allows them to get the placement they desire, and also allows them to practice in the art of networking, resume-writing, and interviewing.
Completing a co-op degree generally takes 1 year longer than completing regular degrees since students are completing three to five work terms (each 3-4 months long) in additional to their regular academic terms. Normally, students completing a co-op degree will graduate in the spring of their fifth year, assuming they take full course loads during their academic terms.