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One of the greatest benefits of attending Simon Fraser University (SFU) compared to smaller colleges or universities is the Co-op program. It’s an amazing opportunity to explore career paths and gain experience; important for when you’re searching for a job or applying for a master’s program post-graduation.

What the Co-op program does is essentially connect students who want to gain work experience before graduation with employers looking to fill entry-level positions. Depending on the field of employment and a student’s background, the employer can apply for federal and provincial government grants to subsidize part of your wages.

I highly recommend Co-ops because it’s curated, entry-level jobs with hands-on experience that rarely occurs in the lecture hall. It’s a fantastic opportunity to test out various positions and organizational environments such as non-profits or start-ups to help you narrow in on what you may want to specialize in. This is important because when you start your career, it’s not deemed favourable by employers to see a candidate has entered and left many positions other than if they were specifically a contract or Co-op. Take advantage of Co-ops and use this time to explore!

For those in their last few semesters of school, it’s a great way to network and possibly get your foot in the door for jobs post-graduation. It’s not unheard of for a Co-op employer to extend their coop student or ask them to return upon graduation. This may influence which Co-op you apply for, as some Co-ops will be forthright and say they hire a new student every semester. But others, like start-ups, may be looking for possible candidates to hire permanently in the future.

And for those who are starting to consider Co-ops, great ways to get a leg up is by volunteering or joining school clubs to gain experience. Learning hard skills online through Youtube, Skillshare or Google Analytics Academy is important because it also shows you have the self-initiative to teach yourself and problem-solve independently. Building a portfolio of relevant projects such as designs, class projects, or writing is also helpful. Or take it to the next level and create your own website, blog, or use a well-designed resume to show off your skill set. Make sure to have your LinkedIn is updated as well.  

So how does one go about getting a Co-op job?

The first step is ensuring you meet specific prerequisites like a minimum GPA. Once enrolled, you will have to partake in workshops and online courses on topics such as cover letter and resume writing over the course of a semester. After completing the aforementioned tasks and meeting with a Co-op advisor, you will enter what is called a ‘Seeking Semester’, where you will apply to Co-op jobs, have interviews, and hopefully land a position!

There are a few things to keep in mind once you’ve secured a position. Throughout the semester, there will be regular check-ins with the Co-op advising office. You will also need to pay a one-time Co-op registration fee plus an enrollment fee to SFU for every semester you work. Co-op also has limitations or rules to follow: you shouldn’t do more than two consecutive semesters of Co-op or end your degree on a Co-op semester. However, I have heard of the Co-op office making exceptions and of students doing more than three semesters of Co-op over the course of their degree.

You can also do independent Co-ops by seeking out your own opportunities of employment rather than going through the school. You can then work with your employer to register the position as Co-op with the school. Pros to this option are you will have access to school insurance, it will count towards your Co-op designation on your diploma, and the Co-op office can answer questions or help you navigate if workplace problems arise. However, if you do the entire Co-op independently and do not inform the school, the benefit is not paying coop fees.

A good thing to know is that unless you want the Co-op designation on your diploma or your faculty requires it, three semesters of Co-op are unnecessary. Which in my opinion, as long as you can put the work experiences and references on your resume and feel confident in your skill set, there is no reason to complete all three. 

Once you’ve landed a Co-op position, there are several things you will learn beyond the hard and soft skills related to that job. For example, some may have to learn how to cope with imposter syndrome, the feeling of not being deserving or competent in your position. I want you to know that a Co-op employer knows they’ve hired a university student and, with that, the training and learning curve required to onboard you.

A Co-op semester is also a great time to explore what kind of work-life balance you want and explore new hobbies. When you’re in university, there are constantly new deadlines and school projects to do. Now, when you finish your job at 5 pm, it’s key to plan for your evening to ensure that your job does not feel like it’s consuming your entire day, hence the work-life balance.

I hope this has clarified some questions on Co-op’s benefits and finer details at SFU. Remember, the options are endless: part-time, full-time, independent or not. Personally, I did one part-time Co-op and two independent Co-ops, and I can now happily say I am in my last semester of school and have a permanent job post-graduation because of my Co-op experiences!

Rie (she/her) is currently in her last year of her Communications and Economics undergrad at Simon Fraser University. She is passionate about using her education and platform to create spaces for conversation around social issues and would like her career to centre in the nonprofit and social justice sector. In her free time, she can be found overthinking, dancing, or cooking. She would also like to acknowledge that she graciously works and lives on the unceded territory of the Sylix people.
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