Co-op Programs in Canada and USA for International Students

Have you ever thought of your educational program being more practical and job-oriented? Are you looking for programs that give you the fortune to work while pursuing your degree? Well, co-op programs could be a great option for you. Here is all you need to know about co-op courses, their benefits, and a list of the best co-op programs in Canada and USA.

All You Need to Know about Co-op Programs

Co-authored by Pavan Somwanshi

What are co-op programs?

Co-op education, also called co-operative education, is a program where you get the opportunity to gain real-world experience that is related to your field of study. Usually, co-op programs are structured so that each study term (or semester) at the institute is alternated with a term (or semester) of work (practical learning).

A cooperative education experience, commonly known as a “co-op”, provides academic credit for structured job experience.


If you want to explore the beyond theory aspect of learning and be a part of practical application or “work in the field & get your hands dirty” co-op programs are your way to go.

Work terms typically last four months. But work terms of eight months or longer are available at co-op programs in Canada and the US. It should be noted that co-op programs generally take longer to complete (e.g. 5 years for undergraduate and 2 – 3 years for PG Diploma & MS).

Co-op positions usually last between 3 to 12 months & most universities expect students to complete at least 2 or 3 of these programs.

A co-op program doesn’t only allow you to apply the concepts learned in class, but it also gives you a diploma that indicates you engaged in a Co-op program. Thus, at the end of your degree, you’ll have approximately 12 – 18 months of industrial experience in your field of study and a valuable network of contacts that help you find a job more easily after graduation.

What are the benefits of co-op programs?

Now that you know what co-ops are, here are some insights into what you are more likely to gain out of such an integrated program-

  • One prominent benefit that is evident from everything you now know about co-op is that you gain valuable work experience in your field of study. Not only do you learn but also you get to earn!
  • You get to develop professional skills and gain a better understanding of the practical application of work.
  • Once you start working, you get to discover if the career fits you and you get to know your key strengths in the field.
  • You get to build your contacts and meet important people in the market who will promote your employment after graduation.
  • When your peers are merely studying through the semesters, you get to travel, meet interesting people, socialize, learn, and at the same time!
  • Co-ops may not guarantee you a career or a job in a reputed company. However, it significantly increases the chances of you landing a high-paying job when compared to your peers.
  • Employers who take part in Co-ops benefit too by considering the innovative ideas that students bring. They get to develop their coaching and leadership skills and get to hire a work-ready graduate.

What are the differences between Internships and Co-ops?

You may be thinking of how different a co-op program is from a regular internship. Well, an internship program can usually last for one semester or over the summer. Depending on the employer, an internship could be unpaid as well.

In contrast, co-ops continue for more than a semester where you might take classes in the fall and work during the spring. Additionally, you do get paid.

An internship can be for anyone from a college or university student to post-graduates or even adults. Internships can be for professional careers and are comparable to apprenticeships for certain jobs.

A co-op on the other hand combines theoretical classroom-based learning with practical work exposure. So, it’s more about experiential learning. It helps young people to transition from school to work!

An internship is a work placement that is not necessarily connected with or overseen by an educational institution. A co-op program is approved or accredited (e.g. CEWIL Canada) and implemented by a university and study terms alternate with paid work terms.

Internship: The primary function of the internship is for students to acquire some work experience in the field of their study. Internships are more flexible for the students. Internships can be part-time, full-time, paid, or unpaid depending on your employer.

Also, gaining academic credits by being a part of an internship is not certain. Internships are beneficial for the employers as students are ready to work cheap or free & some interns start working with the company full-time. 

Co-op: Co-op combines education and works rather than experiencing them separately. Co-op students stand a better chance of selection in companies than their peers.

These are full-time jobs that can sometimes be intensive depending on your major.

Eligibility for Co-op

Students are required to have and maintain a GPA of 3.0 throughout the Academic year & have passed all prerequisite courses in your program of study. International Students are required to apply for a Co-op Work Permit once accepted into the Co-op Program is confirmed. Depending on your university there could be other technicalities involved.

Co-op in Canada

You can apply for a co-op or intern work permit if: you have a valid study permit. work is required to complete your study program in Canada.

Co-op in USA

International students on an F-1 visa are required to obtain work authorization, known as Curricular Practical Training (CPT), in order to participate in coop. CPT allows students on an F-1 visa to engage in employment in the US as long as it is an integral part of their curriculum.

How to Find Co-op Positions?

The process of finding a co-op position is pretty competitive; just like a normal job search. Finding co-op positions can be tough if it’s your first time, but you need not worry as there are various ways in which you can find a co-op position.

Faculty Members

It’s highly likely that your university has a co-op advisor, you can get in contact with them and they will most likely support you. Professional development events and information sessions are great places to discuss positions as it offers a chance to interact with a vast network of employers.

Online Listings

University databases are a good starting point to start the search process. You need to tweak your resume, apply to specific positions, and go through interviews with the employers along with maintaining your regular academic workload.


You can inquire about support available for job-seeking co-op students and whether any additional services are available for international students.

You may think that a high GPA is one of the first things that an employer wants. Although a good GPA is important for some jobs such as those in the field of science or finance, most employers look for relevant coursework and projects.

Large firms and MNCs prefer students with some relevant experience and they can be trained as per the company’s requirements. They find it comfortable to recruit someone familiar with the industry requirements rather than employing someone fresh to it. However, landing up co-op positions at SMEs and startups is comparatively easier.

Why only a few universities offer co-op and not all universities?

Even though co-operative education is so beneficial in nurturing the futures of students worldwide, not every university provides the privilege of learning through corporate experience.

There can be many reasons why very few universities offer co-op programs:

  • Many universities don’t feel the need to change to such a progressive system of education. If they have been successful so far using the traditional model, they don’t find a change desirable.
  • Many students are not keen on the idea of changing to a different model of education.
  • Co-op programs are slightly more expensive as well
  • Universities also need to find appropriate industry partners and sign certain agreements. Such processes are time-consuming as well.
  • Even if a university decides to launch a co-op course, it will be a huge investment for them as they would have to change the school’s advertising model, admissions model, schedule, and find a new body of students who want to attend such courses.

To avoid all these hassles, only selected universities offer the co-op programs, while others don’t.

Co-op Programs in Canada and USA

Top Universities for Co-op Programs in Canada:

  1. University of Waterloo
  2. Wilfrid Laurier University
  3. Simon Fraser University
  4. University of British Columbia
  5. University of Victoria
  6. Centennial College
  7. University of Quebec
  8. University of Ottawa
  9. University of Calgary
  10. University of Alberta

Top 20 Universities for Co-op Courses in USA

  1. Northeastern University (MA)
  2. Drexel University (PA)
  3. University of Cincinnati
  4. Elon University (NC)
  5. Georgia Institute of Technology
  6. Berea College (KY)
  7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  8. Duke University (NC)
  9. Stanford University (CA)
  10. Endicott College (MA)
  11. Purdue University—West Lafayette (IN)
  12. Bentley University (MA)
  13. Butler University (IN)
  14. Creighton University (NE)
  15. Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
  16. Northwestern University (IL)
  17. Rochester Institute of Technology (NY)
  18. Clemson University (SC)
  19. George Washington University (DC)
  20. Lehigh University (PA)

Related Articles:

Best PG Diploma Courses and Colleges in Canada

Top Courses to Study in Canada for Jobs and Immigration

How to Avoid Canadian Study Visa Rejections

Emerging Tech Hubs in USA for International Students

Featured Image Source: Lehigh University

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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