CEWIL Resource Hub: Co-operative Education at the University of Waterloo

Co-op students complete a series of mandatory professional development courses, both to prepare for their first work term as well as to maximize their learning during their work terms.

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Key success factors

  • The co-op program is centrally operated by a large team with stakeholder-specific roles to support students, employers and faculties.
  • Co-op is uniquely important to the University of Waterloo's brand and identity, which makes it a focal point of the institution's operations. 
  • The university's Centre for Career Action is deeply embedded in the co-op program and plays an integral role in the preparation and support of co-op and WIL students across campus.

Unique characteristics

  • The co-op program offers a centralized model of support, including a centralized job board that all students access. 
  • The program also features a suite of mandatory professional development courses that students complete during their work terms to enhance their skills and improve their employability.
  • Waterloo operates the world’s only dedicated research institute focusing on co-operative education and WIL.


  • The program continues to enjoy rapid growth — roughly 5% per year over the last five years — and is the subject of intense demand from both students and faculties, which can make it difficult to keep pace in an operational sense.
  • The program supports over 5,000 first work term students each year, which entails preparing students with a wide variety of skills and experiences for the workplace.
  • Helping students to integrate their co-op workplace learning with their academic programs can be challenging.


Key characteristics

  • Type: Co-operative Education
  • Year program was established: 1957
  • Number of students per year: 21,000
  • Number of employers/partners per year: 3,000
  • Programs/academic disciplines participating: All programs 
  • Duration of experience: Typically 4 months, full time 
  • Submitted by: Ross Johnston