Are internships and co-ops the same thing?

‘Co-op’ and ‘internship’ are terms often used interchangeably by post-secondary students because various schools refer to their programs using one or the other. However, it’s important to understand that these terms represent distinct and separate experiences.

While both co-ops and internships serve as valuable opportunities for personal and career growth, it’s crucial to discern which one aligns best with your goals. To help you distinguish between these two dynamic options, let’s explore the key differences.

Co-Op – “In-depth placement”

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Co-op – or Cooperative Learning – involves a multi-term arrangement with a single employer. This means that your program will dedicate one or two semesters for you to get out there and work full-time.

As a co-op student, your scope of work will include more tasks and responsibilities. However, the perks are certainly worth it. Most co-op students can expect a stable income between $8,400 – $15,000+ CAD for each work-term, which typically lasts for 3 to 4 months. This means you can not only gain real-world experience, but also earn some extra funds. Pretty cool, right?

But here is the plot twist; the co-op route can cause a slight delay in your learning journey, as co-op programs can sometimes take five years to complete a four-year degree. Some students also face the challenge of balancing coursework with co-op work, effectively turning it into a juggling act.

Internship – “Taste-test placement”

a freshman in a co-op and internship position


For those who want to explore different alternatives for your future career, internships may be the one for you. Most students opt for internships during the summer. The best part about internships is that you don’t have to lengthen your post-secondary journey and you will graduate on time.

The responsibilities you will be given during an internship program can vary, but often include several entry-level tasks. Traditionally, you will spend most of the time shadowing senior professionals who will teach you new things and help you develop your skills. This, in turn, makes the internship experience significantly lighter compared to the co-op commitment.

However, like most things in life, internships come with their own set of challenges. The stipend for interns is often not enough, making it a financial hurdle for many students as they try to manage daily commuting costs, networking events, and lunch expenses. The struggle can sometimes feel demotivating, to say the least.

Co-op or Internship, which one suits you more?

A woman says into a microphone: "Too many great options and too little time."


Today, the line between Co-ops and Internships has been blurred. Many educational programs and employers have combined the two together since they both relate to work integrated learning, but it is important to clarify with them before signing your first employment contract.

Choosing between a Co-op and Internship really comes down to what you really want. If you have already decided your career path, a co-op program will be more beneficial. On the other hand, if you are not sure what you want to do, internships are a great way to get a taste of different pathways.

But remember, academic performance should still be your priority as a student. Based on my experience, it would be better to spend the first two years adapting to the post-secondary environment. During this time, explore the career you want. At the same time, maintain a good GPA for an attractive resumé.

Still confused about job applications?

A woman looks confused while math equations float around her


Choosing between a co-op and an internship is a significant decision for any student pursuing a successful career. Each path comes with its own set of advantages and challenges. Co-op programs offer substantial financial benefits, but may extend your academic journey and require careful balance. On the other hand, internships provide practical experience without extending your study period, but may come with financial limitations. The right choice depends on your career goals, preferences, and individual circumstances.

Job searching can be a daunting and often frustrating process, but not to worry; the Career success centre is here to help. From getting ready for the application process to preparing for interviews, they are here to help you achieve a successful career.

Background photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

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