What are the best co-op streams at Uwaterloo?

note: I made this back in 2017. I am going back in 2020 to update info because UW changed urls of some pages, changed the sequence names, and revamped some of the sequence plans.

In this post I want to discuss:

  • what is the co-op employment rate
  • what are the different co-op streams
  • what I think is the best one when trying to find a first co-op

This is mainly targeted for math and engineering faculties.

Co-op is (technically) not 99% employment rate

The economic definition of unemployed is someone who is not working, but is actively searching for employment. By this definition some people can’t find jobs in Jobmine/WaterlooWorks. The reasoning is a lot of factors (faculty, market demand, skills, etc.)

How does the “Cooperative Education & Career Action” or CECA keeps employment rates so high?

From their site

Not every co-op student finds a job
The co-op program does not guarantee you employment.
Historically, our overall employment rates have varied between 86-99.9 per cent.

You may not find employment for your co-op work term. The majority of unemployed students each term tend to be at the junior level, looking for a first or second work term.

The 86-99.9% is maintained by removing people who have not found a co-op twice. At that point, you are removed from the co-op program. This means you aren’t actively searching for employment, and therefore limits the amount of people who can’t find co-ops from the co-op statistic.

This is a fair method of calculation, but it does fairly skew the results for hopeful/unknowing people. The world of finding a co-op is harder than it may seem.

Bonus: If you want to see the co-op job salaries go here.

Co-op Stream Breakdown

If you are unfamiliar with the waterloo co-op streams, there are a bunch of streams you choose that determines when you go on co-op.

Definitions of terms

Fall: September - December
Winter: January - April
Spring: May - August

4 stream: You start in September, and go on co-op in winter. This means you look for co-op in the SAME term you join Waterloo. (Looking at current charts this is only in engineering, so if you are in math you don’t even need to consider this)

8 stream: You start in September, and go on co-op in spring. This means you have one school term, then look for co-op in winter (alongside being in school). Math has two variations of this in SEQ1 and SEQ2. They are pretty similar and I’ll treat them as the same. Co-op in spring has the most opportunities but also is the most competitive (which as a 1st year is more detrimental than beneficial). That is another reason why I prefer 12 stream over 8 stream.

12 stream: You start in September, and go on co-op in fall. This means you have two school terms, then look for co-op in spring (alongside being in school) Also I would describe finding a winter co-op easier than spring. (which occurs in stream 8)

16 stream: You start in September, and go on co-op in winter (of NEXT NEXT year). You go two school terms, then have summer off, and go back to school in fall. This means you have three school terms, then look for co-op in winter (alongside being in school)

Example of 16 stream: Join in fall 2014, school winter 2015, off spring 2015, school fall 2015. co-op winter 2016

I tried to simplify it as best as I could, but take a look at the links:

For most faculties it differs, engineers have these streams, and math it has some of them, but under different names.

SEQ1 and SEQ2 correspond to 8 stream, SEQ3 is 16 stream, and SEQ4 is 12 stream.


What co-op stream is the best?

I think 12 stream is by far the best, then 8 and then 4 and 16. The problem is that a lot of people struggle to find a good first co-op. I certainly did, and in the long run, every co-op counts and builds a foundation for getting the next one.

The reason why I don’t like 16 stream is that you graduate a term later and the reasoning is that you get the summer off. I feel that you really didn’t need the summer off.

Going in and finding a co-op job without experience or much university course experience is tough. Especially transitioning into university to high school in the first 4 months is tough. Some people have found it easy, but from my experience and some others, it has been fairly challenging. In math there is no “4 stream”, so you don’t even need to worry about it.

The reasoning for 12 stream (School in Fall->Winter->Spring->Co-op) is:

  • have done more courses before looking for first co-op
  • gives you more time to work on side projects/join extracurriculars/work on resume and portfolio
  • have time to adjust and experience Waterloo
  • experience spring term in Waterloo (which is nice)

The most valuable of those, to me is the first one. Being farther ahead academically is a huge plus. For CS specifically if you are in 8-stream, you look for co-op only taken intro to CS or some intro level courses. If you are in 12-stream, you have taken CS135 and CS136 and would be currently taking CS246.

This means that you can show:

CS135/CS136: Designing Functional Programs and Elementary Algorithm Design and Data Abstraction

as opposed to just CS135 being in stream 8 (since you are looking for co-op one term earlier)

This is fairly small factor if you have real world experience or side projects, but when applying for jobs and being in 2A looks more favourable from an employer’s standpoint.

Side note: Co-op hierarchy

Within tech there is a pseudo hierarchy for co-op positions, ranging in the amount of coding done in the job.

Engineer better than Developer better than QA better than IT better than Non-technical

The most coding is usually done in engineer and least is IT and non-technical jobs. It is arguable that finding a non-technical job is harder than getting an IT or QA position. It is also usually the most difficult to get an engineer or Developer position because they ask a coding question, compared to QA or IT which are usually behavioural questions.

That being said, if you love IT or QA, go for it. I found that this hierarchy mainly applies to the difficulty of getting the jobs (generally) not necessarily what you should always aim for. In a sense, if you are a lower-year student that needs some form of co-op, you may look for a co-op position in QA or IT because it is easier to get, and if you want to code and are an upper year, you can usually attain the engineer or dev jobs just from experience, seniority, etc.

When aiming for the first co-op it is important to try to get A job as opposed to something super out of reach. Each co-op gives you the opportunity to work, but you also want to set realistic goals for yourself. You are given 6 co-ops and if you continuously improve each time, you can set yourself up to work somewhere great.