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Co-op Programs Vs Internships || 5 Key Differences

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For many international students looking to study abroad, gaining valuable work experience is an important part of their study experience. When researching ways to gain work experience, you’re likely to come across the terms “co-op programs” and “internships” used alongside some course programs. These options are great ways to gain work experience and practical skills, however, the structure and goals of these programs differ and could determine the type of experience you have.

In this article, we would be highlighting the key differences between co-op programs and internship programs to guide your international education.

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What are Co-op and Internship Programs?

Co-op programs (also called co-operative education programs) are typically offered by universities and colleges as part of a degree program. Students in these programs alternate between periods of classroom learning and work periods, where they gain hands-on experience in their field of study. Co-op programs are often paid, and students may work for a variety of employers over the course of their program.

A major benefit of co-op programs is that it allows students to apply classroom learning to real-world situations. These programs provide students with a chance to explore different areas of their field and gain a better understanding of the type of work they enjoy.

Internship programs, on the other hand, are typically shorter-term placements with a specific employer. They may be offered through schools or be independent programs that students can apply to directly. Internships can range in length from a few weeks to several months and may be paid or unpaid.

The main goal of an internship is to provide students with exposure to a particular industry or company. They may have the opportunity to work on projects or tasks, but the focus is often on learning about the company and the work they do. Interns may also have the opportunity to network with professionals in their field and gain valuable references for future job applications.


co-op program


Differences between Co-op and Internship programs

While co-op programs and internships both provide students with practical skills and work experience, these are some key differences you should note as an international student in Canada:

  • Structure and Duration

As earlier stated, co-op programs are typically longer in duration and involve alternating between periods of work and study. These programs are often integrated into a student’s academic program and may last several months or even a year in length. In contrast, internship programs are typically shorter in duration and may be more structured in terms of work responsibilities. Internships may be full-time or part-time and not tied to a student’s academic program.

  • Eligibility

Co-op programs are typically only available to students who are enrolled in a co-op-designated program at a recognized institution. These programs often require students to meet specific academic and performance criteria in order to be eligible to participate. On the other hand, internship programs are generally open to all students, regardless of their program of study though they may have similar eligibility requirements.

co-op programs

  • Academic credit

While internships are typically considered work experience and do not count for academic credit, co-op programs are structured to integrate classroom learning with practical work experience. Students in a co-op program alternate between periods of study and work, with the work component being an integral part of their academic program. This means that co-op students earn academic credit for their work terms, whereas interns do not. Moreover, co-op programs are usually longer in duration than internships and may require students to complete a minimum number of work terms to graduate with a co-op designation.

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  • Employment 

With co-op programs, students work full-time for an extended period, typically for multiple terms, as part of their degree program. These programs combine academic study with periods of work experience in the student’s field of study and as such, are considered a regular part of a student’s academic program.

Internships, on the other hand, are typically shorter-term placements that are often not directly tied to a student’s academic program but also be related to the student’s field of study. While both co-ops and internships provide valuable work experience, co-ops are generally viewed as more integrated and structured learning experiences, while internships may be viewed as more of a temporary job opportunity.

  • Compensation

Co-op programs are often paid positions, where students receive a salary or hourly wage for their work. On the other hand, internship programs can be paid or unpaid, depending on the organization providing the opportunity. While some companies may offer compensation for internships, others may not provide any monetary compensation at all.


Planning your international education can be overwhelming, if you need further guidance on degree options and career paths to explore or counselling regarding schools to apply to for your degree, please click here to chat with our counsellors. 


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