You’re doing it wrong

Why are you in university?

I heard a number of answers when I asked students this question. They ranged anywhere from “to figure out what I am doing with my life,” “to get an education” or “to get a real job.”

However, I feel the bulk of the population enrolled in a post-secondary institute are there to pursue an education in a specific field with the hope of one day finding a stable career in that field; this is somewhat a given.

In 2009, a study co-authored by University of Guelph sociology professor David Walters and David Zarifa of Statistics Canada said there is a way to better your chances of finding somewhere to work post-graduation.

“Co-op programs work,” said Prof. Walters in a 2009 University of Guelph news release. “They work better in some areas than in others, but most people who graduate from co-op programs are better off on average than those who graduate with a conventional degree or diploma.”

The study, which surveyed over 30,000 university graduates two years out of school, found students who graduate from a co-op program have the most success. On average, students from university co-op programs earned $8,000 more per year than graduates of conventional programs. Students who were in college co-op programs earned an average of $2,000 per year more than standard college programs.

The study also indicated co-op programs are expanding rapidly, with over three times the number of graduated students in the year 2000 when compared to 1990.

Walters added the bulk of the study fields are in concentrated applied sciences such as engineering, math and computer science, but the popularity is spreading to liberal arts and social sciences.

Walters also said students with career-related work experience in the fields listed above will help differentiate them from other applicants in the job market.
Andrea Begin, an honours student at the University of Waterloo in the geological engineering program, said through her co-op program she has had “many wonderful opportunities [ . . .] being able to travel and work with many different people.”

“It’s a wonderful experience for networking as well as job experience.”
Begin continued to explain the classes she takes are designed to provide her with the knowledge she can then apply to, in her case, a geological engineering job. Her job may not be directly related to what she studied for four months prior to walking into her term of employment, but she will have background knowledge necessary to do it. reports between 1999 and 2009 undergraduate enrollment surged 40 per cent. Meanwhile, between 2008 and 2009 Canada created 280,000 jobs requiring a university education while cutting 260,000 that do not.

For students like Begin, who every four months rotate from school to work to school again and are “constantly looking for work,” they have the added bonus of a degree along with a resume full of field-related work experience completed at the same time.

Thinking about switching programs? All that glitters may not be gold. According to, finding job for co-op students isn’t easy if there are no jobs period, like in an economy recovering from recession.

In 2009, the University of Waterloo said the ratio of jobs to students was 0.77 compared to 1.21 jobs per student the previous year.

If your hope is to enter the workforce after graduating with your bachelors degree, your main concern should be whether there will be a demand for workers in your field of expertise, because all the experience in the world isn’t going to matter in a market where there are no jobs. That’s how you do it right.