So it’s that time of the year again: high school students deciding on which offer to accept. Two years ago, I was in their shoes at that time. Needless to say, I chose the University of Waterloo for Computer Engineering. Over time, the decision to come to this university was proven to be a wise choice. You’ve probably heard a lot about Waterloo’s co-op reputation and how you can earn up to two years of real work experience and you get paid real salaries and stuff. But one thing they don’t really talk much about is the implications that it has on students. So this post will try to address that, and hopefully you will find this helpful!

(Note: I am not getting any reimbursements from anybody to say this. This is completely from a student’s point of view).

Before I get into much detail about the implications, I want to shed some light upon what some of my friends thought about their university of choice and what they think about now. There’s a lot of factors to consider when it comes to choosing the right university for you, whether it be the distance from home, courses offered, specialty programs, or even financial restrictions, and maybe even more! One of the factors that tend to be overlooked is the financial part of your education. I guess this is because we were pretty spoiled with the current Ontario education system, where education is free and you don’t even pay a nickel for it. So when it comes to university, some people don’t think beyond first year in terms of financing their education. They will soon realize that they will need a job to make an extra little dough for tuition.

Now, how does all this tie in? Well for starters, I realized that when it comes to my expenses for university, there’s no way that I can ask my parents to help me financially, even if OSAP covers a good portion of my expenses. You could say that my family is in a really unstable financial situation, making just enough for us to “stay afloat”. (Side note: I do have an RESP, but that failed long time ago). I knew from the very beginning that I’m going to have to get a job during my undergrad. However, in most universities, each year they make you go through two terms being in school (September to April), and then you get the summer off. This doesn’t work out for me, because assuming that I do get a summer job, I can probably pay off my tuition for my fall term. But what about my winter term?

Luckily, there’s the University of Waterloo. How the co-op program at Waterloo works is that you alternate between study terms and work terms. These work terms are paid work terms, which means that I can use my co-op savings and pay off my tuition for my upcoming study term! It’s almost like a “pay as you go” type of deal. For me, this essentially means that I can get through my undergrad on my own, without having to rely on my parents for financial assistance! Furthermore, being in a co-op program means that you will gain real world work experience based on what you want to go into, whereas other students might not even have this opportunity!

Q&A

So by now, you probably have some questions after reading this. So what I’m going to try to do here is to answer some of the questions you might have for me (strictly based off of my intuition). If you guys have other questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below!

Q: You are going to Waterloo, and I’m assuming that you have to move away from home. Wouldn’t that increase your expenses (due to housing, and other stuff)? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just attend a university closer to home?

A: That’s a good question, actually, and my parent’s asked me the same thing as well. It is true that the expenses for living away from home for university is higher than staying home for university. If I had stayed home for university, then the problem then becomes what I said above: how would I pay for my winter term? Also, your parents aren’t going to feed you for life, and eventually you will need to move out and live on your own. Why not start that now?

Q: In response to your rhetorical question above about tuition: couldn’t you just apply for scholarships? Work part time during the term?

A: For scholarships, remember that getting these scholarships aren’t guaranteed. You won’t be the only one applying for these, so there will be lots of competitions. What if you don’t get the scholarship that you need? Well, the outstanding amount that you need to pay is still going to be there. Working part time during the school term is definitely not possible, since we are talking about engineering right here. You will be in school for most of the time during the day. Given the workload that engineering student’s go through, you won’t have the time to go work.

Q: Can’t you still get a job even without being in co-op?

A: You can certainly get a job even without being in co-op. However, a lot of employers prefer to hire co-ops over regular students. Why? Because by hiring a co-op student, the employers get the Co-operative Education Tax Credit, something that regular students don’t get. Even if you get a job without being in coop, is the experience directly related to what you are studying in school? Maybe, maybe not. Some people do get summer internships with various companies, but it seems that for the vast majority of students looking for a summer job, what you learn in school is not necessarily what you apply in the real world. I have a friend who is working at a tea shop this summer, and she is studying nursing. A couple days ago, I ran into a friend who studies electrical engineering; she’s offering tutoring services for students. OK, you could argue that this can somewhat be related to what she is studying, but if you are offering tutoring services to a grade two student, you can’t really take the stuff that you know in university and apply it on a grade two student.

(I may expand this in the future, if there is a popular demand and/or if I can think of other questions.)

Aftermath

Looking back, I’m really glad that I picked Waterloo. In short, had I picked a different university, I don’t even know if I can continue on with my undergrad career. I’m in second year now, currently on my third work term, and I can actually say that this is working out for me. My parents don’t have to worry about my university expenses, AND I’m getting that real work experience through my co-op jobs. Now that’s essentially what they call “killing two birds with one stone” 😛 For those in high school about to make a decision, I hope you find this post helpful and informative!

David Vuong