The Co-op Experience: Yay or Nay?
A co-op is essentially a series of paid work terms where you have the opportunity to apply skills you have learned in your studies to a working office. Students often alternate between periods of study and periods of work terms, but the structure of your co-op varies from university to university. At the university I currently attend, I chose to defer my final year of undergraduate studies to pursue a 4 term (15 month) long co-op; bumping the time it would take me to complete my degree from 4 years to 5. Was it worth it? YES and here is why:
You will have a developed portfolio and resume right out the gate. Even before going to any real interviews with architecture firms, your co-op program advisors will help you develop your portfolio, resume, and interview skills. Don’t get me wrong, you will still have to do the majority of the legwork, like applying for job positions and going in for interviews, but the guidance really helps. For example, my program offered portfolio reviews and mock interviews to our year of co-op students prior to us going in for real interviews.
You will make valuable connections with people in the industry. This will be super important when you graduate because during your work terms you will come into contact with people that could hire you or help you get hired once you graduate. For example, the previous firm I worked for offered to critique my portfolio before I applied and attended an interview for the co-op placement at Jason Fung Architect. This helped me improve my portfolio significantly and I was also able to add some of the work I did at that office to my portfolio as professional work experience (this looks great to future employers).
A co-op placement is going to give you an idea of what it is like to work in your field of study, before you even graduate. The firm(s) you work for are going to rely on you to do billable work for clients. At Jason Fung Architect, some of these tasks are: performing a site measure, 3D modelling, drafting building plans/ elevations, submitting projects to competitions, running social media, meeting with clients, and consulting with structural or mechanical engineers. These are all tasks that you will most likely be doing in any other office once you graduate, so having this experience prior to getting your first job in invaluable. Take in as much as you can!
You will know where you want to work once you graduate. All firms are different and you will get a taste of this during your co-op terms because it is encouraged you work at multiple offices. The size and culture/ work life balance of an architectural practice is what makes it unique. Some may be 7 person startups that focus on residential construction where the boss works directly across from you, checks your work, and holds weekly morning meetings with the team. Other offices may focus on industrial design and be a 120 person firm where you report only to senior staff and come in at 9am, leave at 5pm. By having this experience, you will complete your co-op with a better understanding of what type of work environment makes you most excited about architecture!