Making your history degree work for you: Seven reasons why you should do co-op

As an undergraduate history student, I am familiar with the polite smile-and-nod response that comes whenever I tell someone my major.

But I don’t share their skepticism.

Instead of launching into a lecture about all the writing, research, and analytical skills that history students develop, I hit them with something tangible: My work experience.

I joined UVic’s Humanities and Fine Arts (HUFA) Co-op program (aka cooperative education) at the beginning of my second year. Since then, I have completed three co-op work terms: I have worked as a Curatorial Assistant at Barkerville, a Research Assistant with Landscapes of Injustice, and I currently work as an Accessibility Editor for BCcampus on the BC Open Textbook Project.

Six reasons why co-op is great

  1. The job board. You’ll have access to a job board with hundred of postings from employers looking to hire university co-op students. Types of jobs that might appeal to history students include positions in research, museum work, social media management, marketing, communications, and human resources.
  2. The work experience. You will get relevant work experience in a field you might like to work in after graduation.
  3. Getting paid. Most of the jobs posted are paid positions. But, for those who can afford it, there are great internship and volunteer opportunities as well.
  4. Trying out jobs that you think you might want to do in the future. Even if you hate it, most work terms are only four months long.
  5. Establishing connections and meeting new people.
  6. Maintaining full-time student status. While on a co-op work term, you still classify as a full-time student. This is great if you apply for student loans, scholarships, and bursaries that need you to be in full-time studies.
  7. Practicing applying to jobs. After three co-op terms, you will be more comfortable with writing résumés and cover letters and giving interviews. Plus, your co-op coordinator is available to help you tweak your job application or to give you tips on how to answer different interview questions.

The downsides to co-op

Despite all the wonderful things about the HUFA co-op program, it does have some drawbacks that might cause you to hesitate.

  1. You are not guaranteed a job. Getting a co-op job is not easy and signing up for co-op does not guarantee you will be hired. When applying for my first work term, I applied to at least fifteen positions – each with a unique résumé and cover letter – before I got an interview. I remember feeling frustrated and hopeless; it was so difficult to keep sending out applications when I had other school work to do.
  2. Co-op will likely delay your graduation.
    • You don’t have to do co-op in the summer. There are lots of great co-op jobs posted in during the fall and spring semesters as well.
    • Lots of co-op students can’t do summer courses because they work. That means if you want to take fewer courses during the year, you won’t be able to make the credits up over the summer.
    • Finally, to get a co-op designation on your degree you need three work terms – so even if you take five courses each semester and do a work terms only in the summer, you’ll need an extra summer to get that last work term in.
  3. Co-op can be expensive.
    • Many jobs don’t pay much more than minimum wage – especially if you are just starting to build you résumé.
    • You have to pay for each work term. (I paid $675 for my last co-op work term.)
    • If you can’t live at home, you also have to factor in moving and living expenses.

But don’t let these drawbacks dissuade you from applying. In the end, co-op is an investment and the work experience will give you a huge advantage once you graduate.

Don’t believe me? Read Statistics Canada’s 2013 report on Cooperative Education. The report finds that fewer co-op grads return to school within three years of graduation than non-co-op grads. Bachelor grads with co-op work experience also have higher earnings than other grads:

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Want to learn more? Read my post: How HUFA Co-op Works.

Make your history degree work for you.

Any questions? Would you like to share you own co-op experiences? Leave them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.

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