How WIL you explore PSE?

Here in Ontario, as the furnaces light up and the leaves fall down, our colleges and universities are opening up their application cycles for the 2021-2022 school year. Over the next month, these posts will highlight key questions to ask and elements to examine while you explore your options for post-secondary education. Today’s topic: work integrated learning (AKA experiential learning).

What is work-integrated learning? It’s an element of a program of study where the student applies their in-class learning to the workplace. Some of the versions you may have heard of include co-op, field placement and internship.

A breakdown:

  • Co-op – paid work term in between academic semesters, most commonly completed in the summer (but other semesters aren’t out of the question).
  • Field placement – unpaid work integrated into the semester, so a student might spend 1-2 days at their placement while they attend school the other 3-4 days of the week.
  • Internship – usually 12-16 months in length, typically paid, and may fall in the middle of your studies, or after all coursework is complete.

Other opportunities you can look into include job shadowing, applied research and service learning.

The benefits

Work-integrated learning is a huge opportunity to test-drive a career. It will help you determine whether or not you’re in the right space, or to narrow down where you’d like to go within the field. (Most undergrad programs are pretty broad.)

This is definitely something you want to ask about in your post-secondary research. How does the school administer the process? What do typical placements look like for students? Do you need to find your own or do they help? Is it an automatic assignment? Do you have to go through a formal job search process?

What if your program of interest doesn’t have a WIL opportunity? I read an article just last week about graduate students in the life sciences using case studies to build real-world experience from their studies. They were assigned the objective of bringing a new drug to market. From there, students had to research regulatory processes, industry norms, available technology, best practices and marketing and stakeholder engagement. They finished the program witha real-world example to include in their portfolios for employment. In your exploration, ask about the opportunity to do an independent case study project under faculty supervision. You may be surprised by what you’re told.

That old adage of “you don’t know until you try” is definitely true when it comes to careers. So my first tip for post-secondary exploration this October is find out how you can try before you graduate.

Need help mapping out your post-secondary and career plans? Find out more about our individual and group coaching programs here.

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