For the new students joining us in September, it may be tempting to think ahead to a relaxing summer vacation before starting university. Perhaps, but there are some things that you could or should consider doing. They will make your life much easier in those first few months of university as you adjust to the new pace and demands of a co-op program. So, here’s my list of recommended summer activities that will have you ahead of the crowd when starting university:
- Get a job! Or, at least do some sustained and significant volunteer activities with some organization during the summer. Waterloo is a co-op only engineering program, and it will be a bit embarrassing when you apply for co-op jobs if your resume is a blank sheet with your name at the top. It doesn’t really matter what your job or volunteer activity is, and it doesn’t have to be technical or engineering-related. It could be working at a restaurant, or volunteering at a hospital or foodbank. You just want something for your resume that shows commitment, reliability, ability to work with people, and hopefully a good reference and their contact information.
- Get a driver’s licence if you’re eligible for one in your home region. You’ll need one someday. Some co-op jobs may require a driver’s license, so you can drive one of the company vehicles around to construction sites or other places.
- If you don’t know them already, get to know the basics of Microsoft Word and Excel (or some similar word processing and spreadsheet applications). If you don’t have the Microsoft products, don’t buy them yet. You can get something similar from OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org) or LibreOffice (www.libreoffice.org) for free. You’ll be using these sorts of applications heavily for reports, graphs and calculations, so it’s better to get acquainted now rather than later when the pressure is on. It’s especially useful to know spreadsheet software for calculations and making graphs.
- If you don’t have a resumé, start making one. If you do have one, start making it better. There are a variety of formats you can use, and a Google search would be a good start to learning about them and trying several out. We will provide feedback once you are here in the fall, but it’s good to get a head start because writing a good and effective resumé takes a lot of time and effort. Your success in getting the first co-op job will depend on the quality of your resumé (which is why my #1 point is to get some experience that you can put on your resumé). Here is one Canadian government website that might be helpful, but there are various others.
- If you have never done any computer programming, start learning a bit. You’ll be learning it in first year, but having a bit of experience and understanding of basic concepts will make it an easier transition. There are various free resources online for Java and Python languages, which would be a good start. Waterloo’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) has a free introductory course for Python as well as some web programming courses (which might be a useful skill to have for co-op jobs). These courses are available at this link: https://opencs.uwaterloo.ca
That should keep you busy, but much better prepared for what’s ahead. So much for a relaxing summer:) If there are any current Waterloo students reading this, feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, based on your experiences.