Summer Preparations

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 ( or LibreOffice ( 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:

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.


20 thoughts on “Summer Preparations

  1. If you are not able to get or commit to a job over the summer, that is fine 🙂 But be prepared to get involved as soon as you arrive on campus (EngSoc, class rep, student teams, ambassadors, you choose). Making good contributions to an extracurricular group will equivalently elevate your resume in preparation for co-op. This is what I did in 1A.
    We will introduce you to the many ways to get involved during Orientation, so definitely participate fully in the first week.
    – 4A Civil

  2. Great post, as usual, Bill! Another thing to do this summer to help prepare for September: Attend Engineering 101 on July 9, 2016 (or your faculty 101 day).

    Engineering 101 is a full-day of programming, on campus, for incoming students and their parents or families. There will be a sample lecture and tutorial, and an opportunity to meet others in the Engineering community at Waterloo. Plus we’ll have upper-year students and Co-op representatives providing more tips on how to start building that resume to get your first co-op job.

      • Is this event exclusively for students that have been accepted ? I am a student going into grade 12 and I plan on applying to waterloo, so I was wondering if I could attend this event. Also , thank you for maintaining an amazing blog for students that wish to attend waterloo , it really is very helpful.

  3. Hello Professor,

    Any recommendations with regards to summer preparations for those uwaterloo engineering hopefuls that will be applying in 2017, to build on their AIF?

      • Is someone with lots of short-term jobs/volunteer on their AIF seen as better than someone with a few long-term jobs/volunteer?

      • That probably depends on the context. Some positions are inherently short-term, which is fine. However, if they could have been longer term but the person kept quitting or getting fired, that might be problematic.

    • Thanks, that’s interesting and useful. Yes, #6 (work best under pressure the night before it’s due) is a dangerous idea. Lot’s of people think it’s true about themselves, but soon find out otherwise.

  4. Should we do a resume or a cv or both? I actuallly started my CV but when I read the post again, I noticed that you wrote resume. As for starting to learn coding: or should I try java? Furthermore, I was thinking of building my own drone from scratch with a rasbery pi, do you think this is something significant enough to be mentionned in the resume or cv (got the idea from the 20th idea:

    Finally for work experience/volunteering. Unfortunately, I wrote on my Quebec financial aid application that I won’t be working during the summer. BUT, my father started his own business and said I could do some volunteering there, 5 hours a day, 5 weeks, for 3 or 4 weeks. Is this enough? Furthermore he wanted me to take care of the computers, check if everything is up to date, fix computer problems, diagnose when there is a bug, etc (forgot to say that I applied in computer engineering). Do you think that this volunteering work will be more significant than volunteering for example at a retirement home? Thank you very much professor for all the great posts which helped me during the entire time when I was applying. Have a nice day or evening!

    • A 1 to 2 page resume is what will be most useful. The terms “resume” and “CV” have different meanings, depending on where you’re from. But here, “CV” would be a long list of professional activities more commonly used for academic and high level professional positions. For example, I have a CV that I occasionally need to use, and it’s about 31 pages long. Most co-op employers want something short and to the point. It doesn’t particularly matter what coding experience you get, as the basic concepts are the same across multiple languages. That sort of volunteer experience seems to be quite good.

  5. I totally disagree, you’re about to start 5 years of continuous school and work. I would definitely take the last summer before University to hang out with friends and take a vacation.

    • Actually, more like “you’re about to start 50 years of continuous school/work”, otherwise known as the rest of your working life. Yes, that’s the alternate view. I have met students who regretted that choice in hindsight.


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