What is a sandwich course?
Sandwich courses are degree programmes offered by universities that include a sandwich placement or industrial placement - a set period of time working in a related industry or studying abroad. Industrial placements are common on vocational-based degree subjects, such as business or marketing, while study-abroad placements commonly form part of language or humanities-based sandwich course degrees.
Why is it useful?
Sandwich courses are regarded favourably by employers and are useful for a range of reasons. First, they give you in-depth experience of the working world and, more specifically, the industry you hope to enter. By enabling you to put into practice the lessons you have learnt in the classroom, these courses help you develop your existing knowledge and gain new skills. This in turn makes you more attractive to future employers, who are placing increasing importance on the value of work experience when recruiting new graduates.
Sandwich courses are also an excellent way of making contacts within your chosen industry. Perform well during your placement, and these contacts may keep you in mind for future roles or recommend you to their own contacts, all of which can make it easier to secure a role after (or even before) you graduate.
In contrast, if you choose to study abroad, you will not only gain experience of another country and culture, you’ll also gain new or improved language skills. In addition, you will develop new attributes and capabilities including increased confidence, independence and cross-cultural communication skills, all of which are extremely attractive to future employers.
There are financial benefits too - many industry placements will pay a salary, and your tuition fees for that year will generally also be reduced. If you choose to study abroad, you will often receive a grant, which can help with the costs of day-to-day living and accommodation while away.
A sandwich course offers an array of benefits to you as a future jobseeker.
How does it work?
There are two kinds of sandwich course: thin and thick.
Thin sandwich course
Normally part of a three-year degree, a thin sandwich course is one where you study and undertake work experience throughout, for example with two six-month placements slotted around your study - one in year two, one in year three. Work placements will often be in the UK, or sometimes abroad.
Thick sandwich course
Typically part of a four-year degree, a thick sandwich course is one where you study full time for the first two years before undertaking a year-long work placement in year three. You will then return to university in your fourth and final year to complete your degree. If you choose to study abroad, you will spend the third year studying at a sister university, often through a study abroad scheme such as Erasmus.
Whether you decide on a thin or thick sandwich course, your university will often have links with different companies and may help you secure specific placements. Sometimes you will need to apply to employers directly with your university’s support.
Where can I find one?
Generally, when choosing a degree, the university prospectus or website will make it clear which courses are sandwich courses and what the options are in terms of work placements and opportunities to study abroad. Another great place to look is UCAS, where you’ll find all the information you need on undergraduate courses in the UK. If you are keen to find out more about a particular course, you can also contact the relevant university department or attend an open day to discuss the different options.
Is a sandwich course right for me?
A sandwich course offers the perfect combination of study and practical work experience. As a result, it could be ideal for you if you have chosen a vocational degree where hands-on practical experience is an important as in-depth theoretical knowledge.
In contrast, a year studying abroad is perfect if you’ve chosen a language-based degree and are keen to gain real experience of the country and culture in question. If you learn best through practice rather than theory, you’ll also find it makes it easier to develop your language skills, by giving you increased access to mother-tongue speakers and immersing you in the day-to-day life of the country.