Updated 23 May 2020
A sandwich placement is a validated work experience opportunity that forms part of a university degree programme known as a sandwich course.
Sandwich placements are usually taken in the penultimate year of a four-year degree. This is known as a thick sandwich course, with two years of study taken before the placement and a final year of study after.
Students can also take a thin sandwich course, where shorter placements are taken at intervals across a three-year degree programme.
While sandwich courses are most commonly associated with business-related subjects, they are also available across a range of additional disciplines including law, finance, engineering, psychology, sports science and foreign language studies.
The placement aspect is designed to offer students useful insights for their academic study and prepare them for the job market once their course has finished.
Sandwich placements can provide many benefits for university students, both during their study and after graduation.
Competition for quality sandwich placements can be fierce, so it’s important to start the process early.
Many universities that offer sandwich courses will work with several employers and, in some instances, your placement may be automatically assigned. If this is not the case, you will need to do your research to find a placement that best supports your career goals.
Here are some tips to help you with your search:
Start with your university's career service or designated placement officer, if you have one.
They will be able to help you search for relevant employers in their existing database and offer guidance on available vacancies. As there are relationships already in place here, the careers department should also be able to walk you through and help with the application process.
Some universities hold careers fairs and exhibitions that will allow you to meet potential employers face to face. Be sure to attend as many of these as you can as they are a great way to make a good impression and help your application stand out from the crowd.
If you are unable to find a suitable placement through your university, you’ll need to widen your search.
Consider any existing contacts you may have – friends, family or past employers – and whether they may be able to help you find a relevant placement.
Alternatively, you may already have a list of companies that you would like to work for. Many of the UK’s top employers do offer sandwich year placements (or shorter internships for students on a thin sandwich course) but, again, competition for these is exceptionally high so it’s important to not pin all your hopes on one company.
The application process for these placements often consists of several steps and can include online applications, psychometric testing, virtual and face-to-face interviews. Recruitment is usually done on a first-come first-serve basis, so start the process early to stand the best chance of success.
You may also send speculative applications should your chosen company not have a sandwich placement scheme. In these cases, it’s best to contact the company first, preferably by phone, to see if they would be open to the idea and, if so, how they would like you to apply.
As sandwich placements form an assessed part of your university degree, they will need to meet certain criteria. If arranging your own placement, check with your careers department first to ensure that it complies with your course requirements.
Your sandwich placement applications should be professional and tailored to each opportunity. Ensure your CV is up to date and highlights the key skills relevant to the role.
If you are required to submit a cover letter, don’t use a generic template. Do some research on the company and the role they are offering and use your cover letter to explain what makes you suitable for the role, what it is about the company that appeals to you, and how you can make a valuable contribution.
If you are applying for a sandwich placement with a top UK employer, familiarise yourself with their application process and practice for any specific tests and interviews required. WikiJob covers the application process for many of the UK’s key employers, so do your research.
Also, be sure to make the most of your university careers service, regardless of whether you have found your placement opportunity through them or your own search. They are there to help you successfully secure a placement and their experience is a valuable tool.
Sandwich placements are designed to give you real insight and experience in your chosen career field. When undertaking a placement, you’ll be seen as an employee of the company and will be expected to act as such.
The specific work assigned will vary depending on the industry in question but, as a general rule, you’ll be working on real-life projects as part of a wider team, gaining valuable hands-on experience and putting your academic knowledge into practice.
Most sandwich placements will start with an induction period, as would any long term position. You’ll learn more about the company, meet your colleagues and be given an overview of what your placement will involve.
In these early stages, you’ll likely be given some administrative tasks to help you find your feet and settle in.
As you progress, you’ll become more involved in the sort of tasks you would be expected to work on as a graduate employee. You may be invited to shadow an experienced colleague or be assigned a dedicated mentor to help you get the most from your time.
Ultimately, a sandwich placement is a job, albeit a short term one, and you should expect to be treated (and act) as any other employee.
Remember that many students that undertake sandwich year placements progress onto the companies graduate scheme after university, so show your commitment and enthusiasm by getting stuck in from the start.
There are two types of sandwich courses available, generally identified as either thick or thin. The duration of your placement (and how many placements you undertake) will depend on whether you study a thick sandwich course or a thin sandwich course.
When choosing your sandwich course, consider whether your learning style is better suited to long periods of study and one long placement or if you would prefer shorter placements interspersed with classroom-based learning.
Whilst it is not a legal requirement, as a general rule, employers do provide students on sandwich year placements with a fair salary. These vary depending on industry, location and company and can range from £11,000 to £25,000, with average salaries standing around £18,000.
In addition to a salary, UK students may also be entitled to reduced rate maintenance loans during a sandwich placement. These are based on your circumstances, not your income, and will vary based on whether you are living with your parents or away from home.
For example, students who are required to live in London for the duration of their placement will be eligible for higher maintenance loans to account for the increased cost of living.
As sandwich placements form part of your university degree, you will be required to pay tuition fees throughout, however, these will be subject to a significant reduction.
Placement year students usually pay around 20% of the standard annual tuition fees, though this does vary across universities so be sure to check what fees you’ll be liable for before you apply for your course.
Placements are a compulsory component of sandwich courses and are therefore subject to official assessment. Methods of assessment vary and will depend on the type of placement undertaken and the university with which you take your course:
Whichever assessment method applies to your placement, be sure to take full advantage of all development opportunities.
After all, your sandwich placement is not just a compulsory part of your course. It is an opportunity to explore your chosen career and to boost your employment prospects after graduation.
Sandwich placements can form a valuable part of a university degree, particularly in subjects where theoretical understanding is best acquired through practical experience.
They offer hands-on experience in the working environment, provide students with transferable skills valuable to employers, enhance learning and give insight into the workings of a particular industry.
While sandwich placements often add a year to university programmes, they provide graduates with a solid foundation for future employment and give them an edge in a competitive job market.
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