Sandwich Year Placement
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.
Also known as a sandwich year, a sandwich placement is a validated work experience opportunity 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.
- Apply Your Skills in a Real-World Environment. Sandwich year placements offer hands-on experience, allowing you to put your newly acquired academic knowledge into practice in the working environment. This can be a valuable learning tool, particularly for those who learn better by doing.
- Enhance Your Learning. Spending time in the working environment in between your studies will allow you to apply context to your learning. This improved understanding could potentially help you achieve better results and, subsequently, a higher degree classification.
- Gain Insight into Your Chosen Career. While a study-based course will provide a theoretical understanding, sandwich courses offer a real taste of what your chosen career will entail. You’ll get to work on projects similar to those you will undertake as a graduate employee and have ample opportunity to discuss your future career path with colleagues during your placement.
- Learn Additional and Transferable Skills. Alongside increasing your knowledge of your chosen industry, sandwich placements will give you additional skills valuable to future employers, such as teamwork, communication and time management. Even if you decide to go in a different direction after graduation, these skills are transferable to any role in any industry.
- Cultural Experience. 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.
- Open Doors for Future Employment. Sandwich courses can give you a competitive edge in the graduate job market, helping you to demonstrate credible work experience alongside your degree. In addition, many students that undertake sandwich year placements are offered fast track opportunities to graduate schemes run by their placement employers.
- Networking. Sandwich courses are 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.
- Gain Examples for Future Interviews. More than just demonstrating experience on your CV, sandwich placements should provide you with multiple examples to draw from in response to competency-based questions at future interviews. These questions are often the most difficult to answer, especially if you have limited work experience. A placement can help you stand out from the crowd in a competitive job market.
- Explore Other Roles Within the Industry. You may find that the role taken during your placement is not for you and wish to look into other roles available in your chosen industry. It is better to discover this during your study than at a later stage in your career.
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.
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 year 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 company's graduate scheme after university, so show your commitment and enthusiasm by getting stuck in from the start.
As mentioned above, 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.
- Thick sandwich course – This involves a year-long placement undertaken with a single employer, usually completed before your final year of study. A thick sandwich course is normally part of a four-year degree, 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.
- Thin sandwich course – This involves two or more shorter placements with different employers that are taken throughout your degree programme. These will generally last between two to six months each. A thin sandwich course is normally part of a three-year degree.
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.
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.
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:
- You may be required to complete particular tasks throughout your placement, assessed by your employer if on a recognised placement scheme, or an appointed university assessor.
- You may be required to compile a report or to keep a reflective log of your placement, assessed by your designated placement officer.
- You may be asked to apply the knowledge gained from your placement to a course assignment, particularly if on a thin sandwich course where placements and study are interspersed.
- Your employer may be asked to assess your performance through feedback, or a written report submitted to your placement supervisor.
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 year 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.
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.
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.