Essentially, a ‘placement year’ is a year spent working whilst you are still studying for your degree.
In most instances, this will be part of a four year course, where the first two years will be spent studying (as in any conventional degree), but the third year will be spent working in the ‘real world’ before going back to university for your final year of study.
This is the most common form of placement and you may also hear it being referred to as an ‘industrial placement’ or a ‘sandwich year’. If you’re hungry for a taste of the working world of work before you finish studying, this may be the right option for you.
How long does a placement last?
It may come as no surprise that a placement year will generally last one year! Often running from around June/July/August time, it will normally kick off once you have finished your second year exams.
With this in mind, it’s important that you secure your placement early in the second year, so that you aren’t rushing around at the last minute during the exam period.
Most universities will offer you advice and assistance on finding a placement. This is certainly a resource that can prove integral in helping you to obtain the right placement!
Some people prefer not to do a placement for a whole year and there are other options available for those students. For instance, you can do a summer placement/internship between your second and third years of university, which would usually last about three months, from June to August. Although this option won’t give you the same extensive amount of experience, it can still give you a flavour of what working life entails.
Can you do an industry placement with any subject?
Placement years can be done with most courses at the majority of universities. Some universities will have courses that are specifically set up to cater for a placement year and it is these universities that usually offer extra guidance and assistance in finding a placement.
When you’re studying a course that involves international aspects (e.g. international studies or modern languages) there is often an option to study abroad. This can be appealing to many students!
Does it count towards your degree results?
Industrial placements will usually account for a certain amount towards your degree results; however, this entirely depends on the specific university and course.
Generally speaking though, it will represent 10-20% of the final mark. You will normally have to keep a log of your experiences and then write an essay at the end of the placement, highlighting what you have learnt and relating your experiences to your degree.
How much do you get paid? Do you also get your student loan?
Placements don’t usually offer great amounts of money compared to the salary you can earn once you’ve graduated. The location of your placement will also have a bearing on the amount (e.g. salaries in the North East will be less than in London).
On average, salaries will range somewhere between £10,000 and £15,000. However, you are also entitled to receive half of your usual student loan.
What are the positives?
Placements are a great way to gain valuable experience of working life. They can be a good way to start your career, because many students that do a good job on their placement year will be offered the chance to work for that company after graduating.
With the graduate employment market becoming increasingly competitive, placements can be instrumental in securing a job following graduation. They can give you an edge over other graduates that have no commercial experience.
Often, employers will be looking for candidates to provide work experience-based examples to back up their answers in interviews. This is obviously difficult for graduates who have no work experience at all!
Placement years also offer a break from studying, as well as the chance to earn some money on a full time basis. This means that you can have a bit of extra cash when you go back to university, so that you don’t have to live off Super Noodles for a while!
What are the negatives?
There can also be some down sides to placement years. For instance, it can be difficult for a lot of people to make the adjustment from a degree that involves 12 hours of lectures/seminars a week, to a full-on working week of 37 hours or more.
It’s not like university where you can simply have a lie in and miss your early morning lecture if you are feeling too lazy. You will have much more responsibility and you’ll have to get up early every morning.
Another common problem is that many of your uni mates will be studying three year courses and may have already graduated when you return from your placement and head into your final year.
Is it worth doing?
Despite the possible negatives, I would recommend that you take the chance to do a placement year if you are given the opportunity. The value it adds to your degree can be incredible! You’ll get some fantastic experience and you’ll make some valuable contacts. It can also be pretty fun!