What is a Placement Year? [and how to find one]

Dec 8, 2019

Have you been considering a year in industry or “sandwich year” as part of your degree? 

Whether you have heard of them and want to know more or you are already considering one, we will cover all you need to know in this article. 

So, what is a placement year? 

If you did work experience at secondary school or an internship while studying, either of these will give you some sense of the experience of a placement year.

During an internship or work experience, you are likely to be given some training and a taste of the working life of an industry. However, a work placement puts you in the heart of a company’s workings with a greater amount of responsibility.

If you choose to undertake a placement year you will be placed in a role that is very similar to a graduate-level job and will work similar hours to those you would expect in one. 

While you will likely have to apply for internships and positions are often competitive, a placement year is an agreement with a company to employ you for a year.

When do I do a placement year?

Placement years normally take place in your third year, often meaning three-year courses are extended to four years. 

After completing your second year, you work for an employer before returning to university for your final year of study. 

This means they normally run from July through to September of the next academic year as term starts again. However, the length can vary between nine and thirteen months.

You should also know that you remain a student at your university during your placement. You will generally be given one core assignment and progress reports to complete and normally have a placement tutor for these.

What are graduate employers looking for?

A recent study found that almost two-thirds of employers said that when reviewing applications, having experience is the most important asset for a candidate.

On top of this, the same study found that more than two-thirds of employers think candidates put too much emphasis on qualifications and not enough on experience.

Despite this, a large proportion of graduates will leave university with either limited experience of the world of work or no experience relevant to their degree.

Graduate employers are looking for evidence of key employability skills such as communication, teamwork, the ability to use initiative and more. Completing a placement year can help you to develop these skills.

Why might you want to do a placement as part of your course?

In light of research on recruiters’ views, doing a placement year means you will leave university with an automatic headstart on many other graduates. 

If you are still unsure about which job might suit you, a placement year can give you the chance to see up close whether you would enjoy the career path you are considering.

Another benefit is the ability to earn while you learn. You can expect to pay half your normal tuition fees for your placement year, although some universities don’t charge students on placement any fees. You can expect to be paid between £12,000 and £18,000. The average pay will vary based on the sector you work in. 

Additionally, many companies offer graduates positions on successfully completing their placement and may even offer to cover tuition fees for your final year.

The responsibility involved in the real risk and reward of employment can also be an exciting change from hypothetically discussing ideas and theories in a seminar or lecture hall. 

Placement years can also give an opportunity to spend a year abroad, learning about a different culture. For language students, in particular, this can help to develop skills they have been building at university.

How to organise a year in industry

One of the first steps to a year in industry should be contacting your tutor to look into any possible course requirements for placement opportunities.

When to apply for placement year opportunities

A lot of employers will start advertising their vacancies in the autumn term so it is a good idea to look around early in the year. 

Large graduate recruiters in particular tend to start recruitment early and it is worth checking deadlines if you have your heart set on a specific company. 

However, some employers will advertise placement opportunities until the end of September so you may still be able to do one if you decide to later in the year.

Some courses may also include a placement in which the organisation is allocated to you automatically. 

How to find a placement year opportunity

Many large corporations offer placement year opportunities to candidates who are in their penultimate year of study. 

Some examples include: JP Morgan, Unilever, PwC and more. 

Websites to help you to find a placement

Many SMEs also offer industrial placement programmes for undergraduate students, so do not dismiss these opportunities. 

Some undergraduate students decide to undertake a placement year abroad. An international placement will give you both valuable work experience and the opportunity to live in another country. 

Here are some websites to help you to find a placement year abroad:

Finding a placement year opportunity can be difficult. When looking for a placement, conduct research online and remember to use your network. 

Tip: follow the companies you are interested in on social media as they may advertise placement opportunities there. 

The application process for placement programmes 

Applying for a placement is quite similar to applying for a graduate scheme or a graduate job. The exact process will vary depending on the company but in general, you will need to:

  • Fill out an online application
  • Complete online tests 
  • Submit a video interview or complete a telephone interview
  • Attend an assessment centre or final stage interview

The process can be quite time-consuming. Aim to send off fewer high-quality applications rather than lots of low-quality ones.  

Tip: Be sure to tailor every placement application to the company that you are applying for. 

Building valuable employability skills 

While many of the skills graduate recruiters look for can be developed in your time at university, a year in industry can provide a useful chance to build these. Your placement experience will give you high-quality examples to use when making graduate scheme applications.

Skills you can develop include:

  • Successfully organising and working in a team
  • Giving clear and well-researched presentations
  • Project management
  • Negotiating with colleagues and clients 
  • Demonstrating efficient organisation

These skills are all part of your time at university.  However, honing them in the world of work will give a helping hand when the time comes to write covering letters and fill in job applications.

Check out our post on the most important skills for finding a job

Boosting employability

A year in industry will also give you a useful experience of interview processes and assessment centres for when you reach your final year. 

Application processes can take place over the course of months and require travel meaning you may miss some lectures. You should weigh this up in your decision but know that tutors will often be able to provide work to catch up.

You will also leave university with a further qualification, helping to boost your employability

Your supervisor for your placement could also act as a useful reference for job applications in the future. 

If you are particularly worried about getting a graduate job after university, completing a placement year will help you to discover your career path. 

Finally, a year in industry can also give an obvious boost to your network of contacts in industries you may want to work in.

Take a look at our post looking at whether your university is doing enough to help your job prospects

Overcoming possible issues 

You should know that some courses will not offer a placement year. However, discussing this with your course leader may be worth your time, as it is their goal for you to graduate with the best possible prospects. 

Some courses which have recently started to offer a year of practical training include:

  • Business Studies
  • Marketing
  • Pharmacology
  • Music

You may also wish to weigh up the experience of returning to university after some of your coursemates have graduated. 

This is worth thinking about but also know that with more and more university students going on to Master’s and other postgrad courses, it may be less of an issue than in the past.  

What is a placement: Summary

We hope you enjoyed this post on placement years! We strongly advise you to consider doing a placement year as part of your degree. The experience will significantly enhance your employability and help you to get a graduate-level job. 

What should you do once you find a placement? 

Once you’ve secured a placement, it is really important that you inform your university as soon as possible. 

They will guide you through the next steps. 

FAQs 

Here are some frequently asked questions related to placement years 

Are placement years worth it? 

If you are considering completing a placement as a part of your degree, you are probably wondering if it will be worth it. Whilst doing a placement year will mean that you will graduate a year later, there are many benefits to doing one. Perhaps the most significant benefit is the impact that it will have on your employability.  

Doing a placement year as part of your degree will also help you to get the most out of your time at university! Many people consider placement years to be worth it for that reason.  

Do you still get a student loan on a placement year? 

It is best to check with your university to see if you will be required to pay tuition fees during your placement year. You may be able to receive a maintenance loan or grant. 

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