University often conjures images of the ultimate academic experience. From lecture halls to libraries and the experience of the professors. While this is obviously true for some universities, especially the most prestigious, your university experience can be shaped by more than just academics. This may come in the form of student societies or your university social life, but it can also be done through building your employability outside of being a student. To do this, some university courses offer placement years.
In short, a placement year at university is a work experience opportunity that you can do as almost a break from your typical university studies. These placements can last up to an entire academic year at university, but they can also be much shorter depending on what the university course offers. If taken for an entire academic year, placement years are generally done as “sandwich years”, meaning that they are done in the middle of your studies, which is usually your third year.
Continue reading to find out more about university placement years, including if you can get paid for them. If you want to take a placement year, it is a good idea to read this article to find out how they can benefit you.
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What is a university placement year?
If you’re thinking about going to university or even if you are already, you may have heard of a university placement year. As this type of thing is often talked about unless you know what to look for, you may be wondering what it actually means.
Simply put, a university placement year is a period of time when a university student will carry out work experience. This is often a year but read the following section to learn more about how long they can last. As it is done by university students, it is typically done during term time and may act as a sort of module that students are doing in that term or year, or it may take up the entire period.
For more information about university placement years, check out this guide by Prospects.
How long is a university placement year?
While the term placement year may cause you to assume that a university placement year will last the whole 365 days, this isn’t particularly the case. This is for several reasons that I will breakdown for you now.
To begin with, when referring to a year in any form of education in the UK, this will probably mean a school or academic year. Universities also follow this type of year. Meaning that the university year will probably start at some point in either September or October and then finish in either June or July depending on what specific dates the university has chosen.
This means that the university placement will probably take place for some period within this university year or even throughout the whole of it. For more information about academic years, check out this definition from Merriam Webster.
If the university placement does last the entirety of the academic year, it will typically be undertaken as part of a sandwich year. A sandwich year refers to a part of a degree where students may carry out a work placement or year abroad within it. It is called a sandwich year because it occurs in the middle of your university studies. This is usually in your third year.
In this typical set up, after your “sandwich year” you will return to university for your fourth and final year. For more information about sandwich years, check out this guide by University Compare.
While you may take an entire year to do your placement, some universities still refer to shorter placement periods as placement years. For example, at Sheffield Hallam University, undergraduate students will need to undertake at least 24 weeks on a placement by the end of their degrees.
Please note that while this is not the same for all universities, each university will have their own guidelines for placement years, which you can learn more about in this guide by Prospects.
To learn more about placements at Sheffield Hallam University, checkout their guide here.
Do you get paid for a university placement?
University placement years can last up to an entire academic year, so it makes sense for you to want to make some money out of it. However, you may also be questioning if this is even possible or even about how much you can make from a university placement.
As university placement years are taken as a part of your higher education course, they make up a required part of that course. This means that legally, you don’t qualify for minimum wage. In turn this means that you don’t have to be paid.
On top of this, if you take on a voluntary position, the role is as the name suggests and you won’t need to be paid for this either. For more information about your entitlement to minimum wage while doing work experience, check out this governmental guide.
However, if you are looking to make some cash while on your placement year, there’s still hope. Many employers on placement years do pay pretty decent salaries that can easily be between £11,000 and £25,000 per year. For more about these figures, check out this Think Student article. According to this page on Glassdoor, the average salary on a placement year is £18,852.
Is a placement year at university worth it?
While universities placement years can be a great idea, they aren’t for everyone. There’s the stress of managing your job applications with your ongoing studies before you can even begin your placement. As well as the issue of actually being at the company and having to work in a way that you may not have done so before. This can be hard and you may even find that you don’t enjoy it. If you want to learn more about the drawbacks of taking a placement year at university, check out this article from Rate My Placement.
Despite all of this, university placements can be incredibly worthwhile. This is for several reasons, especially as it can improve your employability and skills that can be useful later in life. To learn more about these reasons, check out the following headings.
University placement years can help to build up your job applications
In the UK, surveys found that the average number of applicants per graduate position was 91 in the UK. To learn more about this staggering statistic, check out this article from Sky News.
To put it into perspective, this means that if you were to apply for a graduate job after you’d recently graduated yourself, you would be pitted against about 90 other recently graduated students. While this is only an average, it still means that there is vast competition, especially if you want to get your first pick.
In order to do this, you will need to stand out. Having gotten the work experience from your work placement, you will instantly have one practical part of your application that will make your job application stand out from many others.
To get the best results from this, it would be a good idea to try and get a work placement as directly as possible in the career field that you are interested in. This will ensure that the work experience you get will help to develop your specific skills in that career field. However, if not, having experienced a work environment should have helped you to begin developing soft, transferable skills that will help you in any job you get.
University placement years can help to develop your transferable skills
Soft skills or transferable skills are non-specific skills that are necessary in almost every job field. Due to being so essential, employers actively look for job applicants with specific transferable skills that will help them to fit in with the company and its values.
As soft skills are picked up through life experience and can often be developed when you step out of your comfort zone, taking a work placement should give these a boost. One reason for this is due to being exposed to an actual work environment and seeing how different people use soft skills, especially such as communication or problem solving, to better do their jobs.
Also, at a work placement you will need to find your own place as you will also be an employee. This means that you will also need to use the same soft skills as everyone else to be able to do your job effectively.
The top 5 soft skills that employers are looking for are communication, leadership and management, positivity, flexibility and problem solving. While the idea of work placements is to gain experience, you can also use them to develop such transferable skills.
You should also make sure to note them down on your job applications and explain how your work placement or any other experience you have has helped you to achieve or develop these skills. To learn more about soft skills, check out this article by the National Careers Service.
University placement years help you to enter the “world of work”
Doing a work placement can be great for a wide variety of reasons. Not only can they give you necessary work experience and help you to develop the necessary soft skills to survive in a workplace environment, but they can also help you to get used to the job area that you are interested in.
This is especially as even if you have already had a part-time job, it is likely that this was in retail or the hospitality industry. While these are perfectly valid jobs, they also have very different structures to graduate jobs, which typically follow the 9 to 5 work pattern.
Also, if you have a more specialised career path then this experience will be necessary for you to properly understand how the job works as you are unlikely to have had an opportunity before. Due to getting this experience before even finishing your degree, you will know exactly what to expect when it actually comes to getting your first graduate job.
This can help to set you up for success as it will help you to feel more relaxed and hopefully help you to settle in more quickly. For even more benefits of taking a placement year at university, like this one, check out this guide by UCAS.
University placement years can help to pay for your student life
In 2022, the average cost of living for students was £187 per week or £810 per month. As universities tend to have 3 terms that each last 12 weeks, the average student will spend about 36 weeks per year at university. This means that on average, students will end up spending at least £6,732 in the 2021-2022 academic year just on their living expenses during term time.
This could be even more depending on what university you go to and how you like to spend. For more information about the average living costs for 2022, check out this article by Save The Student.
For more on university terms, check out this Think Student article.
This is quite a lot of money, and your maintenance loan may not even be able to cover all of it. A maintenance loan is money provided by the government to help with your living costs at university. For more about this, check out this article by Save The Student.
Due to this, you may have to get a part-time job while at university and parents are often expected to chip in. In fact, over the standard 3 years, parents are expected to pay around £5,000 towards their child’s livelihoods at university. For more on this, check out this Think Student article.
As mentioned above, while working on your placement year, you may be able to make a decent amount of money. You could easily put this at least partially towards your living expenses that aren’t covered by your maintenance loan for the remaining year you have of your studies.
This would especially be a good idea if you like to splurge a little on nights out or simply to cover your rent. If you would like to learn how to budget as a university student, check out this great Think Student article.