Here's everything you need to know about your placement year

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

Whether you’ve just stumbled across the term and want to know more or you’ve already been considering options for your placement year, we’ll cover everything you need to know to help you make your final decision.

What is a placement year?

If you’ve completed an internship or some work experience during your time at school, then you’ve already got a bit of an idea of how your placement year will unfold.

An internship or work experience is designed to give you some exposure to your chosen industry, as well as some light training and responsibilities. However, a work placement is usually much longer in duration and will put you in the heart of a company’s day-to-day operations.

Enrolling onto a placement year will put you in a role that is very similar to a graduate-level job, where you’ll work similar hours and have the same duties as an entry-level worker. It’s designed to give you a broader range of experience and responsibilities which more closely align with your long-term career goals than typical work experience.

Another key difference is that these placements are usually “agreements” between your university/college and the host company where they agree to employ you for a year – while, with internships and work experience, you'll typically have to apply to a small number of competitive positions.

When should you do a placement year?

Placement years normally take place in your third year of study; after completing your second year, you work for an employer before returning to university for your final year. This means if you’re doing a three-year degree, it’ll stretch into four years – giving you three years of traditional study and an extra year working in industry.

Placements normally run from July through to September of the next academic year. However, the length can vary anywhere between nine and thirteen months.

If you’re considering taking up a placement year, then it’s important to remember that you’ll remain a student at your university while working in your placement. You’ll usually still have one core assignment to complete for the semester and you might be given progress reports to update throughout your placement, as well as a placement tutor.

How to find a placement year?

One of the first steps to securing your placement year is contacting your personal development tutor to investigate any possible placement opportunities available as part of your university course.

A lot of employers start advertising their vacancies during the autumn term, so it’s a good idea to start looking in your industry and the types of companies you’d like to work with in the summer – that way you’re fully prepared for when positions open up.

You can search for placement years in almost every industry, but they’re most common across the business, finance, and tech sectors. Companies like PwC, JP Morgan, and KPMG offer placements to several candidates each year who are in their penultimate year of study.

However, many small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also offer industrial placements to undergraduate students, so be sure to check out these opportunities too if you don’t want to wait until your second year.