7 September 2023

Sandwich Courses Explained

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What is a sandwich course?

A sandwich course, or sandwich year, is another way of describing a student placement. Placements are year-long programmes where you’ll take a year out of your degree to work in industry. You’ll work full-time and get paid like any other regular employee.

There are quite a few different names for placements, including industrial placement or a year in industry.

However, doing a sandwich course as part of your degree will make it easier to get a grad job. 47% of students hired by RateMyPlacement’s Best Student Employers in graduate roles had completed a placement year or internship.

It’s because placement students get 12 months of professional work experience, picking up all the technical skills and experience on the job.

Thick and thin sandwich courses

If you’re considering applying for a sandwich course, you might hear the terms ‘thick’ or ‘thin’ placements come into conversation. Again, there is sadly no relation to thick or thin sandwiches – there is no bread involved at all.

Thick placements refer to schemes that last an entire year. Thin sandwich years are shorter – they last anywhere between two to six months. 

Students who apply for thin sandwich courses usually do multiple schemes across the academic year. It’s a good idea if you want to get experience at more than one company.

Note that this language (thick and thin placements) is outdated. But some universities still use the terminology to describe different length schemes.

Do you pay tuition fees for a sandwich year?

Placement students are required to pay tuition fees. However, the fees are heavily reduced. Students pay around 20% of the £9,250 that regular students pay.

The figures can differ from university to university. If you’re considering doing a sandwich course, it’s best to check with your university’s careers or placement services. Or just do some quick Googling; all the relevant information should be on the university’s website.

Why do students pay tuition fees on their placement year?

You might ask, why do placement students have to pay tuition fees at all? After all, they’re not technically at university. Reduced fees are applicable because candidates still have access to university facilities and resources (like the library and the gym). 

The fees also cover the costs of visits from university placement supervisors.

Do you get paid for a sandwich year?

Yes, is the short answer. Placement students are paid a salary for their troubles during a sandwich course, just like any other ordinary employee would be paid. They are also entitled to holidays and other work benefits. 

Average placement year salary

The average salary for a work placement in the UK is £21,847. That’s based on reviews submitted by current and former placement students. Salary will differ from scheme to scheme. It all depends on the company you work for and where they are located.

For example, if you were working in London, you would probably be paid more than a student working in Scunthorpe. It’s because the cost of living in the capital is much higher than other regions in the UK.

sandwich course

Do you get student finance for a sandwich year?

Sandwich course students are entitled to student finance. 

However, this is where it gets a little complicated because your entitlements are optional and depend on your circumstances. Let’s break it down…

Tuition fees

Because placement students have to pay tuition fees (at a reduced rate), they can get a loan from student finance to cover the amount needed for those fees. 

Contact your student finance provider for more detailed information about the funds you are entitled to.

Maintenance loans

UK-based students can apply for a reduced rate maintenance loan paid in three instalments. The amount you’ll receive is not based on income (like maintenance loans for regular students), but on your living situation.

It depends whether you are…

  • Living at home with your parents
  • Living in London
  • Living elsewhere

If you live at home with your parents during your sandwich course, you will likely get a smaller loan. But will get significantly more living away from home and renting in London.

Unpaid placements

You might be able to get your full maintenance loan if your sandwich placement is unpaid in one of the following sectors…

  • Service in a hospital or public health laboratory or with a clinical commissioning group in the UK
  • Working for the government
  • Service in the prison or probation after-service in the UK

Do all universities offer sandwich placements?

Unfortunately, not all universities offer sandwich courses. And even if your university does offer the opportunity to do a placement, your particular area of study might not. Check with your university and faculty to see what options are available.

However, you do have the option of doing a summer internship instead. They are available to all students because they take place during the summer, during university downtime.

Internships can last anywhere between four weeks to three months, and there are schemes in almost every sector.

Why should you do a sandwich course?

So that’s sandwich courses explained. Hopefully, you’ve got a much better idea of how they work. You might still be wondering, why do a placement? Now that you know there are no actual sandwiches involved, are there other benefits?

Yes, there are…

  • Improve your graduate prospects. As mentioned above, placement students have a much better chance of securing a graduate job than students without experience.
  • Test-drive a career. Doing a sandwich course is a smart way of finding out if a company or particular job role is suitable for you.
  • Develop new skills. After 12 months in the front lines of the workplace, you’ll pick up a range of soft skills that you wouldn’t develop at university. University work tends to be individual-centric, quite unlike the work you’ll do once you graduate. This is an opportunity to develop those all-important skills you need to thrive in the workplace.

We’ve also put together this very useful placement pros and cons list to help you decide.