Sandwich Courses Explained

What is a sandwich course?

A sandwich course or sandwich year is another way of describing a placement. Placements are year-long programmes in which a student takes a year out of their degree to work in industry. They work on a full-time basis and get paid like any other regular employee.

The word ‘sandwich’ is used to describe placements because they are sandwiched in between the penultimate and final year.

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

On first hearing about one, it sounds like the first round of an afternoon tea or BLT-making lessons. Sadly, the word sandwich in ‘sandwich year’ has little to do with the actual food.

sandwich courses

However, doing a sandwich course as part of your degree will make it easier for you to get a grad job. 47% of students that were hired by RateMyPlacement’s Top 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 are considering applying for sandwich degrees, 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 a full year. Thin sandwich courses 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Note that this language (thick and thin placements) is a little outdated.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 are 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. 

You might ask, why do placement students have to pay tuition fees at all? After all, they’re not technically at university. Because candidates still have access to university facilities and resources (like the library and the gym), reduced fees are applicable. 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 normal employee would be paid. They are also entitled to holidays and other work benefits. 

The average salary for a work placement in the UK is £18,670. 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.

If you were working in London, for example, 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.

Click to find out what you could earn on a paid placement.
sandwich course salary

Do you get student finance for a sandwich year?

Sandwich course students are entitled to student finance. But this is where it gets a little bit 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 that is 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

You’re likely to get a smaller loan if you are living at home with your parents during your sandwich course, but significantly more living out and renting in London. 

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. (See good stat in the introduction.)
  • Test-drive a career. Doing a sandwich course is a shrewd way of finding out if a company or particular job role is right 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, and quite unlike the sort of work you’ll do once you graduate. This is an opportunity to develop those all-important skills you need to thrive in the workplace.