Undergraduate placements: What are they and how do I find one? 🤔

Copied to clipboard

University can be a hectic time, juggling societies, multiple assignments, paying bills and trying to cook three edible meals a day.

So, when your friends ask if you’ve applied to any placement year jobs yet, a wave of panic sets across you and you think what even is a university placement year?

Here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know about placement years, from how to find the best ones, to the average placement year salary, to the many reasons why you should consider a university placement year.

What is a placement year?

Placement years, or ‘sandwich years’ are a year out of university, often in your third year, spent working in an industry relevant to your undergraduate degree.

Placement years are full-time employment and like regular employees, students get paid for their time working.

Various degree subjects offer the option to partake in a placement year, or it may be a compulsory requirement to complete a year in industry as part of your course. Undertaking a placement whilst at university can set you in good stead for finding a job once you leave university.


Why should I do a placement year?

If you’re undecided about whether to do a year in industry, here are some of the main benefits of undergraduate placements, along with further information on what they involve to help you decide if a year in industry is the right choice for you.

  • Helping your graduate job hunt and creating job opportunities

Finding a job after university can be tough – the competition is high and it’s hard to know how to make yourself stand out. Participating in a year in industry is a great way to gain valuable work experience, which can aid your graduate schemes UK applications.

If you need help with your graduate job search, from CV templates, to interview advice, Give a Grad a Go offer a personalised approach to aid you in every step of your application.

Often, undergraduate placements can lead to graduate job opportunities within the organisation you undertook your placement year in.

This is a great way to save time applying to graduate jobs and reduce the stress of final year.

  • Help with the transition into the working world

Work-life is totally different to university life. University placement years can help you figure out what type of workplace environment you enjoy working in and give you a chance to experience the routine of a normal working day.

With most work placement jobs, you’ll be working with people of all ages and levels of experience, this is a great way to boost your confidence and help you gain a solid understanding of what other people’s positions in the company involve.

You’ll most likely learn basic workplace etiquette such as the language to use in emails, and how to interact with clients and colleagues, learning how to navigate this is important in all graduate jobs.

  • Gain valuable transferable skills for future jobs

Year in industry placements can teach you a range of transferrable skills which are valuable for graduate careers.

Whatever placement year industry you work in, from business placements to finance placement years, you will be picking up valuable skills which are great to add to your graduate CV and can boost your job applications.

You’ll most likely be working within a specific department during your placement year, working within a team, and therefore you’ll be able to develop your teamwork and communication skills.

  • Useful interview practice

Applying for university placement year vacancies gives you the opportunity to practice your interview skills. You’ll most likely have an interview with the placement year companies you apply to as part of your application process, whilst this may be daunting and maybe your first formal interview, it’s a great way to gain interview experience before applying to graduate jobs.

  • Help decide what graduate career is right for you

There will most likely be aspects of your undergraduate work placement you really enjoyed, but there will also be aspects you didn’t enjoy as much.

Undertaking a placement year gives you a trial period to learn what you like and what you don’t, allowing you to have a better understanding of what you do want from a graduate career.

Perhaps you liked working in a small team and the flexible working hours, but you didn’t like the corporate structure. Your placement year is a great experience to help you to find the right job for you after you graduate.

What undergraduate work placement is right for me?

There are many placement year jobs available, and it can be overwhelming trying to find and apply to the right role.

Here are some things to consider when applying to undergraduate work placements, so you can find a placement year that is best suited to you.

  • Think about what graduate career path you’d like to follow

Whilst it can be hard trying to decide on what graduate career path you’d like to follow, being in your second year of university, it’s important to pick a placement job in a field that you might want to consider as a graduate career.

If, understandably you don’t know what exact role you’d like to pursue later in your career, try and pick a sector that you’re interested in, and will enjoy working in for a year.

Take Give a Grad a Go’s career test, to help you decide what graduate career you’d be best suited to!

  • Office location and costs of commuting

When applying to university placements, you want to apply to jobs in a location that you can easily travel to. Many graduates choose to work at organisations close to their university location, so they can still live with their friends in third year.

An easy commute can make a big difference to your day, and you want to weigh up the price of commuting versus living costs.

  • Is the placement year salary fair?

Remember these are placement jobs, not graduate jobs, so starting salaries will most likely be lower, so be prepared to manage your expectations.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paid well! Salaries will vary depending on where you are in the country and the type of firm you’re going to work for. Google similar placements salaries and compare – and think does that salary seem fair?

  • Size of the organisation

It’s important when applying to university placement jobs to decide what company culture you want to spend a year working in.

Whilst in many industries, having a big organisation on your CV is a real winner, for example if you’re looking at a finance placement year, getting a placement at one of the ‘Big 4’ firms is a great opportunity.

But consider the culture that you’d be happiest in.

Smaller firms can also provide opportunities to get more involved or see more of the business, so don’t write them off.

Visit Give a Grad a Go’s blog for some other great tips for how to research the employer, so you can decide if the company’s values and work are what you’re looking for.


Year in industry vacancies

Here are some great sites which list undergraduate placement jobs.

When searching these sites, don’t forget to filter by location to see roles near you and look out for placement length. Industry placements are usually 10 – 12 months long so avoid looking at the summer internships which are often only for two or three months.


Applying to placement year tips

Here are some top application tips to use when applying for university placement years, that can boost your application and help you secure your ideal year in industry position!

  • Tailor your CV and cover letter

It’s important to tailor your CV and cover letter to the position and company you’re applying for. While this may take a little bit of extra time, it’s essential to show an employer your skills and experience are a great match to what they’re looking for. Check out Give A Grad A Go’s blog for some top tips for how tailor your CV to every job application.

  • Prepare for your interview

Research the company and think about how your skills and experience are relevant to the values they look for. Looking at the company’s careers website is a great place to start for this sort of research.

You also want to think of some questions you’d like to ask your interviewer. Asking an employer questions shows you’re interested in the company and implies you’re thinking about what it would be like to work there. For some great example interview questions to ask the employer, check out Give A Grad A Go’s blog!

Placement years can seem daunting – they’re your first experience with the working world and it can be hard to find the time to apply, but they are a great year to learn more about an industry, gain valuable skills and help decide what graduate career is right for you.

Take every opportunity to learn from your colleagues and immerse yourself in this exciting year, you never know what may come from it!

Was this post useful?