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The advantages of a sandwich course

Today, in our Dear Headteacher series, we explore the inter-workings of courses that include periods of practical learning away from the university – commonly known as “sandwich” courses…

A sandwich course is a course that includes at least one period based in a placement, often in industry or commerce, away from the university: i.e. the placement(s) are the filling of the sandwich.

The thick sandwich

The most common type of sandwich course is the “thick sandwich”: i.e. one long placement, usually in Year 3.

For instance, many Modern Languages courses have the structure:

  • Year 1-2: university
  • Year 3: year abroad
  • Year 4: university

Note that the year abroad might be spent in a variety of ways:

  • teaching in a school
  • studying at a university
  • working in an industrial placement

The thin sandwich

There are also other types of sandwich courses on offer. Brunel University, for instance, pioneered the “thin sandwich”: i.e. two shorter periods in a placement, alternating with periods in the university.

Sandwich courses are offered in a large number of subjects including Business, Engineering, Finance, Psychology and Sport Studies.

Have you got the appetite for it?

Although courses with a sandwich element are usually one year longer as a result, there can be significant advantages to opting for this type of course:

  • financial – a salary is paid during periods of work
  • security of work during the period at university
  • a practical dimension is given to the academic side of the course
  • personal development, including acquisition of new skills through full-time work
  • insight into potential areas of employment: the opportunity to see a variety of areas within the same firm or in different firms
  • possibility of full-time employment with the placement company after graduation
  • a competitive edge in applying for graduate careers.

Not everyone is suited to such a course. Some might see the placement as an unwelcome interruption to full-time study. However, there are significant advantages to embarking on such a course, if your university subject is likely to lead to a career in a similar area.

In researching the placement element in these sort of courses, it is important to check the following:

  • the amount of assistance given by the university in finding a placement
  • the variety of placements available and the scope for students to choose
  • the amount of support given by the university while the student is in a placement
  • whether/how the student’s performance in the placement is assessed as part of the ultimate degree result.

Bearing in mind these criteria, as well as the academic component offered by the university – the bread of the sandwich – we’ve noticed that that the following universities offer some good sandwich courses in vocational subjects:

  • Aston
  • Bath
  • Bournemouth
  • Brunel
  • Harper Adams
  • Hertfordshire
  • Lancaster
  • Loughborough
  • Northumbria
  • Nottingham Trent
  • Oxford Brookes
  • Plymouth
  • Portsmouth
  • Surrey

Case studies

The following case studies of recent students indicate the value of such courses in securing employment.

Student A

  • Bath
  • International Management with Spanish
  • 2:1 degree

“I feel Bath’s IMML programme is excellent.  An academic programme will only get you so far, and the year in industry adds real world credibility to Bath’s graduates.” – International Banker – HSBC Canada

Student B

  • Bath
  • Physics
  • 2:1 degree

“My placement year with BAE Systems was a very important part of the degree. Bath Uni.’s Physics Dept. is very good at providing placements.” – started his own business one year after graduation, in in-car computer systems

Student C

  • Loughborough
  • Banking, Finance and Management
  • 2:1 degree

“My placement at Ernst & Young was extremely useful for putting theory into practice and learning a huge range of skills. I would highly recommend it.” – given full-time post by Ernst & Young on graduation; now with Credit Suisse

Student D

  • Plymouth
  • Civil and Coastal Engineering (MEng)

“My 12-month placement at Red 7Marine doing Marine Construction has been a great insight. Plymouth’s placement department actively advertised placements and gave advice.”

Student E

  • Sheffield Hallam
  • Computing: Networks & Communications
  • 2:1 degree

“I worked for Johnson & Johnson. I strongly recommend a sandwich course because it matures you further and gives you a lot extra for your CV. Employers increasingly want good work experience. A degree is no longer always enough.”
Look at the Rate My Placement website for further feedback from students who have undertaken sandwich placements.

Posted by Dear Headteacher on Fri, 10 Feb 2017

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UniBox's 'Dear Headteacher' series brings together a complete set of guidance articles created by the Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School, Philip Rogerson, based on his 20 years' experience of helping pupils get the university places they deserve. 'Dear Headteacher' is part call to arms, part hard-headed advice and all good practice. We hope that schools across the UK get some hugely valuable insights out of this 2-week series, especially in terms of supportive advice.

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