The University Sandwich Year, or 'Professional Placement'

By: Freddie Saunders, Student Voices writer

Usually the content I write on this site is very politically driven and I am always trying to derive a logical or rational argument based on my political beliefs, around a current affairs issue.

However, as a student from Cardiff University currently completing a Student Professional Placement (SPP) at General Electric Healthcare, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss the idea of a placement.

A large proportion of students who attend University face the choice whether or not to enrol on a year placement as part of their degree scheme or not, and I think it would be wise as someone who is currently completing one, the choices that you face ahead.

This article should be particularly useful to all the students who are about to enter their second year at University, and even the upcoming first year students who are about to begin their University journey, who want to think further ahead.

What is a Student Professional Placement?

A student professional placement is a unique year that a large amount of Universities are now offering within the United Kingdom. The student professional placement takes place after a student has graduated from their second year at University, and will then embark on a 9 – 12 month journey as a year-long intern within a company of your choice, in your chosen industry.

How difficult is it to obtain a Student Professional Placement?

Well this differs depending on the student applying. For example, I know some people that applied for one, and got their first one, I know others who applied for 25 and got one. My personal experience was, I applied for probably over 40 – using the mentality one of them will eventually say yes. Then ARM, GlaxoSmithKline, General Electric and a few other smaller organisations all offered me a placement at the same time and I was in a unique situation of turning down different organisations.

Is the Student Professional Placement year examinable?

This depends on the University. In some cases, yes, in other cases no. If we look at my University, Cardiff, our Student Professional Placements are assessed. My University assesses me at General Electric through two reflective reports and work-based performance, which at the end of the year will make up a total of 10% of my degree.

However, do note this is dependent on the educational institution you attend, as I know from fellow interns at General Electric, some do not need to complete any form of assessment, but just simply have to gain industry experience and not have to show any proof of progress within that year.

If your Student Professional Placement is assessed does it affect year weightings?

Yes. If you’re student professional placement is assessed it will affect your year weightings, examine the example below:

There are two students, one is called Bobby and Caroline. Bobby studies Computer Science and Caroline studies Psychology at University. Bobby is completing a student professional placement. Caroline is NOT completing a student professional placement.

Note this is dependent on University, but many Universities offer the student professional placement in the same or similar structure.

-           Year 1: 0%
-           Year 2: 20%
-           Year 3 (Student Professional Placement): 10%
-           Year 4: 70%
-           Year 1: 0%
-           Year 2: 30%
-           Year 3: 70%

As you can see from the example above, in most cases if you complete a Student Professional Placement, a 10% weight is removed from your second year and is shifted onto your Student Professional Placement year. Many will see this as an advantage, as you will receive more freedom to achieve that 10% on placement in a more unorthodox and practical way, in comparison to continuous exams and courseworks at University.

Is going on a Student Professional Placement worth it?

In my personal opinion, yes. A student professional placement takes a unique form within your University life, where you get a “year break” from the coursework, exams and assignments to embark on an early career journey, gaining experience in the industry and hopefully the role you are thinking about conducting when you graduate. It allows you to review and learn whether or not the industry or role you are thinking about is right for you in the future, and how in-fact, your degree subject operates in the “real world”, which many I believe will find is much different from the text books and lectures you attend. Not to say these are not important.

What advice would you give to someone considering embarking on a Student Professional Placement in the future?

It is a stressful, tiring and difficult process to apply for a countless number of professional placements. But it is a rewarding process when you are finally offered one, especially if it is in a role you have been banking on and an organisation you are strongly interested in, maybe for a graduate position.

I would recommend any student trying to embark on a student professional placement to be ready for “failure”, I hate that word, but many will use it for what I am about to talk about. You are going to face a significant amount of rejections from organisations, because they think you are not good enough, or not the right fit, and many times it will be a rejection due to an online reasoning and psychometric test, which in my opinion decide nothing in terms of your core value.

Be prepared to dedicate a number of hours, tailoring and editing applications depending on the organisation, and really showing them what you are about, what your core strengths are, how passionate and ambitious you are to get started in the world of work.

Be open minded. Yes, everyone is going to gun for them large organisations, or multi-national conglomerates, but do not be afraid or feel like you are wasting your time by applying for an SME (Small-Medium Entreprise). Everyone has a unique journey, and if yours starts at an SME or a massive organisation, either way it makes no difference, you are learning, growing and you make what you get out of your student professional placement. You, no one or nothing else. So, apply everywhere and do not be afraid to apply for massive organisations, but do not be too hasty in rejecting the time to apply for SMEs as well.

Prepare yourself educationally and voluntarily. Everyone comes out of University with a score for their degree scheme (the higher the better), but not every student volunteers and grows their skills in personal development off their own backs. Everyone can stand out; you need to work out how you are going to do that. Organisations do not look for students who already know how to do the job they are about to go into based on a degree mark, but instead are trying to identify talent in students which have the correct behavioural skills, attitude and motivation – young professionals who they can mould and grow in a year. At the end of the day, they want to invest in you, because you could be their next big hot shot, which drives their company in the distant future.

If you want any advice, or have any questions, feel free to chuck them at the end of the article in the comments section, or email me at:
The University Sandwich Year, or 'Professional Placement' The University Sandwich Year, or 'Professional Placement' Reviewed by Student Voices on 21:43 Rating: 5

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