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What is a sandwich course at university?

The term ‘sandwich course’ can evoke images of two thick slices of fresh sourdough slathered with butter and filled with creamy cheese and crisp salad leaves.

A university sandwich course is something very different — but potentially equally tempting.

Let’s look at the meaning of the term ‘sandwich course’ and explore what this type of course is before biting into the pros and cons.

What does sandwich course mean?

So, what is a sandwich course if not a delicious carb-fuelled lunch?

A sandwich course is a university degree option, also known as a sandwich degree, and it’s a study option at undergraduate and postgraduate levels that blends academia with real-world experience.

First introduced to universities in the 1950s, sandwich courses are available for many subjects and are especially popular for subjects like psychology, business, engineering, and design.

As a student, you’ll secure a placement related to your course. For example, a Sport Development student at Leeds Beckett University may secure temporary employment at The Football Association.

There are many universities and courses across the UK, so each sandwich course is different. Variables include length, when the placement takes place, if there will be one or more placements, and if your placement will be paid.

Some sandwich courses involve several periods of work experience but most feature just one for a year.

Differences between a full-time and sandwich course

Work placements and the length of your degree are the only differences between a regular full-time degree and a sandwich course.

Sandwich course electives

Under the sandwich course umbrella are thin and thick sandwich courses, so let’s explore those in more detail.

What is a thin sandwich course?

A thin sandwich course is an undergraduate degree course that includes two or more work placements.

Generally, this course type will take three years to complete, and internships are spread out over the second and third years of the degree.

A thin course is shorter than a thick one but is more intense as you’ll complete academic work while working full-time.

What is a thick sandwich course?

A thick sandwich course is a university course with one continuous placement, generally lasting a year.

The placement usually occurs during the third year of an undergraduate degree, with the course running over four years in total.

Completing a thick sandwich course takes longer than a thin one, but you’ll be under less pressure academically.

Master’s sandwich courses are usually ‘thick’ too, often lasting two years compared to one for a standard master’s degree.

The advantages of a sandwich course

A student on a work placement from university sat with his employer, discussing work while looking at a laptop together.
A student and work placement manager discussing work

Sandwich courses offer many advantages over standard university courses. Let’s take a closer look.

Enhance your employability

If you study a sandwich course, you’ll seriously enhance your employability upon graduation.

Most employers are searching for employees with an educational background in their sector, experience, and a wealth of transferable skills.

An employer’s desire for experience can be problematic for many graduates as you need the experience to gain experience. A sandwich degree is an excellent solution to this issue.

Completing your degree with extensive experience in the industry, you’ll stand out to all potential employers.

If you were to apply for a job with your placement company, they’d likely favour your application — as long as the placement went well.

If you applied for other internships or part-time jobs during the remainder of your studies, you’d be a more appealing candidate than others, too.

Network with professionals in your field of interest

As the saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know.

The valuable connections and mentorships arising from a sandwich course can help students achieve their career goals.

During work placement, you’ll build relationships with colleagues that can lead to future job opportunities — within that company and the sector.

Increase your confidence

Attending university can build an individual’s confidence, and becoming part of a team in a work environment can deliver an even more significant confidence boost.

What a great way to prepare for life after university.

Gain a deeper understanding of your chosen industry

Practical experience gained during placement can help students put theory into practice and better understand the real-world application of their studies.

Real-world experience can make academic work more engaging and relevant, resulting in a deeper understanding of the subject and industry.

A sandwich course helps students to get the most out of their time at university.

Enjoy financial benefits

Students are usually paid for placements (especially those organised by the university) and will receive a salary from their employer.

With accommodation and travel costs often included, a placement can leave students financially better off than they would have been on a standard degree course.

A salary during your placement year can offset tuition fees and living expenses incurred throughout the rest of the course.

Students completing their degree and searching for their first job post-university could earn a generous starting salary as they’d not be new to the industry.

Also, students who apply for a job where they undertook a placement are even more likely to be financially well-rewarded from day one.

Some sandwich course graduates skip entry-level roles and land higher positions immediately.

Explore career paths

A sandwich degree allows students to explore potential career paths, including those they may not have otherwise considered.

This enables students to make informed decisions about their career goals.

Thin sandwich courses are even more beneficial in this respect, as students will experience two or more workplaces within their target industry.

The disadvantages of a sandwich course

Sandwich degrees offer many opportunities, but there are a few disadvantages to consider when deciding which course to apply for.

Firstly, the application process for placements can be competitive —not every student will land their ideal placement.

However, if you’re willing to be flexible about location and the work, there are plenty of great placement opportunities available.

The workload can be demanding, too — especially on thin sandwich courses, as students must balance work responsibilities with academic assignments and exams.

Lastly, your placement is assessed, so you must ensure it goes well, even if you don’t enjoy one aspect of the job or clash with others at work.

How to apply for a sandwich course

You apply for a sandwich course in the same way you apply for any university course — through UCAS.

Sandwich courses and student finance

When considering a sandwich degree, you might be wondering about student finance. Eligibility varies between universities, but you’re usually entitled to receive your tuition fee and maintenance loans while on a placement year.

Can I do a placement without a sandwich course?

If you’re already a student and wondering if you’ve missed out because you didn’t know about sandwich course placements when you applied to university, don’t worry.

You can usually apply for a work placement even when your course doesn’t include one as standard. However, you won’t enjoy the same benefits as students on a sandwich course — you’ll have to organise your placement and may not receive a wage from your employer.

If you’d rather study for a regular full-time degree, you can find a summer job to gain experience and earn some cash.

Alternatively, why not spend the break learning more about the US culture and making new friends working at an American summer camp?

If you’re heading to one of the Leeds universities to study, we offer a great range of outstanding all-inclusive student accommodation

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