The ultimate guide to sandwich degrees for university students

Sandwich degree
The ins and outs of the sandwich degree. Source: Shutterstock

Today’s university graduates face a frustrating dilemma: two-thirds of entry-level jobs require several years’ experience. This leads to a chicken-and-egg question: how can graduates gain experience if employers won’t hire them?

Enter the sandwich degree. This alternate mode of study comes with a work placement that gives students professional (and often paid) experience, establishes a network of contacts in their industry, and even improves their social mobility.

Read on to find out what a sandwich degree is, how it can improve your employability, and things to consider when applying for a work placement.

What is a sandwich degree?

Sandwich degrees refer to courses that include a work placement. There are two main types of sandwich degrees: thick and thin. Thick sandwich courses come with placements up to a year long, while thin sandwich courses may only offer a six-month placement.

Sandwich degrees may take longer to complete compared to a full-time degree. Undergraduate sandwich courses can take up to four years, while postgraduate sandwich courses can take up to five years.

How do sandwich degrees work?

That depends on the university and the course. Most sandwich degrees require students to study on campus for the first two years before they’re allowed to apply for a work placement.

Typically, universities partner with local and global firms to provide students with valuable work experience. Students are usually assessed by the firm throughout the placement, and the assessment may or may not count toward the final degree result.

STEM subjects comprise most sandwich degrees, but select universities offer sandwich placements in the arts.

Support offerings vary depending on the university, but most placements allow students to access job boards to find a placement, as well as career services to help optimize their CVs and prepare for interviews. Placements may involve regular contact with teaching staff and even periodical visits to the workplace.

How can a sandwich degree improve your employability?

Perhaps the most valuable part of a sandwich course is the chance to earn professional experience in your industry before you graduate – but the benefits don’t stop there.

According to International Student Pathfinder: the Essential Guide to UK Universities and Careers, “Research shows favourable outcomes for graduates from sandwich courses as they have higher earning potential and are also more likely to be in sustained employment or further study.”

Students also have the opportunity to build their professional network and establish contacts in their sector.

The Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) Report found that out of the three main modes of study – part-time, full-time, and sandwich – sandwich degrees lead to the highest paying jobs.

Additionally, a recent study found that sandwich placements can improve social mobility:

“Prestigious and highly paid placements in elite professional firms are not filled by socially privileged upper-middle-class students but the academically ‘brightest’ students from a wide range of social and individual backgrounds.”

The summary of the findings acknowledged, however, that the onus is on students to choose a reputable university, work hard to achieve top grades, and take the initiative to enhance their CV writing and interview skills.

Which universities offer sandwich degrees?

The University of Sussex offers an array of sandwich degrees, both undergraduate and postgraduate. Courses with a professional placement include: 

  • Accounting and Finance 
  • Art History 
  • Automotive Engineering 
  • Computing for Digital Media
  • Economics

Browse the full list of sandwich degrees at the University of Sussex here.

The University of Wolverhampton offers a wide selection of placement opportunities in just about every subject, including Fine Arts. Students undertaking a sandwich course at the University of Wolverhampton pay reduced tuition fees during their placement year.

For health courses at Bournemouth University, work placements are mandatory, while all undergraduate students are given the opportunity to apply for a placement.

Things to consider when searching for a sandwich degree

Sandwich degree

Put theory into practice in a civil engineering placement. Source: Shutterstock

Here are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind while searching for a sandwich degree:

  • Availability. Some sandwich courses come with guaranteed placements, while others are highly competitive or allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. You may need to apply for your placement well in advance and attend an interview.
  • Paid or voluntary. While some sandwich degrees offer paid placements, others are more similar to unpaid internships.
  • Support. Most UK universities offer some level of careers support to students undertaking a work placement. Students who are required to apply for their placement directly through the employer can contact their campus career services for advice on the application process.
  • Eligibility for international students. Not all sandwich courses are open to international students, so be sure to check eligibility requirements before applying. 

Can I still earn work experience without a sandwich degree?

The short answer is yes, but you’ll need to be diligent. Search for internships available in your area and industry. Vacation work experiences are also a great way to earn experience outside of term. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with pursuing your studies alongside the application process, seek advice from your campus career services or your lecturers. Though it’s important to take initiative when seeking a placement, students aren’t alone in what can sometimes be a draining process.

Although sandwich degrees aren’t the most popular mode of study, they are perhaps one of the most valuable for today’s increasingly selective job market. Aside from the obvious benefits we’ve already mentioned, sandwich degrees can also help students definitively decide whether their chosen career path is truly a fit for their skills.

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