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The Pros and Cons of Doing a Placement Year

The Pros and Cons of Doing a Placement Year main image

By Caitlin Pugh

Placement years are becoming increasingly commonplace, with more and more undergraduate courses offering an optional “sandwich” year spent working in industry. Placement years differ to traditional, shorter internships in that the extended duration allows students to take up a role within a business that carries real responsibility.

After the second year of my Physics with Astrophysics degree, I spent a year working in industry at a small renewable energy company in the north-east of England. Taking a year off studying was daunting, but I think it was more than worth the effort in the long run. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of placement years from someone who has been there.

Pro: Increase your employability

By far, the largest benefit of doing a placement year is your increased employability. It’s the main reason I chose to take the plunge. Most students will graduate with little to no work experience relevant to their degree, so having a full year of experience is guaranteed to propel you miles ahead of the competition.

Completing a year in industry provides you with the soft skills needed to be successful in the workplace, as well as more technical skills required by your chosen industry. Additionally, the fact that you took the initiative to complete an extra year demonstrates you’re career focused and think strategically about your future. This is the kind of commitment that future employers want to see from candidates.

Con: Missing out on another year with your uni friends

FOMO can set in when considering a year in industry. If your friends are staying at university to finish their degrees, you’ll worry about missing out on all the laughs of final year. Although, fear not, third year is unlikely to be filled with nights out and lazy hungover days watching Netflix on the sofa with your housemates, as dissertations really do take a toll on your social life.

While it’s true some of your friends may not be there when you return, others could stay and do masters courses or even end up doing a placement year as well. So, it’s unlikely you’ll be “Billy no-mates” in final year.

Pro: Gain direction for your future career

At the end of my second year at university, I still had no idea what I was going to do post-graduation. After working in solar energy for the year, I realized I was more interested in working elsewhere in the energy sector.

A year in industry is a terrific way to trial a career before jumping head-first into a permanent graduate job. The best case scenario is you find a sector you love and would like to pursue further and the worst case is that you decide that particular path isn’t for you. Even if that happens, you’ll still have gained a plethora of valuable, transferrable skills.

Con: Balancing applications with your studies

One of the cons of doing a placement year is trying to find one in the first place. The application process for bigger companies tends to have many stages and can span the course of months. When you reach the final stages, typically consisting of face-to-face interviews and assessment centers, this will involve travel and potentially missing lectures. Although this isn’t ideal, lecturers will usually be understanding and send you the content you will miss if you explain your situation.

When you begin to apply for graduate jobs, having already gone through similar application processes for your placement year, you’ll have a base of experience to draw from and will perform better because of it.

Pro: Develop your social and professional networks

In the workplace, you’re likely to make friends with people of all ages and life stages and by diversifying your social circles, you’ll gain useful insight into the lives of people different from yourself, which helps you become a more well-rounded person.

With regards to the growth of your professional network, there’s no knowing the future opportunities that might arise via the connections you make during your year in industry. Many companies offer graduate roles upon the successful completion of your placement year, and some will even cover your tuition fees for your final year.

Con: Some courses don’t officially offer a year in industry

For some, there’s the slight issue that a placement year isn’t offered as part of their course. If this applies to you, don’t assume that it’s not an option. Talk to your course leader and ask if a year in industry could be accommodated for. After all, it’s in the course leader’s interest for their students to become more employable.

Pro: Experience living in a different part of the country (or the world!)

For some, a placement year provides the chance to live in an entirely different part of the country, or even the world. There are plenty of opportunities at home and abroad, so go ahead and pair your year in industry with the opportunity to experience a different culture, or way of life.

I lived on the coast during my placement year and there is nothing I miss more than the beach life. Even in the winter, when the temperature dropped to Baltic levels, the views were still beautiful.

There are sacrifices that must be made to do a year in industry, one of them being a year of your life, but for the vast array of benefits that year will bring, I think it’s 100% worth the investment.

Lead image: Sam Valadi (Flickr)

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