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You are here: Features » Is it the end of the world if a student doesn’t take a placement year?



Is it the end of the world if a student doesn’t take a placement year?

Published 29th Apr 2012


The placement year: one of the reasons why a lot of us chose Surrey as the university to spend the three/four years of our higher education at. A chance to gain work experience - for our CVs and our industry knowledge, a chance to form contacts and make ourselves that little bit more employable. Come second year, the panic sets in... Researching, organising, applying, cover letters, interviews – argh! And that one big fear – what if no-one wants me? What if I just don’t get one? Competition is high - in some industries, ridiculously high – and securing a placement is by no means guaranteed. But, is it really the end of the world if you don’t get one anyway? Or, even more so, if you choose not to apply for one?

Sure, a placement year can give you great opportunities, you can put what you’ve studied for the last two years into some practical use and some lucky students that do well on their placements can even end up coming out at the end of it with job offers. However, despite the recognition given to them, taking a placement year does have its flaws.

Money and living issues can be a problem; commuting is expensive, many placements do not pay and you may find you’re faced with having to move quite far out to be able to do the placement you ideally want. Although loans can be taken out for the year, this is still a loan. You will have to pay it back, on top of the other three years of university you will already have debt for. Adding an extra year onto your course does have its drawbacks!

As well as that, the stress of the application process seems to be reported by many second year students to take its toll. Some recruitment procedures include online tests and various interview stages, as well as the standard CV and tailored cover letter. Say you are doing that ten times, for each company you’re applying at? You can imagine it gets a little hectic. Applications can be very time-consuming and balancing your uni work with it can be tricky, so applying for a placement year is by no means the easy route.  Although going through the application process is obviously a valuable learning experience – one which we’ll sadly all have to do eventually - you can save yourself a lot of time and tedious effort if you do make an executive decision not to do one.

The most central issue with the placement year comes down to whether it will really be beneficial, for you. A head of department from Royal Holloway University, who doesn’t currently run placement years, says the main problem with them is suitability. The suitability of the placement depending on the course you do and what field you want to go into is crucial. For instance, he says that many of his psychology students are hoping to go into clinical psychology, but students are unable to secure placements in that setting for obvious reasons. Spending a year working for say, a bank, is not going to be highly beneficial. Therefore the cons of taking one far outweigh the pros.

Now I’m not at all condemning taking a placement year - far from that - but it is true that taking one isn’t for everyone. Focusing on extra-curricular activities and work in societies can be similarly beneficial to your CV and your employability. Using the extra time you have from not applying for a placement year - and then not working nine till five for a year – to get a little proactive, rather than just relaxing and doing your course, can make you stand out in the job market too.

Moreover, deciding not to do a placement year in third year doesn’t prevent you from doing any work experience by any means. In some industries, finding a YEAR placement is pretty impossible and they tend to run in weeks or months. Student holidays are pretty damn good - a month off just at Easter leaves quite a lot of opportunity to apply for a week or so at a company, making the most of the time already given to you. It also has less of the drawbacks of taking a whole year out for a placement and is a more financially viable option, as many current second and third students seem to have found.

So, overall, no - not doing a placement year isn’t the end of the world. For a lot of students it seems to be the smarter choice. But not doing one also doesn’t mean you can sit on your arse doing the bare minimum for another year, despite how oh-so-tempting it is...

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