What’s a sandwich degree and what’s it like to do one?

Malaika is a third-year student studying Psychology, who undertook a sandwich year and likes watching crime documentaries on Netflix.  

What is a sandwich year?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite involve eating sandwiches over the course of an entire year like the name suggests.

A sandwich year is when you spend the third year of your degree either studying abroad or undertaking a work placement for the year, then coming back to university for a fourth year to finish your degree.

It’s called this because your study abroad/placement is ‘sandwiched’ in between the second and final year of your degree.

“It’s a great opportunity to put your learning into practice in a working environment, develop good contacts in the industry and learn some new skills!”

Why I chose to do one

My main reason for choosing to go down this path was to improve my career prospects. I’m currently studying Psychology as my degree and want to pursue a career as a Clinical Psychologist, who assess and treat clients with a range of mental or physical health issues/disorders, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction etc.

Scientific model of a brain

This is a competitive career and you usually need a number of years of relevant work experience (for example, as an Assistant Psychologist in the NHS) to get onto the degree and become qualified.

Because of that, I saw a sandwich year as a great chance to start gaining work experience now whilst I’m still a student as it will help me later down the line when it comes to applying for jobs after graduating. Prospects is a great website which contains a lot of information about careers, skills and qualifications, if you’re interested!

Finding a placement

I knew I wanted a placement either in mental health or learning disabilities, but I was quite unsure about where to look for one, especially as placements within the NHS aren’t that easy to come by. A second option I had was to do work placement with a charity of some sort, such as Mind.

City’s school of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS) placements team were super helpful and would email us placement opportunities every month in different areas inside and outside of Psychology. Through this, I discovered an opportunity for a new Undergraduate placement programme at ‘Camden Learning Disabilities Service’ which is an NHS and social care service for adults with learning disabilities, which I was successful for!

Along the way, the SASS team were very supportive in providing guidance and answering any questions, as well as the university careers service who I went to for a CV check before applying and gave great feedback (they also offer mock interviews which is useful!)

My experience

I can safely say that doing a sandwich year was one of the best decisions I’ve made during my degree. Especially as I gained a lot of direct practical experience throughout, in addition to the more admin-y tasks, which was one of my main aims!

This included things like carrying out assessments (e.g. dementia screenings, autism assessments) and jointly carrying out interventions (e.g. around anger management or creating support plans). I also got the chance to carry out extra training, like becoming a certified ‘Youth Mental Health First Aider’, which is pretty cool!

Hands togetherI’ve also gained and developed really important skills, especially communication and teamwork skills by working with different members of the CLDS team and adapting resources to be LD-friendly, active listening skills, and also the ability to be decisive and make good judgements about how to best progress with client cases. I’ve also improved my organisational skills through making sure I was staying on top of different pieces of work and completing tasks on time.

A challenge

One thing I found slightly challenging when starting was actually applying my academic knowledge in a practical manner as this isn’t something necessarily taught at university.

However, as the placement progressed and I understood more about how the service works and with guidance from my team-members, I found it much easier to come up with ‘psychological formulations’ (i.e. possible explanations) for client’s problems and use different techniques and approaches.

Another thing I had to take into consideration was finances as this was an unpaid placement, although with a combination of part-time work and eventually getting travel reimbursement (which was my main expense), I was able to finance the year efficiently!

LightbulbOverall, it’s been a great experience for me to learn more about the career, develop useful skills and qualities, expand my ‘professional network’ and increase my knowledge, all of which will hopefully allow me to go back to university with a more focused and motivated mindset!

Learn about our students’ other work experiences:

Read more about Malaika’s university experience and why she went to university to study psychology.

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