When I explain to people that I’m on a placement year, they often struggle to understand why I am taking a year out of my degree to work 900 unpaid hours. It is a big commitment, and, as I took a year out after sixth form too, will mean that I won’t graduate until I’m 23.
Doing a placement year isn’t for everyone, and I know lots of people who wanted to just get their studying out of the way and graduate as soon as possible. However; there are lots of benefits to doing a placement, too, and for me the sheer amount of experience I have received has made it a worthwhile investment of my time.
I thought it might be useful to make a blog post giving a balanced look at why you might or might not want to do a placement year for anyone currently applying!
- Financial implications
As I’ve mentioned a million times, not all placements are paid. This seems to vary depending on courses- we were told from the start that with psychology most of the placements are unpaid.
However; it is still possible to receive a reduced amount of student loan whilst on a placement year. To minimise my costs I lived at home, however; this is obviously not possible for everyone. This also meant finding my own placement as most of the placements offered to us were based in London or Bristol where I knew I would not be able to afford to live.
This was a big factor in my decisions about which placements to apply to!
Also, we have to pay reduced fees whilst on placement. This is because you are still a registered student for the year, which means that you have access to the university facilities such as the library, and all other student services. I think I pay around £1300, so this is obviously a lot lower than a normal year at uni! And again, the loan process for this still applies as usual, so I am fortunately not having to fork that out any time soon.
All of this being said, some placements are paid- and well! Some courses, especially maths it seems, pay very well, and I have friends on huge salaries I won’t be earning for decades!! If this is the case for your course, then the financial implications might mean that you’re set up nicely for final year!
- Mental health
Doing a placement year definitely affected me more than I was expecting! After finding second year difficult in terms of work I was so excited to live at home and not have constant deadlines. However; I found it initially very isolating after two years living with my friends. It took me a long time to get used to it and work out how to prioritise my mental health (which I wrote a blog post about here).
For me, this meant adapting my working hours to give me a break between placement and my part time job, making sure I had time to fit in going to the gym, giving myself time to relax and socialise, and making sure I had enough time to organise myself and do simple things like make a packed lunch ready for the next day.
Adapting to a new routine, maybe a new town or even new country, new colleagues… it can be overwhelming! I know that a lot of my friends struggled in similar ways, too. Although the support of the university is there, it can feel a bit far away and separate. This is definitely something to consider when deciding if you want to opt for a placement year.
Equally, working in a psychiatric hospital has been intense at times. When I tell people about my placement some of them just instantly say that they “couldn’t do that”. It requires a lot of emotional resilience and when applying for placements it’s important to consider things like this!
If possible it can be really helpful to speak to someone who’s done the placement you’re applying for already, to check that there is support in place for you.
- Possible offered a job at the end
One obvious perk of doing a placement is that there’s a chance you’ll be offered a job there at the end. I definitely think that this varies depending on which area you’re going into- obviously my placement can’t offer me a job as a clinical psychologist which requires a lot of further training.
However; I have been given a lot of advice and guidance about the next stages of my career, and have been able to apply and get a job working as a support worker in the hospital, which will enable me to get more experience. Without my placement I would not have realised that this was a possible area which I could go into, or different ways to take the best steps after I graduate, so it’s been really helpful.
- Time commitment
Giving up a year to do a placement is obviously a big commitment, and as I mentioned earlier, this seems to be the biggest reason which people opt against a placement year. Whilst I can kind of see the appeal of powering through the degree and finishing, personally I want to prolong being a student for a bit longer and avoid the real world, where, rumour has it, you don’t get really long Christmas, Easter and summer holidays.
I felt that the time spent on placement would end up being time saved in the long term, when considering the amount of experience gained. For example, some clinical psychology doctorate courses require a minimum of 12 months clinical experience, which my placement will count towards.
It made perfect sense to me to get this experience as an undergraduate, at a point where I am still able to make decisions about my future career path. I also feel that the experience gained from a placement year is unmatched. Whilst I have endeavoured to gain as much experience through volunteering as I can throughout university, it has been hard to prioritise this and put as much time and effort as I would like and am able to whilst on placement.
Going into a competitive field, the experience I have gained this year will hopefully give me the edge over other applicants. It has also given me the opportunity to check that this really is the field which I want to go into, and doing this as early as possible just makes sense to me!
- The chance to live somewhere new
One final perk of a placement year is that you may get to live and work somewhere new. Many placements are based abroad, and you may be able to live, work or study in somewhere like Boston or South Africa! Obviously, these come with financial implications too, but if you are in a position to opt for one of these opportunities then I think go for it!
Even just living at home for the year has come as a big change after living in Bath (not going to lie, not living in a student house has been LOVELY), but moving somewhere new is just going to develop you as a person and give you the chance to experience somewhere new before returning to university.
Overall, choosing to take a placement year does come with challenges, some of which I had not anticipated. That being said, it also has a range of perks which I feel massively outweigh these. Working in a professional environment really brings the degree to life, and has been a truly priceless experience for me to solidify my desire to work in inpatient acute care, and learn more about the best ways to do this. I hope this guide has been helpful, and let me know if you have any questions