Placement Year Vs Final Year- Should you stay or should you go?

Having just returned to final year after a year out of education, the month of September had me reminiscing on the previous year I spent on placement and the adjustment I needed to get back into the swing of lectures, coursework and the dreaded dissertation!

As mid-September came around, I was struck by the ‘change curve’ mindset which went as follows:

  • shock and denial that my endless days of summer and freedom to do as much or as little as possible were coming to an end
  • anger at the thought of assignments, early mornings and long days
  • bargaining with myself that I would still have lots of free time if I did assignments as soon as they came in
  • acceptance that this was only one more year of hard work before I’ve finished education forever
  • problem solving in the form of a 2019-2020 diary to plan my life for the next 8 months

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This mindset got me thinking about my second year of university when I was considering whether a placement year was for me. There’s a lot to consider such as the type of placement you want, where you’re willing to go for a placement year, be it Northern Ireland or overseas and finally, the commitment a yearlong placement requires.

I decided I wanted to go ahead with a placement year because of how many post graduate job applications I saw that asked for some type of industry experience or training and while this isn’t the case for every job opportunity, I wanted to challenge myself to try something different and pick up skills that would help me face final year and life after university.

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These are some steps to consider if you think a placement year is for you and what to expect:

  1. Apply Early!

You’ll hear this from all of your lecturers, students before you and everyone around you but you can’t prepare early enough. Each placement you apply for will require a different cover letter tailored to their specific requirements and some have applications to fill out all of which is time consuming. The earlier you start applying and creating your CV and cover letter template the better chance you have of securing the placement you want.

  1. Preparation is KEY

From the very first interview you’re offered, the more preparation you do the better. When I was applying for placements, a few of the interviews took place on the same week, meaning I had to divide my time between two different roles and learning about two different organisations. The more you know about the role you’re applying for and the organisation, the better so starting to research early is important.

  1. Keep Calm

This is most definitely easier said than done but when you’re going for interviews, it’s important to stay calm and try not to panic otherwise all the preparation you’ve done will go to waste. It’s important to remember the organisations you apply to want you to be professional however they know you’re still a student so DON’T WORRY– they don’t expect you to have the same level of knowledge they have. You’re there to learn – remember that and don’t put too much pressure on yourself!

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  1. Diary of a Placement Student…

Once you’re offered a placement, buy yourself a good diary or planner because without one, I’m not sure how I would have survived placement year. With many different tasks to do depending on the nature of your placement, it’s unrealistic to remember everything, especially between phone calls and emails, so a diary will be essential to keep track of your day and to ensure your using your time effectively.

  1. Stay professional

The transition from university student to placement student can be difficult at the beginning as you begin to learn things like how to speak to clients and email etiquette- abbreviating your words or sending memes isn’t always appropriate! This is important because you represent your organisation every time you speak to or send an email out to a client so being professional and approachable is a must.

  1. Don’t forget to have a life!

If your placement is a particularly busy or stressful environment, it’s easy to fall into the habit of taking work home with you to get ahead the next day, or to overthink a working situation at home but it’s important to remember you can’t just live and breathe work- take time to have a social life or some time to yourself and get the right work/social life balance.

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  1. Make the most of your year

Placement is a unique experience in that it’s essentially a learning curve as well as work experience so take every opportunity you can and experience as many areas as your organisation can offer you as this can help you decide on what industry you’d like to work in and your strengths and weaknesses in a business setting as well as being a great addition onto your CV!

Overall, having just returned from my year out on placement, I would recommenced this because it gives you an insight into the industry you could potentially want to work in as well as preparing you for life after university including writing a CV, job interviews and it enables you to start forming your career path with some experience in mind.

Eimear McGrane is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations at Ulster University. She can be found at:
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