The difference between internships and placements

By RateMyPlacement

The graduate job market is super competitive. According to the Institute of Student Employers, there was an average of 41 applications for graduate roles last year. Getting work experience at university is so, so important – and it will significantly increase a students’ chances of securing a grad job.

There are three main types of work experience designed for undergraduates – placements, internships and insights schemes. Insight schemes are the shortest type of programme available, and are called ‘spring weeks’ in the banking sector.

Placements and internships are the most extensive work experience schemes available to students. Often, the two programmes get mixed up. So in this short blog, we will breakdown the differences between internships and placements, how they work, and where you can find them.

What is a placement?

Placements are also known as placement years, a year in industry, an industrial placement and even sandwich placements. Many names, but they’re all one in the same. A placement is a year-long programme that takes place in between the penultimate and final year of a degree.

Candidates take a year out of their degree, and work for a company as a full-time employee for those 12 months. Then they return to university to finish their degree.

For most students, doing a placement is an optional part of their degree. In some cases, it’s a compulsory aspect of the course. The majority of students who choose to take a year out of their studies to do a placement do so to gain employability skills and get first-hand experience of a particular job role or sector.

Placements Summary

FOR: 2nd years (or 3rd years if it’s a 4 year course)
DURATION: 5-13 months

What is an internship?

Internships mostly take place during the summer, so you’ll often hear them described as summer internships.

They can last anywhere between four weeks to four months, and are available in almost every industry.

Employers tend to use schemes like this to unearth the best students, and find potential candidates for graduates schemes. This is one of the reasons why doing an internship increases a students’ chances of securing a graduate job.

But that’s not the only reason why students do internships – they are an opportunity to get insights into a number of different areas of the professional environment, such as:

  • Company culture
  • Using high tech software or equipment
  • The differences between working for a small, medium-sized or large company
  • Company values and vision

Internships Summary

FOR: Available for all students
DURATION: 1-4 months

The key differences between internships and placements

There are a few key differences between internships and placements. Although both are types of undergraduate work experience, they are very different in composition.


The obvious difference is duration. Placement students work for a company for up to 12 months, whereas internships last anywhere between four weeks and four months. A placement year is a more extensive programme, and it’s more of a commitment. In essence, you’ll be extending your degree by an extra year, so you might graduate a year later than your friends.

When to apply

You can apply for placements for most of the academic year, which falls between September and May. Many of the bigger, international organisations hire all their placement students before the new year, so it’s still a good idea to get your application in early.

However, if you haven’t got a placement by then, it’s not all bad, there’ll still be vacancies open right through until May.

Internships primarily take place during the summer months, so applications close a bit earlier. Applications close around March, but just like placements, it’s better to apply around the September/October period.

Not every university offers placements

It’s important to note that not every university offers placements. More and more uni’s and Higher Education Institutions are investing in placement schemes, but you’ll have to check with faculty staff or the university’s careers service.

Internships, on the other hand, take place during the summer, outside of the university calendar. They’re available to all.

This article was written by Conor at, the UK’s No. 1 job resource for students looking for work experience. Find job vacancies for internships and placements with some of the UK’s best-known companies.