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Jobs & Careers

Graduate schemes guide 2022

Graduate schemes can be amazing opportunities for students, but what are they all about? Read on for the key info about them, including a rundown of the best graduate employers...

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Graduate schemes (also known as training schemes) offer a whole host of benefits, making them one of the most popular career routes to take after uni.

This guide explains everything you need to know about graduate schemes, including the biggest perks and, alas, drawbacks of doing them.

By the end of this guide, you might even decide that they're not right for you after all, and that's totally fine. Remember that there are heaps of other paths you can take – we'll be taking a look at some great alternative options for kick-starting your career, too.

Make sure you get your applications in on time by bookmarking our page with Graduate Scheme Deadlines.

Differences between grad schemes and grad jobs

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This table highlights the typical characteristics of graduate schemes and graduate jobs, showing the main ways that they differ:

 Graduate schemesGraduate jobs
When to applyFrom September of your last year of uniTowards the end of your degree/after you graduate
Which companies offer themGenerally (but not exclusively) large-scale companiesMost companies offer entry-level jobs for graduates
Structure of the trainingVery structured, integrating training and workMore on-the-job training
CompetitivenessHighly competitiveStill competitive, but generally less so than graduate schemes
SalaryGoodLikely to be lower than graduate schemes

Note: This table should only be used as a guideline. Check the websites of the companies you're applying to for more details.

The main difference between graduate schemes and graduate jobs is that schemes are very structured, with training along the way. In that sense, you can think of a grad scheme as an extension of your university degree, but in the real world and for money.

It's important to know that, while graduate training schemes are often linked with big, global businesses, they are also offered by some local small businesses – so don't rule anywhere out while job searching.

The most popular employer schemes will naturally be the most competitive and come with strict application deadlines. By all means, shoot for the stars, but hedge your bets by also seeking out lesser-known opportunities that complement your chosen career path.

Best graduate schemes in the UK

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These companies are named as the top 25 graduate employers this year in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers 2020–21 list:

  1. Civil Service
  2. PwC
  3. Deloitte
  4. NHS
  5. Aldi
  6. Google
  7. KPMG
  8. Teach First
  9. BBC
  10. JP Morgan
  11. GSK
  12. EY
  13. Unilever
  14. HSBC
  15. Barclays
  16. Goldman Sachs
  17. Amazon
  18. Lidl
  19. Rolls-Royce
  20. Accenture
  21. McKinsey & Company
  22. Newton
  23. British Army
  24. Clifford Chance
  25. IBM.

Remember, these aren't the only ways into your chosen career path.

Do some research into your industry and ask your friends and family how they worked their way up to their current role. This might give you some insight into what you want your career to look like and where you want to be in five years time.

Not sure what to expect in interviews? Check out these top tips for job interviews, including how best to answer common questions.

Graduate programmes for 2:2 degrees

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A 2:2 degree or less is by no means the end of the world – there are loads of great opportunities open to you.

There's no denying that having a 2:1 or first can make your life a bit easier when it comes to job hunting, but having said that, a few of the biggest employers have started focusing less on degree classification and more on the quality of grad-scheme applications.

Some have even started running their own internal assessments (meaning no CVs are required) to give more opportunities to those who are perhaps less academic but still have loads to offer.

Here are some top companies with graduate training programmes open to applicants with 2:2 degrees:

With a 2:2 under your belt, it's perhaps a good idea to show you have some other great work experience and impressive skills to offer too.

Do something different to help you stand out from the crowd, like creating a website or starting a business. Or, you could get a part-time job to show that you can juggle working and studying simultaneously – which is a feat in itself!

If you don't get accepted onto a graduate programme, don't take it personally. Remember that they're super competitive and the majority of other applicants will be in the same boat.

On track for a 2:2 degree? Here are some reasons to be perfectly happy with that. Or, if you're gunning for higher, we have some tips to help you get a first.

8 tips on how to get a place on graduate schemes


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Follow these steps to increase your chances of getting a place on a good graduate scheme:

  1. Know the best times to apply for a graduate scheme – The application periods usually run from September to January, with jobs starting in the following September.
  2. Apply for less competitive schemes – Graduate programmes tend to be extremely competitive. But, in big companies who tend to take on a lot of graduates each year, you have a better chance of being successful.
  3. Find out how much you could earn – Salaries can vary widely depending on the company and industry, but graduate scheme salaries are generally around £27,000 (see expected salaries).
  4. Make your CV stand out – To improve your CV, have a read of our guide to writing an outstanding CV.
  5. Take time to write your job applications – Remember that applications take time! Be selective and spend a good amount of time on a few applications to boost your chances. Read more on how to apply for a graduate scheme.
  6. Don't miss the deadlines – See a full list of deadlines for grad schemes.
  7. Register with a specialist graduate recruiter – We'd recommend getting in touch with the Graduate Recruitment Bureau as they're a free service and (as the name suggests) cater specifically to graduates. Find out more about recruitment agencies in our guide.
  8. Research your alternative options – Grad schemes are not for everyone, but there are lots of alternatives for you to consider.
Graduate scheme applications often involve more than just a form – take some time to familiarise yourself with assessment centres and psychometric tests too.

Benefits of graduate training schemes

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There's no denying the huge benefits of securing a place on a decent graduate scheme, especially if it's in a field that you want to forge a career in.

Here are some of the key benefits you can expect on a graduate training scheme:

  1. The training you'll receive will be of the highest standard (and you get paid while you're at it). Even if you decide not to stay with the company for your entire working life, it's a great way to kick-start your career.
  2. You'll have a great reference when applying for new positions in your industry.
  3. You're likely to receive a starting income in the higher scale of graduate salaries (for example, Aldi starts management graduates off on a salary of £44,000 and gives them an Audi!).
  4. There may be opportunities to travel if the company's global.
  5. You'll be rubbing shoulders with influential people and making great contacts.
  6. You will develop important career skills in an environment which is designed to help graduates transition from uni to work.
  7. A graduate programme is like a stepping stone into work, allowing you to build workplace confidence rather than being thrown in the deep end of the job market.

Downsides of graduate training schemes

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As this guide is here to give you a balanced overview of the opportunities involved in training schemes, it's only fair to mention some of the possible drawbacks involved in the whole process.

Here are some of the potential drawbacks of graduate schemes to consider before applying:

  1. Application processes can be really competitive.
  2. It can take up a lot of time to fill out applications, and they need to be high quality if you want to be in with a shot – focus your time on applying for the jobs you really want and have a good chance of getting.
  3. Some graduate schemes will require you to pay back some money if you leave early to cover "training costs".
  4. Most training schemes require at least a 2:1 degree, but you still have good options if you're on track for a 2.2 (see above for more details).
  5. The variety of tasks involved in some graduate training schemes can be minimal, and you'll often have to work your way up from the bottom. This requires patience and won't suit everyone – particularly those keen to take on maximum responsibility as soon as they get through the door.
  6. You might be required to travel a lot, or even asked to relocate to a new city.
  7. A graduate programme is rarely a 9–5 job. You may be expected to work late, from home and maybe even weekends (if you're really unlucky).

Graduate scheme alternatives

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What if you don't like your graduate scheme or you don't get the one you applied for?

Although graduate training schemes are the perfect option for many students, it's also important to remember that there are plenty of other opportunities that are open to you after university.

In fact, we've got a whole guide dedicated to exploring the alternatives to graduate schemes here.

Good luck with your applications, and don't forget to double (and triple!) check the deadlines.

Doing extracurricular activities at uni can really help you stand out in applications for graduate schemes and jobs.


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