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Jobs & Careers

6 great alternatives to graduate schemes

When it comes to planning your next step after university, people put a lot of focus on graduate training schemes. But, have you considered the alternatives?

graduate surrounded by books, a laptop, plane and money

Credit: Kues, studiovin, ittoilmatar, HAKINMHAN, iweta0077 – Shutterstock

While graduate schemes are generally a popular route to take, they can be super competitive. And it's important to remember that they're not always the right choice for everyone.

Lots of graduates don't get onto graduate schemes, whether by choice or otherwise.

And that's fine! There are loads of alternatives for starting your career. Even if you are applying for grad schemes, we suggest keeping these options in mind too.

Bookmark this year's graduate scheme deadlines if you are considering this path.

What to do if you don't get a graduate scheme

These are the best routes to take after university instead of graduate training schemes:

  1. Apply to companies directly

    Man on a laptop

    Credit: KaptureHouse – Shutterstock

    You can skip the formal graduate scheme application process and contact companies that interest you directly.

    They may have graduate positions available that aren't explicitly advertised. It could also be that they simply don't have enough positions available to justify a training scheme.

    This can mean the competition is less intense than for well-publicised graduate programmes. However, as there are likely to be fewer positions on offer, you'll still need to work hard to impress them.

    The other benefit to this alternative process is that you're showing potential employers you're genuinely interested in their company rather than just applying because there's a grad scheme available.

    Plus, by taking the initiative to contact them, you're showing that you're confident and motivated. These are both valuable skills in the eyes of employers.

    By applying directly with your excellent CV and cover letter, you're demonstrating you have the drive and confidence to succeed. You're also able to give more of an impression of your personality this way, compared to going through a relatively generic application process.

    Find out what the average graduate salary is for your degree.
  2. Try an internship

    Taking a temporary internship at a company you're keen to work for is a great way to gain work experience. The best part is that you don't have to wait until you've graduated to get started.

    Many companies are interested in students interning a couple of days a week while they're still studying. This can be a great way to help you decide on your career path following graduation.

    Interning will give you an idea of what the day-to-day responsibilities will be in that specific industry. On top of that, it'll give you a foot in the door after university.

    If a job opens up once you've finished uni, you'll be on top of the CV pile. Even if no opportunities arise, it'll still look great on your CV.

    Doing an internship at a company while at uni might allow you to fast-track your application to their graduate scheme later.

    But, if you can't manage to get a placement with the company you're after, apply to another company in the same field. You can use it as a stepping stone to work out what's expected of you.

    What are fast-track applications?

    A fast-track is when a company allows you to progress more quickly to the later interview stages.

    As a fast-track applicant, you may be able to avoid doing a formal application. You could even skip the first stages of the application process like tasks and phone interviews.

    This usually happens if you've already been affiliated with the company during your degree, perhaps through an internship or something similar. It's also possible to get fast-tracked if you're a high-achieving student.

  3. Look for jobs in start-up companies

    windows start button

    Credit: Windows

    Start-up companies can be brilliant places to work straight after uni. There are loads of reasons to choose a much smaller business (sometimes called an SME/small to medium enterprise) over a larger corporation.

    Your experience working for a smaller company is likely to be more personal and less hierarchical. Plus, it's easier to get the chance to prove yourself in a smaller office. You're also likely to get way more responsibility than you would be given in a larger company, which means you'll learn a lot – and quickly!

    One thing to keep in mind is that smaller companies might not openly advertise graduate roles. That's why it's important to search for them yourself and apply directly.

    Start-ups tend to favour people who think outside of the box. It can be a good idea to get creative with your CV and how you approach them.

    Don't forget to keep an eye on our vacancy page for any opportunities at Save the Student.
  4. Do a postgraduate degree

    Admittedly, at this stage, the idea of studying for at least one more year may not be too appealing...

    However, studying a postgraduate course will put you ahead of the competition when you do start applying for jobs. It's a great option if you're still deciding which career is best for you.

    Not only this, but the government now offers postgraduate Student Loans.

    Plus, you may even find that your uni offers discounted postgraduate courses to undergrads wanting to progress to master's level at the same uni.

    If the idea of increasing your debts is too much to handle, you can also do a postgraduate degree in one of these countries in Europe for free (or almost free). That's definitely something to consider, especially as they're often taught in English.

    Not sure if a master's degree is right for you? Our guide on the pros and cons of postgraduate study will help.

  5. Start your own business

    Mark Zuckerberg talking

    Credit: Frederic Legrand - COMEO – Shutterstock

    If you're business-minded and have an entrepreneurial spirit, don't rule out the idea of starting your own company.

    Our annual Student Money Survey has shown that as many as 36% of students have their own business or side hustle. This suggests that it can be a great option for young people in the UK with bright ideas.

    If this is something you're interested in, try looking into funding from government-backed business schemes. You can also check with your university, as some will be keen to invest in their alumni.

    A popular path that many young entrepreneurs take is setting up a business or website online. This involves lower costs and gives immediate access to a global market or audience. In fact, this is how Save the Student began!

    Check out our guides on how to create a website and how to make money as a blogger to get started.

    As a side note, don't be afraid of failing with some of your ideas. Whatever happens, you'll learn a lot about yourself and will pick up new skills to take forward in your career, whichever route you take.

  6. Consider working abroad

    If you're struggling to find something in the UK job market, there's nothing stopping you from looking for jobs abroad.

    For anyone who can speak a second language, your options are extremely broad. But even if you only speak English, don't let that put you off applying to international companies.

    English is an official language in more countries than any other. And even where it isn't, there will likely still be some English-speaking companies. It's just a matter of searching until you find them.

    You don't have to make the move permanently, either. Applying for relevant work experience or internship placements in another country will help you stand out when applying for jobs back home.

Just remember that while a lot of your fellow students will try to get on graduate training schemes, there are so many more options available to you.

Exploring different options is the key to finding the perfect role. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and try new things when it comes to your career.

If none of these options appeal to you, there's no harm in taking a gap year to figure out what route is right for you.

Owen Burek


Owen is the founder of Save the Student, the leading student money website he started in 2007. He's passionate about educating young people about personal finance and ways to make extra money. Owen has appeared on BBC News and writes for major publications including The Guardian, Entrepreneur and HuffPost.
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