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The basics
Study abroad : Career Prospects

What is a graduate scheme?

Looking for a graduate scheme? You've come to the right place to start your research.

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Are you in your final year of university? Or maybe you’ve already had your graduation? Either way, you are probably ready to start thinking about your next steps after higher education. Up until this point, your main priority has been securing the best grades you can, making friends and enjoying the university life. However, unless you want to remain in academia, it’s at about this time that you might be turning your attention to your career or at least getting some type of work experience under your belt. So, in this article we look specifically at graduate schemes, what they are, where you can find them, and how to apply.


What is a graduate scheme?


Graduate schemes can be a great way to gain work experience, earn a salary and receive training on your placement. While they tend to be entry-level positions, you can gain valuable exposure to many parts of the company while gaining an understanding of different roles within the organisation. Graduate schemes typically last for up to two years and are run across a range of sectors such as:



Where can I find graduate schemes?


Most universities run careers fairs where you can speak to a representative from a company about their graduate scheme. This can be a great way to network and find out more about the different schemes on offer. You can also find out more information about graduate schemes by getting in touch with the careers service at your university. Job postings and graduate schemes are also usually advertised on university websites.


Alternatively, there is plenty of information online to help you find a graduate scheme. You can also check the websites of the companies that most interest you to find out more.


When do graduate schemes open?


Most graduates are encouraged to start researching and applying for a scheme during the end of their second year of university, although this may differ depending on your study destination. In the UK, this would be from the end of June in your second year. Deadlines typically fall from early October to February.

However, some companies will stop recruiting if they have too many applications, so we recommend preparing your application as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. Some schemes are open all year, but make sure you do your research to find out the specific deadlines.


What is the application process for a graduate scheme?


The whole process can take a full 12 months before starting your graduate scheme. The specific stages do vary according to each employer so we recommend checking their website directly, but the below steps will give you an idea of what to expect.


  1. Online application form – Send your CV or fill in an online application form. You may also need to submit a cover letter.
  2. Psychometric testing – You may be asked to complete several online examinations such as numerical, verbal, and inductive reasoning tests.
  3. Interview – This could be an online interview or face-to-face with a recruiter or employer
  4. Assessment centre – This stage involves a day of different activities such as meeting other candidates, working on group exercises, giving a presentation and further interviews.


Need more tips on finding a job?


How much can I earn on a graduate scheme?


One thing to keep in mind is that graduate schemes are highly competitive. This can be for a variety of reasons such as the CV boosting experience, job security and the high salaries. If you want to work in finance or business, the salaries for graduates are particularly appealing.


According to High Fliers’ The Graduate Market in 2021 report, the highest paying companies include investment banks, law firms, oil and energy companies, and consultancy firms. The median salary for graduate schemes in the UK sits at GBP 30,000 per year for 2021 while investment banking graduate schemes can pay up to GBP 50,000 per year.



Highest paying graduate schemes (UK)


Investment banking – GBP 50,000

Law – GBP 46,000

Consultancy – GBP 45,000

Oil and energy – GBP 40,000

Banking and finance – GBP 32,500

Media – GBP 32,500

Technology – GBP 32,000


Your degree doesn’t always need to relate directly to the sector, but you should be able to demonstrate your knowledge, passion, and interest in the industry. However, that being said, some companies will be looking to recruit graduates from specific fields.


Popular graduate schemes


To source some of the most popular graduate schemes, we referred to The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers ranking which was compiled using interviews with more than 19,000 graduates who left university in 2020. These graduates were asked “Which employer do you think offers the best opportunities for graduates?”. The results are as follows:


  • Accenture
  • Admiral
  • American Express
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Google
  • BBC
  • Barclays
  • Deloitte
  • CMS
  • Facebook
  • IBM
  • KPMG
  • Microsoft
  • HSBC
  • Morgan Stanley
  • PwC
  • Shell
  • Unilever


While some of these companies are UK based, many are also international with offices all around the world. When it comes to choosing a graduate scheme, make sure you are picking a sector that genuinely interests you. Research the company thoroughly as your knowledge will be tested during the interview stage. We also advise that you apply for just one or two schemes as opposed to several. This way, your application will be more focused, and you can put all of your effort into these submissions.


Not sure if you’re ready to start working? Use our course matcher tool to find a master’s course.


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