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Jobs & Careers

Graduate schemes guide 2024

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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...

Woman in an office with graduate cap repeat pattern

Credit: Rvector, seyomedo – Shutterstock

Graduate schemes (also known as training schemes) offer a whole host of benefits. They're 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 drawbacks of doing them.

If by the end of this guide, you decide they're not right for you, that's totally fine. Remember there are loads 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.

What is a graduate scheme?

A graduate scheme is a structured training programme that doubles as an entry-level job. They usually last a couple of years and allow you to learn more about the different areas of a company. You'll be paid a full wage and (usually) all employer benefits.

While graduate training schemes are often linked with big, global businesses, they are also offered by some local small businesses. So, don't rule anything 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, to increase your chances, you could also apply for lesser-known opportunities that will still help you get into your chosen career.

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.

Differences between grad schemes and grad jobs

Here are the main differences between graduate schemes and graduate jobs:

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.

Best graduate schemes in the UK

woman on laptop

Credit: astarot – Shutterstock

These companies are named as the top 25 graduate employers in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers 2023/24 list:

  1. PwC
  2. Civil Service
  3. NHS
  4. Deloitte
  5. Google
  6. EY
  7. BBC
  8. KPMG
  9. Aldi
  10. Barclays
  11. J.P. Morgan
  12. Amazon
  13. HSBC
  14. GSK
  15. Teach First
  16. Goldman Sachs
  17. Clifford Chance
  18. McKinsey & Company
  19. L'Oréal
  20. Lloyds Banking Group
  21. Unilever
  22. Unlocked
  23. Linklaters
  24. Newton
  25. AstraZeneca.

This list shows the top 25, but there are tons of other companies with graduate programmes that you could apply for too. And 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 roles. This might show you what you want your career to look like and where you want to be in five years.

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

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 graduating with 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 top companies with graduate schemes 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.

Best 2:2 graduate schemes

Here are some best companies with graduate schemes 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.

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

We've got a guide on what to do if you get a 2:2 degree. Or, if you're aiming for higher, we have some tips to help you get a first.

8 tips on how to get a place on graduate schemes


Sakeeb Sabakka - Flickr

Here's how to get a place on a 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 the following September.
  2. Apply for less competitive schemes – Graduate programmes tend to be extremely competitive. But, in big companies that 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, read 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 (#ad). 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

Here are some of the advantages of graduate schemes:

  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 good way to 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 on the higher scale of graduate salaries. For example, Aldi starts management graduates off on a salary of £50,000 and gives them a fully expensed company car from day one.
  4. There may be opportunities to travel if the company is global.
  5. You'll be rubbing shoulders with influential people and making great contacts.
  6. You will develop important career skills in an environment designed to help graduates transition from uni to work.
  7. A graduate programme is like a stepping stone into work. It lets you build workplace confidence rather than being thrown into the deep end of the job market.

Downsides of graduate training schemes

Here are some of the potential drawbacks of graduate schemes:

  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.
  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 be 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 on weekends (if you're really unlucky).

Graduate scheme alternatives

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, remember that there are plenty of other opportunities after university.

In fact, we have a whole guide dedicated to exploring the alternatives to graduate schemes.

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

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

Jake Butler

WRITTEN BY Jake Butler

Jake joined Save the Student in 2010 and is the COO. As an expert across student finance, Jake has appeared on The BBC, The Guardian, Which?, ITV, Channel 5 and many other outlets. He particularly enjoys sharing tips on saving money and making extra money with opportunities like paid surveys and part-time jobs.
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