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Graduate employment trends and salaries

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The UK graduate job market is now looking more buoyant than ever, with reports of more graduate vacancies and opportunities advertised now than in the last ten years. In 2017, the UK’s top employers plan to increase their graduate vacancies by 4.3%, compared to the rise of 1.6% last year.

According to recent figures by HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency), in 2014 to 2015 76.4% of UK graduates found employment within six months of graduating.

There is further good news for graduates from Scottish universities too. They are reported to have some of the best employment prospects in the UK, entering professional jobs more quickly with a higher average starting salary than the rest of the UK. Furthermore, Scotland is the leading region for retaining its own graduates.


In general, graduates have a higher earning potential than non-graduates and are less likely to be unemployed in the long run. 

Pay scales are also looking brighter for UK graduates. The median salary of £30,000 a year stays the same for 2017. At least a sixth of places on top graduate programmes come with a starting salary of more than £40,000 a year. In 2017, chain supermarket Aldi is offering a  starting salary £42,000 a year for its trainee managers. This is good news in particular when it comes to paying off students loans, which are now a necessity in higher education. 

The highest salaries were in investment banking with an average of £47,000 a year, and law at £43,000 a year. Banking, medicine and finance professionals are included in the group of higher earners. 

According to ‘Which? University’, the highest starting pay by subject in 2015 included: Dentistry at £30,408, Chemical, Process and Energy Engineering at £29,275 and Medicine at £28,525.

Physics graduates from 2015 were overall the best paid in the science cluster, earning between £17,700 and £28,400 a year. The starting salary for chemistry graduates was from £18,400 to £25,600. 

The average starting salary for social science graduates was between £19,927 and £28,157 a year, with the highest being for economics graduates.

Language graduates tended to have the highest upper limit of salary range of the humanities subjects, earning up to £25,100 a year in areas such as business and sales, HR, marketing, teaching and education, and writing and translating.

Employment prospects

The largest growth in vacancies is expected to be in:

Graduate recruitment grew strongly in almost all sectors of the economy last year. Professional services, for example, accountancy, law, engineering and medicine expanded the most.

The Independent published an article in 2017, in which a leading recruitment company gave their perspective on the 10 careers with best prospects in 2017. These included: data analyst; technical architect; accountant; HR manager; hospitality manager; information security specialist; and Java developer.

What employers look for in graduates

According to a 2016 report from the Confederation of British Industry and Pearson Education, there are three things that businesses look for in graduates.

The top priority was the right attitude and aptitudes to enable them to be effective in the workplace. Almost nine in 10 employers said this was one of the most important considerations.

Having some relevant work experience also ranked as important, with 67% of companies citing this. This could be work experience gained through placements or internships whilst doing your degree.

The third top consideration, cited by 65% of companies, was the degree subject studied. This was a particularly important for the manufacturing, engineering, science and technology firms.

Employment prospects by subject


Many science graduates are successful in getting work as science professionals, with Chemistry graduates' employment rate at 18.9% and Biology graduates at 7.8%. 

Physics graduates tend to get employment in areas such as information technology at 20.1%, associate and professional technicians at 8.5%, and engineering and building surveying at 8.3%.  

29% of Sports science graduates got work in other professions and as technicians, including sports therapists, coaches and fitness instructors. 

Mathematics, IT and computing 

Around 41% of mathematics graduates primarily found work in business, HR and finance professions, in areas such as finance, statistics and accountancy. 

Around 75% of IT and computing graduates went straight into work, with nearly 61% working in the IT sector. Despite these figures around 9% entered retail, catering, waiting and bar staff work, with an unemployment rate of 9.9%, higher than the average of all subjects at 5.7%. 

Engineering and building management 

The majority of mechanical and civil engineering graduates found work as engineering and building professionals (61.2% and 75.2%), with other engineering graduates finding work as engineering professionals, IT professionals, research associates, surveyors and construction managers. 


Humanities covers subjects such as English, history, modern languages, theology and philosophy. 

21.8% of history graduates went into further study. A high proportion of those getting jobs worked in business, HR and finance at 14.1% and marketing, PR and sales at 12.8%.  

The top sectors for language graduates were in marketing, PR and sales, followed by business, HR and finance. 

Social sciences 

Economics students were particularly successful in getting work within six months of graduating, with 57.2% going into business, HR and finance. Job areas included accountancy, finance and data analysis, and software analyst. Only 6.8% were unemployed six months after graduation. 


Graduates in design, media studies and performing arts all did well with finding work relevant to their degrees, with 42.9%, 23.2% and 29.5% respectively working in arts, design and media.

Fine arts graduates mostly went into retail, catering, waiting and bar work (27.9%), but this was followed closely by the art, design and media sector (24.7%). 

Business and Administration 

Marketing graduates saw the highest employment rate at 69.9% and more likely to be in full time work than graduates in other subjects. Half of those worked directly in marketing, PR and sales. 

Business and management, and Hospitality, leisure, tourism and transport graduates all had good employment figures with 65.2% and 63% in full time work six months after graduation.


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