Grad scheme alternatives


By this point in the academic year, it’s easy to panic if you haven’t secured a place on a prestigious graduate scheme for next year. With their high salaries, respected names and opportunities for promotion, these schemes are highly prized and huge- ly competitive.

According to a High Fliers survey of the 2012 graduate market, there is an average of 52 applications for every graduate job. The application process almost seems like a job in itself, often comprising complex forms, assessment days, presentations and interviews. So although these schemes may seem like the be all and end all of your life post- St Andrews, in reality there are far more options out there than you may think. We have put these together in a helpful list to show you that not scor- ing a place on a top scheme isn’t the end of the world, and to encourage you to think outside the box when it comes to life after university.

1) Consider working for a start-up organisation or an SME (small-medium enterprise). These jobs are less well advertised than the big schemes, because employers can’t afford a formal grad scheme, but they can provide an opportunity for more responsibility more quickly as well as a nurturing working environment. Look for jobs in smaller firms on websites such as workinstartups. com and

2) Start your own business. In our last issue we featured an interview with Rachel Hanretty, who graduated from St Andrews in 2012 and has gone on to start a business making and selling French macarons. She’s just one example of thousands of graduates deciding to become self-employed. Other graduate entrepreneurs include Richard Reed, who co-founded Innocent Drinks in 1999 with fellow Cambridge graduates Adam Balon and Jon Wright. Innocent now turns over more than £100m a year. Starting your own business could give you flexibility and the chance to be your own boss. If you have a great idea, think about a scheme like Entrepreneur First, which pro- vides funding and support for tech start-ups. Another alternative is Start Up Loans, a government funded scheme to provide loans and mentors for entrepreneurs, who have provided loans to more than 13,000 businesses.

3) Think about further study. Although this may seem like a dud or boring option at the moment, postgraduate study can give you a real edge in a jobs market where having a first degree is merely necessary, and not sufficient. People often claim that they will work for a few years and then come back to study, but in reality this rarely happens once they become used to a non-student lifestyle – so take the plunge while you can. Doing a masters course will also offer you much-needed time to focus and re-evaluate exactly what it is that you want to do in the future. Additionally, many masters courses are vocational, allowing you to specialise in a particular area that interests you. At UCL, for example, you could study paediatric neuropsychology, financial systems management, or Mediterranean archaeology. Applications for masters courses normally close in July or August, so you still have plenty of time to apply.

4) Go abroad. Thanks to the EU it’s easy to work in Europe. If you’re lucky enough to be able to speak an- other language then you’ll already have an advantage, but there are also lots of opportunities available to you if not. The Franco-British Council’s website, for example, lists job opportunities for English speakers. The ability to teach English is in demand all over the world, and normally only requires an easily obtained TEFL certificate. Armed with one of these, the possibilities are endless. And even if you don’t want to do it for the rest of your life, working abroad will give you great experience for your CV. Going abroad may not necessarily mean working, either. If you can manage to save some money, perhaps by working while living at home, just buy a plane ticket and go from there.

5) Volunteer. If you haven’t found a job by the time you graduate and are still living at home with your parents, volunteering with a reputable programme in the UK is a good way to gain experience and build your CV. There is a vast number of opportunities out there, be they working with children, elderly people, animals or sport. Websites such as, and are all good places to start.

6) If you can afford it, learn a new skill; anything from a language to watercolour painting to synchronised swimming – just be creative. The Venice Institute, for example, offers 12- and 24-week intensive Italian courses, and you get a free week in either Florence, Milan or Rome thrown in. Take advantage of the free time; even though you may feel hopeless if you haven’t got a job, this is a way to fill your time productively. It also looks more attractive to potential employers that you’ve used a period of unemployment to do something that interests you.

The period after you leave university is a time in your life when you will be most free to do something you’ve always wanted to do, so use it wisely and you won’t regret not being on a top grad scheme.


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