Life after university – survey results

Delve into the results of our recent survey revealing insights into the fears and aspirations of students and graduates in post-uni life.

There’s no shortage of statistics and research (usually based on employment figures) on where graduates end up after uni. Whilst we were creating Save the Graduate, what we really wanted to uncover were the thoughts, aspirations, fears and values of current students and recent graduates about the great unknown that is life beyond university.

Speaking to gradsIt’s important to us that we’re touching on the important stuff and not simply assuming we know what all students and graduates are thinking. So we went about carrying out our own piece of research, and called upon our lovable (mostly student) audience over at Save the Student2,111 were kind enough to share their views.

Here’s what we asked, what we heard and what we have learned…

Do you have a clear idea about what career you want to pursue?


Most students do have their eye on a particular career they want to take up and that probably stems from previous decisions made when choosing their degree subject.

The most interesting stats are that around 1-in-3 recent graduates (2012-2010) and current graduates (2013) still don’t really know what career path to take.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, flexibility can be an advantage at this early stage and there’s still a lot to consider. It may be that these guys have some idea but want to give the job a go and gain some experience before really knowing for sure that it’s right for them. One respondent said:

Don’t become too set on one specific road on a career path, look more broadly during your search and you could be surprised by the opportunities you find.

For those without much of a clue, check out our guide to choosing your path.

How many graduate job applications have you made since last September?

Number of job applications

Bearing in mind that these are averages for each group, for some reason we thought these numbers would be much higher (we even had an option for 200+ which just one person selected!). The question specifically asked about graduate full-time jobs rather than casual or part-time work.

Is it that the opportunities just aren’t out there? Or is there a lack of motivation? Of course it may be that these match what you would have expected!

If you find job applications a struggle, we’ve got just the section for you here.

Do or did you have a job lined up for when you graduate?

Students that have a job lined up

We followed up on the applications question to find out how many students and graduates have been successful in landing a job for the day they graduate.

Naturally there’s a big jump in final year students finding success, but there’s still two-thirds of this group burdened with the challenge of finding a job once studies are over. In hindsight it would have been interesting to find out how many were planning on moving back in with their parents!

To help you find more relevant graduate jobs to apply for, we have developed our own job search engine which should save you a lot of time! Give it a whirl.

What salary do you expect to be paid in your first year after graduating?

Graduate salary expectations
Looking at this chart, it’s kind of funny how optimism about salaries quickly fizzles out from freshers to final years. In reality students and graduates have reason to be much more optimistic: this year’s High Fliers report reveals that the average graduate starting salary in 2013 is a huge £29,000!

However, it might be worth noting that the High Fliers figure only takes into account those that are working in graduate schemes.

Naturally there’s going to be a big difference in what you can expect depending on degree and industry, and we’ve covered this in our guide over on Save the Student.

What is the biggest challenge in getting a job?

Challenges in getting a job

As you might have expected in the current economic climate, the perceived competition for jobs is clearly seen as the biggest challenge for graduates. This ties into a lack of experience which comes out second, but as we can see there are also a variety of other areas appearing to fly in the face of job hunters.

It seems to be a Catch 22 when trying to find a job after graduation. Companies do not want to give new graduates jobs as they do not have sufficient experience. You cannot gain the experience if no company is willing to offer you a job! Taking a placement year/work experience is a huge bonus and makes you much more employable.

It’s not easy out there, but there is plenty you can do to gain the advantage over the competition. Start with our careers advice.

Which factors are important to you when searching for a job?

Job search factors

Location comes out top here, with 78% of those surveyed selecting it as an important factor in their job search. Salary slips behind job role in third place whilst very few students are bothered whether a job is specifically targeted towards graduates.

We would have thought that on-the-job training may have been higher up in terms of priorities, especially with knowing that a lack of experience is viewed as the second biggest challenge in landing a job (above).

Which part of the recruitment process do you dread the most?

Graduate fears

Well, interviews it is! We know that it’s very common for students and graduates to be filled with fear and intimidation at the mere thought of being grilled by a potential employer across a desk (and we’ve all been there).

But why interviews over anything else? It may have something to do with being out of the comfort zone. Pretty much all other choices offered in the survey have clear similarities with the everyday skills of a student (writing and tests), but there’s not often much focus on communication skills and dealing with this different kind of pressure during university.

You’ll find plenty of help with interview preparation and execution (no, not death) here.

Do you feel your university careers service provides enough support?

University careers service

University careers services play a really important role in gearing students up for a life of work, and for the most part they have a lot to offer. After all, universities along with the whole education sector have a very careful eye on graduate employment figures which feed back into all-important reputation and application numbers.

Having said that, just over one-fifth of those asked feel that their university could do more. Here’s a suggestion from one student:

I think all universities should include placement schemes whilst students are still studying to keep up with the demand for experience in the workplace upon graduation.

Do you feel it is necessary to take an internship to enter your chosen industry?

Importance of internships

This is completely industry dependent, though we wanted to take a quick pulse on the perceived need for internships across the board.

Internships and experience is key! Not only does it improve your chances of employment in a field but can develop your personal and professional skills. Importantly, it also shows you if it is really the career path you want and could enjoy.

Check out our full guide to internships.

Would you ever consider an unpaid internship?

Graduates take unpaid internships

There’s been much discussion on the ethics surrounding unpaid internships. There’s no doubt that any experience in an industry or job role is beneficial for candidates, but young people still need an income to survive just like the rest of the population.

For almost two-thirds, the experience may outweigh the pay for them. Is the market really that competitive?

Being an international student paying extra high tuition fees makes it challenging to apply for internships as there is no money to travel to get to the locations where the experience is provided… I usually have to return home for the summer instead of staying abroad and gaining work experience.

In the fashion industry specifically, there is a serious lack of paid positions. The number of unpaid internships heavily outweighs the paid jobs for those with little to no previous industry experience. These internships are often very labor intensive and the amount of work you do (which goes completely without any recognition), is sometimes more than the paid people are doing! Disgraceful!

Are you considering graduate schemes?

Number of graduates applying for graduate scheme

Applying for coveted graduate schemes is the talk of the campus when it comes to careers, with almost two-thirds showing an interest in this path. They are notoriously over-subscribed and may not be for everyone.

If you are considering this path, you’ll want to take a look at our special grad scheme section.

Are you considering post-grad study?

Graduates considering post-grad study

Interestingly, the number of students turned on by post-graduate study closely matches the results of grad schemes above.

With graduate job optimism still relatively low, carrying on with academia could seem like a wise move in a bid to outrun the competition.

For all the post-graduate advice, head over here.

Are you interested in working abroad?

Graduates working abroad

Perhaps a little worrying for the British government! We didn’t delve into the underlying reasons, but with 7 out of 10 students and graduates expressing an interest to work in foreign economies it does raise some questions about the (lack of) incentives to stay at home.

It has been really tough finding work. I am in Australia now, as it is so bad back in England. I would definitely recommend travelling as a viable option for work.

There are of course lots of benefits to the individual from working abroad, we take a look at them in this guide.

Are you considering travelling for more than six months after university?

Graduates taking gap year

Not all recent graduates are desperate to get stuck into a career straight away. We asked this question to get an insight into the desire for university leavers to take some time out to travel, most commonly seen in the form of a post-uni gap year. The majority won’t be taking up the opportunity but still a healthy 37% have itchy feet.

Fancy exploring the world and taking some time away from the stresses of education and employment? You’ll want to swat up on our gap year advice!

Do you think travelling would negatively affect your employment prospects?

Affect of travel on job prospects

Overall it’s a pretty even split, though we would have expected many more to disagree here. After all, travelling does broaden your horizons and sometimes even presents opportunities in itself.

Of course the fear is always that the time spent gallivanting is delaying time dedicated to career progression. The jury’s still out on this one!

Does the idea of being an entrepreneur or being self-employed excite you?

graduates entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurialism is a hot topic right now, with TV programs like The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den planting the seeds of potential fortune in the minds of the public.

Working for yourself is a dream for many young people, but it’s clearly not something for everyone.

Check out our guide to self-employment if you’re in the ‘yes’ camp.

If ‘yes’, will you realistically be considering this path after graduating?

Graduates starting businesses

Excitement is one thing, but taking decisive steps to start your own business is a whole other ball game. Out of those who expressed an interest in this path (42%), just over one-third plan to try and make it their destiny soon after graduating.

Thinking about money, which of these things will you start thinking about in the year after graduating?

Graduates and money

Being as we are a resource that aims to cover all major aspects of life after university, we also asked questions probing into attitudes around money. We were particularly interested in the areas of personal finance that graduates will be thinking about after uni.

Building up a nest egg of savings is way up there as a priority, which is great to hear and is closely linked to a willingness to seek out deals. Big ticket purchases are also on the brain, and with tuition fees on the rise it’s hard to ignore the student loan.

For plenty more graduate money advice, click here.

Our survey gave us plenty of really useful insights, confirming some things we already knew (such as a the tough job market) and also revealing things we may not have expected (such as the average number of job applications made).

A big thanks to everyone who took part!

We’ve spent a long while digesting all of this information and presenting it here, and it’s been an incredibly useful exercise for us in terms of building a resource that means something and adds plenty of value to our audience. The plan is to conduct a similar survey next year to see how things change.

We’ll end this report with one of the more optimistic comments, left by a 2013 graduate:

I have big aspirations for the future, my degree has helped me realise what I role I need to take in society and I feel the need to change the world in my the field of education, always think big (but always have a good back up plan).

Hopefully you’ve found the numbers and views interesting! We’d love to hear your own thoughts, so please do leave a comment below. And if you haven’t yet, create your graduate profile with us!


Survey statistics are taken from the Save the Graduate ‘Life After University Survey’ 2013. Sample size was 2,111 undergraduate students and recent graduates in the UK between 3-15 July 2013.