5 Alternatives To Graduate Schemes

Looking for an alternative to grad schemes once you've finished university? Here are our top five options...

Written byHolly Barrow
Published on
Read time6 min read

If you’re about to leave university and wondering what to do after graduating, you may feel slightly pressured to consider applying for a graduate scheme as students are often encouraged to look into these. 

But if this doesn’t seem like the right path for you, there are a number of alternatives to graduate schemes that may pique your interest instead. 

Here are five alternatives to graduate schemes to kickstart your post-uni journey…


What is a graduate scheme?

A graduate scheme is an entry level training programme specifically for those who have recently graduated, aiming to provide on-the-job experience and valuable mentoring to those just starting their careers. 

Crucially, graduate schemes pay well for an entry level position, but this means they can often be very competitive. The current median graduate starting salary among the UK's top graduate scheme employers is £34,000 as of May 2024.

Are graduate schemes worth it?

This all depends on what you’re hoping to gain from a graduate scheme. If you know the exact company or sector you’d like to work in, graduate schemes can really help to kickstart your career. Even if you don’t stay with the employer you do your graduate scheme with, you’ll have strong transferable skills that you can apply to a similar position elsewhere. 

You’ll also gain connections and opportunities that others may not have access to. 

On the other hand, not all sectors or employers offer graduate schemes, so you may overlook better opportunities that fit your specific skillset and interests more in favour of a grad scheme in an area less suited to you. 

What’s more, it may take longer to work your way up the ladder when landing a place on a graduate scheme as they can typically last anywhere from one to three years. 


What are some of the best alternatives to graduate schemes in the UK?

1. Apply for an internship 

Graduate schemes can be extremely competitive and can only usually be started after you’ve graduated and acquired your degree, whereas many companies offer students the opportunity to intern for them whilst they’re still studying. 

This can really help to shape your post-university plans, as an internship can provide crucial experience that your peers may lack - not to mention the company you intern for may be keen to hire you permanently once your internship is complete. 

So this is one to consider even before graduating; the more work experience you can gain prior to leaving university, the better chance you stand of landing a relevant role!


Even if you apply for an internship after graduating, they can be a great alternative to graduate schemes thanks to their flexibility. In many circumstances, your internship will only require you to attend the office/placement for a couple of days a week, meaning you’ll have plenty of time to explore other avenues whilst interning. 

This can give you the best of both worlds - gaining vital firsthand experience in a specific company whilst earning money in another part-time role or continuing with your studies if you opt to do a Master’s. 

2. Apply directly to the company 

It may sound obvious, but sometimes students can get so preoccupied with finding the perfect graduate scheme that they can forget to apply for non-graduate roles. 

It’s always worth remembering that you’re not limited to applying only for graduate programmes and that many companies offering grad schemes will also have a number of generic vacancies open to the public (which includes graduates!). 

It’s true that graduate schemes will provide you with invaluable training and mentoring, but many generic entry level roles will offer similar levels of training – employers expect that those just starting out in their careers will need extra support and guidance, so don’t let this put you off. 

Even if you don’t have as much work experience as you’d perhaps like to have, it’s always worth applying if you think you’d be a good fit and have the enthusiasm and dedication to succeed. 


3. Postgraduate study 

If you’re not quite ready to leave education yet and would like to further expand on the knowledge and skills you acquired from your undergraduate degree, you might want to consider postgraduate study in the form of a Master’s, Diploma or Doctorate. 

This is a particularly good alternative to a graduate scheme for those who want to build a career in academia. In some cases, postgraduate study may be essential for your prospective career - whether that’s in law, accountancy or teaching. 

Examples of postgraduate study include:

  • Postgraduate Diplomas and Certificates

  • Master’s degree (MA, MSc, MPhil, MArch, MEng or MRes) 

  • PhD 


4. Freelancing 

Another alternative you may not have considered is freelancing. Depending on your area of expertise and subject knowledge, freelancing could prove a viable career choice if you would prefer not to go down the traditional route. 

Whether it’s journalism, graphic design, content marketing or photography, you may be surprised how successful a career in freelancing can be. Not to mention the flexibility that comes with freelancing; you’ll have to organise and manage your own time but equally you can work from anywhere in the world and choose your own working hours. 

One important thing to note however is that it may take a while to build up a clientele, so bear this in mind if you need a stable income as soon as possible. 

To find freelance gigs, you could check out the following websites:


5. Start your own business 

If you’re business-minded and keen on launching a business of your own, this might be the best path for you. 

It’s by no means easy to start your own business, but you can check out whether you’d be eligible for funding from government-backed business schemes, or could perhaps begin by launching an online business with minimal overhead costs. 

It’s also definitely worth finding out whether your university will help to support your start-up, as a number of universities have dedicated schemes for alumni looking to set up their own businesses. 

One example is Leeds Beckett University, which offers support through its University Business Centre, allowing students and graduates to access the following:

  • Three months free registered office address

  • One month rent free use of either a private office or coworking desk

  • A year’s free membership of Leeds Chamber of Commerce

  • One free mentor appointment with resident business mentor


How to save money as a graduate

Whether you apply for a grad scheme or choose an alternative, you'll be thrilled to hear you can continue to get the very best discounts with TOTUM even after leaving university!

With our Alumni scheme, you can carry on accessing exclusive offers, deals and discounts from hundreds of big brands and local independents, saving on everything from experience days and holidays to the latest technology and fashion picks.

You can also earn money when you spend with TOTUM Cashback, which includes getting an average of 6% cashback on purchases in-store and online with over 80 big name brands including Sainsbury's, M&S, Primark, IKEA and more!

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