What are the benefits of a graduate scheme?

Updated 31 July 2023

A graduate scheme is the next logical step for any recent graduate who wants to get their career started within their chosen industry. Choosing to complete a graduate programme after university provides hands-on experience to recent graduates, broadens their understanding of the industry and gives them a head start in their career. Understanding the benefits and general workings of a graduate scheme can help you decide which is best for you. In this article, we will explain how to go about obtaining a graduate scheme and using it to your advantage in your future career.

What is a graduate scheme?

A graduate scheme is a structured training programme within a company that gives recent graduates practical working experience. It is essentially an entry-level job that also provides training, mentorship and allows you to interact with more areas of the company than a traditional job. A graduate scheme also provides mentoring and opportunities for applicants to grow their skill-sets. It is the perfect bridge for recent graduates between university life and the workforce.

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How is a graduate scheme different from an internship?

The main difference is that students still in college or university can apply to an internship, whereas graduate schemes are strictly reserved for recent graduates from university. An internship is usually much shorter than a graduate scheme and may only compensate students with base pay or school credit. A graduate scheme usually lasts at least one year and upwards of four, and it pays the salary of a full-time job. An internship is for students who are a bit unsure of their career choice. A graduate scheme is for those who are more serious in their industry choice and want to start growing in their career.

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When should I apply to graduate schemes?

Application acceptance depends on the company, but in general, most companies will accept applications from September to February. Students should begin applying in their final year of university or right after they have graduated. Every company is different and some will accept applications on a rolling basis, so be sure to check the specifications of a programme before applying. Those wanting to be accepted into a graduate scheme should apply as soon as possible as they are highly competitive, especially among larger companies.

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Who can apply to graduate schemes?

Graduate schemes are mostly for those who have graduated from university in the past year. However, some companies accept any candidate with a university degree, despite when it was received. In this instance, a graduate scheme can be a gateway into a new industry.

No matter when you apply to a graduate scheme, you will need to present your university degree. Most companies prefer an Upper Second-Class Honours (2.1) or First-Class Honours (1st), although some accept Lower Second-Class Honours (2.2) if you have exceptional skills and recommendations. Check with the graduate scheme recruitment team for a specific company's application requirements.

How to apply to graduate schemes

Applying to a graduate scheme is very similar to applying for a job in many ways. Following these steps will help you apply to a graduate scheme with ease:

1. Make a list of companies you want to work for

Take the time to research the companies offering graduate schemes in your industry. Find those that interest you based on their products, reputation, core values and the training they offer. Many graduate schemes can turn into actual positions within the company, so try to choose a company you can see yourself working for in the future.

2. Write a CV and cover letter

Like a traditional job, most companies will require a CV and covering letter in order to apply to a graduate scheme. The CV should include any relevant experience within the industry in which you are applying including internships, volunteer work, club memberships and coursework. As most graduates will have little professional experience within the industry outside of an internship, the cover letter is important to provide the employer with context and a little more information about your career goals and potential.

3. Get a letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation from a recent professor in a relevant field can help convince the company that you are ready for a graduate scheme within its organisation. Choose a professor you know well and who understands why you are applying to this particular graduate scheme. Be sure to give the person writing the recommendation lots of notice and a copy of the graduate scheme job description.

4. Prepare for the interview

Treat an interview for a graduate scheme as seriously as an interview for a regular position. Review the job description, think of answers to common interview questions, research the company and practise your speaking voice and body language. Be sure you understand the company's core values and why this company is the best place for you to begin your professional career.

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What are the benefits of a graduate scheme?

A graduate scheme is the chance to work for a large national or multi-national company and earn incredible training and experience. This will look excellent on a CV and give you a boost at the start of your career. Due to the educational nature of this position, you will be able to alternate between many positions in the company and learn about different aspects of the industry. After this rotation is completed at the end of a graduate scheme, the company may offer you a permanent position.

What if I don't like my graduate scheme?

A graduate scheme may not be exactly what you expected and it does not always guarantee a job upon completion. They can be high-pressure positions that have you compete with other graduate scheme employees for a final spot in the company. However, completing a graduate scheme with a company does not mean you have to accept a role with a company, and it definitely does not mean you wasted your time. The experience, training and mentorship gained during a graduate scheme is invaluable and will be a welcome addition to any CV.

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Major companies that offer graduate schemes

Most major national and multi-national companies in the UK offer graduate schemes. Because these are some of the best-known companies in the world, graduate scheme positions within them will be highly competitive and have strict application rules. Here are some of the most popular companies that offer graduate schemes:


The NHS's Graduate Management Training Scheme is ranked among the top programmes regarding leadership development. Since the NHS is one of the biggest employers in Europe, there are placements all throughout the country where applicants can learn about different specialities. It provides graduate schemes in the areas of policy and strategy, financial management, general management, health analysis and human resources.


Aldi's graduate scheme focuses on store management and proudly states that applicants will be given 'a year like no other.' Its programme focuses on intense mentoring and hands-on experience in the first year and the independence of running your own shop in the second year. Plus, it offers such benefits as travelling abroad, a competitive salary and a company car.


You can learn more about the global banking business with one of the most expansive financial institutions in the UK. HSBC offers a wide range of graduate schemes from data science to markets and securities. It also offers specific graduate schemes at a local level for those wanting to stay in the country.

Civil Service

The Civil Service Fast Stream is another award-winning leadership development programme. It offers 15 graduate schemes including science and engineering, diplomatic service and government social research. Its application process involves criteria assessments, so be sure to apply on time. Most graduate schemes in the Civil Service Fast Stream begin in September or October.


Those applying to the BBC graduate scheme must have some experience in journalism, production, business or design and engineering as it expects applicants to be able to perform more advanced tasks from day one. Most graduate schemes last a year or less and accept applications in the spring and autumn.

The UN

The United Nations offers a wide variety of graduate programmes, open to anyone under the age of 32 who holds a first-level university degree. Anyone who is from a country within the United Nations can apply and learn what it means to be a part of the international civil service. Candidates who have at least two years of satisfactory service within the programme may be promoted to a more permanent position depending on the availability of posts.

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