I have a degree, now what?
Last updated: 17 May 2023, 09:21
If you don't know what career you want when you graduate, you may have more options than you think. There are many jobs you can do with any degree background in areas such as law, finance, IT and management.
Your undergraduate days have come to an end and the question of, ‘I have a degree, now what are my career options?’ is rattling around your brain.
It may seem like only careers directly related to your studies are available to you, but you have a broader set of options. There are plenty of graduate jobs you can do with any degree and the maturity and independence you gained from your degree (as well as a host of transferable skills) will put you in good stead for them.
Career options... aka getting job
Careers open to graduates from all degree backgrounds
While some employers ask candidates to have a 2.1, relatively few roles require a specific degree.
Typical careers in which employers consider applicants for graduate jobs with any degree background:
- Management : management training schemes can be found in the public sector, for example, the health sector and in local and central government (the Civil Service). Many graduate employers in the private sector also run ‘general management schemes’. Consumer goods companies, manufacturing, logistics and supply organisations, utilities firms and retail-focused organisations all look for bright, organised graduates to train in different areas of business, commercial development and supply chain management.
- The information technology business: it’s not only for those with computing and programming backgrounds. IT services organisations and technology consultancies often recruit graduates from non-technical degrees for business analyst, consulting and commercial opportunities – these essential midfield roles are the interface between those who focus on the hardcore development work and clients and end users of technology.
- The finance and professional services sectors: yes, you can work in finance with an arts or humanities degree – but, you obviously need to be happy with numbers. If you want to work in the City you will need experience, enthusiasm and a high level of numeracy. But the finance sector is more than the City. It includes accountancy firms (large and small), financial services (retail banks, insurance, pensions, financial advisory) and professional services (firms that bring together audit, accountancy, advisory, consultancy, legal services and supply them to other organisations). As with management training, many large employers also run finance graduate schemes within their own finance departments.
Use our expert advice on top graduate professions to find out more about options in the following areas for candidates from all degree backgrounds:
- Skills for trainee manager jobs (you don't need a management degree to get a place on a management graduate scheme).
- All degrees welcome for graduate IT jobs .
- Investment and banking careers for students without finance degrees .
Law, teaching and other careers you can train for as a graduate with any degree
There are some sectors that have graduate jobs that you can do with any degree background, but it will either be of help or a requirement to undertake additional training or postgraduate study. Conversion courses are typically postgraduate courses (masters or graduate diplomas) that facilitate the transition into a particular profession.
This course of action is essential for careers where, ultimately, you will have to ‘qualify’ professionally, for example: law , surveying and medicine (though the latter requires a bit more than a conversion course). For these careers it will be important to look at the qualification path so that you can choose the right, ‘accredited’, postgraduate course. Teaching is another example of a profession where postgraduate training is a well-established route to qualification.
If you are considering teaching , be aware that some providers of training for primary teaching prefer you to have a degree in a national curriculum subject, while for secondary teaching you will need a degree in the subject you wish to teach or a subject that is closely related. However, if you wish to teach in a shortage subject it is possible to undertake subject knowledge extension courses to get your subject knowledge up to scratch.
There are generous, non-repayable bursaries and scholarships available to help with the costs of training in a range of subjects; the amount of money available and the list of subjects is revised each year. There are various routes to qualifying as a teacher, some of which are work-based while others are led by universities, but they all involve a significant amount of time in classrooms. The most popular qualification is the postgraduate or professional graduate certificate in teaching (PGCE).
Graduates from 2021 onwards who want to become a solicitor in England or Wales and have not studied law will need to qualify by passing the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE), which is divided into two parts that test law knowledge and skills respectively.
Prior to the SQE, non-law graduates would be required to pass a law conversion course, most commonly the graduate diploma in law (GDL), before undertaking further legal qualifications.
There is no longer an absolute requirement to pass the GDL before taking the SQE, but some form of legal knowledge preparation is strongly recommended and many course providers have updated their training for the SQE to include a postgraduate diploma in law (PGDL), designed specifically for non-law graduates.
Non-law graduates who want to become barristers will need to undertake a conversion course, such as the GDL. Then they will need to undertake a period of vocational study known as the Bar course, which is divided into two parts. The name of this qualification differs between providers but was formerly known as the Bar professional training course (BPTC).
- Discover more about the SQE and qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales .
- Read more about law conversion courses .
- How to qualify as a solicitor or advocate in Scotland .
For careers in surveying you do not necessarily have to do the extra qualification before joining a firm, as some employers support graduates gaining the conversion qualification while they work.
- Conversion courses for careers in building surveying or quantity surveying .
- Conversion courses for careers in property .
Other career areas that typically have conversion course options include IT, business and finance. However, the additional layer of qualification isn’t always necessary for getting a graduate job in these areas. You will need to weigh up a couple of considerations:
- Do you need particular specialist knowledge or technical skills to help you get into jobs you have seen advertised that interest you?
- Would it make you feel more comfortable if you had completed some formal learning in the area before applying for jobs?
A conversion course can be seen as a statement of intent, a way to show your potential employer that you are interested in their subject. Having one under your belt can also boost your confidence when surrounded by candidates who have the ‘right’ degree.
Now explore your career options
We have put together a series of guides for confused graduates seeking career ideas and options. In them we outline some key skills that are gained in each degree, and what you can do with them. You might be surprised by the range of jobs you can do with any degree, though some professions will require further training and qualification – we've picked out just a few examples below.
- Jobs you can get with a geography degree – you could teach geography, specialise in town planning, or become an environmental consultant or chartered surveyor.
- Careers with an English degree – you could go into journalism, arts administration, marketing, public relations, advertising copywriting or intelligence.
- What can you do with a sociology degree? You could pursue a career in politics or local or central government, law, teaching or human resources (HR).
- Careers with a history degree – you could become a museum or art gallery curator, or go into teaching, criminal investigation, the Civil Service or law.
- What can I do with a politics degree? You could work for a politician or think-tank, for the Civil Service or a non-governmental organisation.
- Career options for languages graduates – teaching, tourism, business, logistics and accountancy are among the many options open to you.
- Philosophy career options – charity work, teaching, politics, publishing and law are popular career paths for philosophy graduates.
- Career options for design graduates – you could design interiors, film sets, fashion, adverts, products, packaging or publications.
- What can I do with a biology degree? You could work in agriculture, environmental consultancy or pharmaceutical research and development.
- Career options for psychology graduates – market research, insurance, advertising, retail or consulting could be a good match for your skills.
- Careers in mathematics – your numeracy skills will be in demand in accountancy, banking, insurance and consulting.
- What can you do with an engineering degree? Potential careers include engineering, finance, logistics, consulting, IT or patent work.
- Career options for IT graduates – you could become a software developer, tester or trainer, or an IT consultant or systems analyst.
- What can you do with a physics degree? You could find employment in finance, IT, patent work, research and development... Your analytical skills are in demand.
- Careers with a chemistry degree – take your pick of science and technology jobs in areas such as aerospace or pharmaceuticals.
- Career options for business studies and economics graduates – careers that might appeal include consulting, banking, accountancy and logistics.
- What to do with a law degree? Don't want to become a solicitor or barrister? Legal knowledge opens up other paths too.
- Career options for education and teaching graduates – if you decide against teaching, you could consider publishing, social work or a Civil Service career.
- Career options for architecture graduates – alternative careers that call for your flair for precision include finance, accounting, IT or urban planning.
- Career options for medicine and nursing graduates – a medical or nursing background could lead to work in healthcare management or pharmaceuticals.
- What can you do with a marketing degree? If you decide that a career in marketing isn’t for you, you could consider options such as sales, charity fundraising, event management or retail merchandising.
- What can you do with a criminology degree? Your career options range from policing and other criminal justice careers to law, central and local government, social work and more.
Generating career ideas
Start with yourself – this is the basis of all good career decision making. It's the only way you can make effective applications to the right employers, and the only way of finding the career path that is right for you. You need to think about what you enjoy, what you are interested in, and what you have to offer.
Knowing what your skills and values are is a good basis both for deciding which careers, employers and roles interest you, and for making strong applications.
Any work experience you’ve done, including extracurricular activities, will not only have developed your skills and made you more employable, but will also have given you some idea of what you would like to do.
Skills that your degree will have given you
There is no hard-and-fast rule that says that having a degree makes you a better employee. However, there are some generalisations that can be made about the kind of employability skills that graduates should have acquired during their time in university and the personal strengths they should have had the opportunity to develop.
You should have gained a certain amount of emotional intelligence , just through interacting with new people from different backgrounds in an unfamiliar environment. This means that you should have a certain degree of tact and empathy . In employability terms this makes you good at communicating and a capable teamplayer – skills that you can learn more about in our guides covering:
- Emotional intelligence and why it helps you to be the best at your role .
- Why teamworking skills will make you a sought-after employee .
You should also have learned good written communication skills . Whether a lab report, an essay, a research paper or a scrapbook, you will almost certainly have had to put together written coursework for assessment.
By the end of uni you will have written significant amounts of paperwork. What is more, you will have written for a specific audience , whether an examiner or a tutor. Involved here are research skills , planning and organising notes, time management , independent working and critical analysis , not to mention the ability to clearly get your ideas across in writing.
- Learn how to demonstrate excellent communication skills in the recruitment process .
- Find out why critical thinking and analytical skills will help you stand out from other applicants .
- Read our advice on time management and prioritisation to get a head start on being an organised graduate employee .
In a similar way you should have learned how to present information and structure a persuasive argument. Many courses have some form of seminar content. In these classes students are encouraged to share opinions , lead discussions and even present topics to the class. If this is the case then you should know how to present information orally and visually , as well as how to debate a topic. It should also be a good indication of how you perform under pressure .
- Show employers that you have the top core skills needed to land a graduate job .
Alternatives to starting a graduate job
Despite extended overdrafts and mounting student debt, many graduates consider the alternatives to getting a job after graduation. Start your expedition here with three of the main options.
Take a break and travel
Graduate gap years are more common than ever. There’s nothing wrong with taking time out, travelling a bit and doing something different before you get a job. But, like every other opportunity that you face, this one needs research and planning. Many students intend to take a break after graduation but very few actually do.
Taking time out requires a level of thought and forward planning that is slightly inconsistent with the notion of simply kicking back and relaxing. You need to find answers to the following questions:
- What will you do and where will you go?
- Do you want to travel, work (paid/voluntary) or study overseas?
- Will you need to raise some money/pay off debts first?
- Why are you doing it?
- What will other people (potential employers) think of it?
- Will it help you to get the job you want afterwards?
- Should you try to get something organised (job/course) before you go?
- When's the best time to return?
Employers are generally positive about graduates taking time out to travel or work abroad, but only if the experience, personal development benefits and skills gained through it are sold well. Extended holidays without aim are a turn off. If you want to start a graduate job on your return, you need to investigate applications timetables for the careers that interest you before you go.
Work for yourself
More graduates are considering self-employment – and why not? If you have ambition and a decent idea or skill to sell, it's probably worth a go soon after you graduate. You have less to lose, more commitment and energy, you're used to working anti-social hours and working for yourself beats working for someone else.
Take advice first. There is a lot of free information available to those wanting to start small businesses, so take advantage of every scrap. Banks have useful information packs available and, generally speaking, helpful staff working in this area. The GOV.UK website also provides practical advice for those thinking of setting up for themselves.
Many universities and careers services also have enterprise centres, providing advice to help you explore your entrepreneurial ideas. Some universities make available ‘incubation’ or ‘hatchery’ facilities (work space) for their students’ burgeoning businesses.
Postgraduate study can offer an interesting and fulfilling option while you decide what to do next. Further study doesn’t suit everyone though so be sure to think it through. People generally choose further study to:
- continue with a subject of interest to gain more advanced/specialist knowledge
- convert to a new area of work, or add vocational skills to a non-vocation first degree, eg IT, law or journalism
- gain a professional qualification needed to enter a profession, eg law (LPC or BPTC) or teaching (PGCE)
- gain practical skills, eg teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) or basic computer, business and accounting skills – useful if you decide to go it on your own and set up a business.
Whatever you do, don't fall into the common trap of thinking that a postgraduate degree is an alternative to a career. Even non-vocational courses can have a vast impact on your future opportunities. Be aware also that collecting loads of qualifications and skills training without gaining supporting experience may not be as good for your CV as you might think. The important thing is to work out what career doors a course or training will close, as well as open, BEFORE you start.