What are the best paying jobs for graduates?
Find out the UK’s average graduate salary, which professions offer the highest starting salaries and how your degree discipline could affect your earning potential.
The highest average graduate salaries are typically with law firms. The annual salary survey carried out by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), published in November 2021, put law firms ahead of all the other career sectors covered.
The median graduate starting salary for law firms was £42,250. The next highest median starting pay was offered at finance and professional services firms at £32,850, just ahead of the digital and IT sector at £31,750.
With any employer, it is always worth looking into the whole salary package rather than pay alone, as there may also be significant benefits to take into consideration.
This article focuses on graduate salaries, which are usually fixed for each intake of a large employer’s graduate scheme. Sometimes, however, there is room for negotiation, especially if the employer hasn’t decided exactly what level of experience they’re looking for. Learn more about how to negotiate salaries and whether you should .
Graduate job salary in popular careers: solicitors | barristers | accountancy | investment banking | charity | financial services | consulting | civil and structural engineering, construction and quantity surveying | property surveying | retail | teaching | public sector | event management | hospitality | IT | engineering
The average graduate salary: expectations down, salaries up
It’s interesting to note that students and graduates are expecting a slightly lower salary in the 2021–22 recruitment round than they were before the pandemic took hold. According to the 2021 Cibyl Graduate Research UK survey of 67,688 students and graduates, the expected average graduate salary respondents was £27,113, slightly less than the previous year’s survey amount of £27,755.
However, the ISE reveals that the median graduate salary rose in 2020–21 to £30,500, up from £29,667. It’s important to remember, however, that ISE members include many large multinational employers that tend to offer relatively high starting salaries.
Graduate job salary by business sector
The latest figures from the ISE indicate that the median graduate starting salaries in the 2020–21 recruitment round were as listed below. Do bear in mind, however, that this is only a survey of the ISE members (which comprise the largest employers) and so these figures are not representative of graduate pay across the board.
- Legal £42,250
- Finance and professional services £32,850
- Digital and IT £31,750
- Health and pharmaceuticals £29,500
- Energy, engineering and industry £28,000
- Built environment £28,000
- Retail and FMCG £28,000
- Charity and the public sector £25,996
All of these salaries are up on the previous year, with the exception of the built environment (the median salary of which remains unchanged) and charity and the public sector (the median salary of which has fallen slightly).
Graduates who join large and medium-sized commercial firms tend to earn the highest solicitors’ starting salaries. Most City law firms offer between £40,000 and £50,000 to first-year trainees. Benefits offered by large recruiters often include season ticket loans, private healthcare, life assurance and gym memberships.
The most generous pupillage awards are available from commercial and chancery sets, where they are usually between £40,000 and £70,000 for 12 months. Sets carrying out publicly funded work are likely to offer significantly less, but all pupillages must offer an award of £17,152 for pupillages outside of London and £19,144 for those in London for 12 months. If you are successful in establishing your practice after obtaining tenancy, you are likely to see a substantial increase in your earnings, whatever area of law you have chosen to specialise in.
Accountancy starting salaries are likely to be in the region of £18,000–£28,000, depending on the employer and location. Larger employers, especially the Big 4 professional services firms, may pay more. Qualifying with a professional body usually takes three to four years and most accountancy employers will pay for your exam fees and give you time off to study. You may be offered a graduate loan as part of your overall package of pay and benefits. There are good prospects for future wage increases as you progress.
Graduate starting salaries can range from under £25,000 up to £60,000 in the most lucrative areas of work. Pay rises based on performance are likely to be awarded each year of a graduate programme and beyond.
Graduate starting salaries within the charity/not-for-profit sector vary depending on the organisation you work for, the industry and where the role is based. In an entry-level role you can typically expect to earn between £15,000 and £20,000 – some charities also pay an additional allowance if you’re based in London.
Graduate schemes often pay more than entry-level roles and you can expect a salary between £18,000 and £25,000 on schemes with charities such as Charity Works, Worthwhile and Cancer Research. Securing a higher wage in the charity sector is certainly possible, though, especially as your career progresses. Roles related to marketing and development tend to pay between £25,000 and £30,000 and earnings will be upwards of this for more senior and strategic positions.
targetjobs uses ‘financial services’ as an umbrella term for careers in insurance, retail banking, actuarial work, risk and regulation. Graduate starting salaries vary according to the role, location and employer, but are likely to be in the region of £25,000–£33,000 and possibly more in London.
Most consulting employers are tight-lipped about their salaries until they offer you a job; they tend to use terms such as ‘competitive’ or ‘highly competitive’ to describe the graduate starting pay on offer. Newton Europe is one exception to this rule: its salaries start at £45,000. Consulting firms typically offer a wide range of benefits, most notably MBA programme sponsorship.
Salaries for construction graduate jobs typically fall in the region of £24,000 to £31,000. Larger employers running graduate programmes often pay the same rate for all of their graduate roles (although some offer more for certain locations). However, employers offering individual jobs might pay different rate for different types of job, with engineers typically being offered more.
- Find out more about typical starting salaries in civil and structural engineering, construction and quantity surveying
The typical starting salary of a graduate property professional is between £20,000 and £30,000, with the exact salary on offer varying according to location and specialism. It’s likely that your pay will increase as you pass your APC with the Royal Institute or the Royal Town Planning Institute and become chartered. When you are researching employers, consider whether they can give you the range of experience you’ll need to gain chartership, as it is vital for your future earnings.
Aldi and Lidl are the high payers among retailers, offering £44,000 and £37,000 respectively (plus a car). Other retailers pay less, typically ranging from the low to high twenties. The perks offered by retailers usually include discounts on their products.
A newly qualified teacher (NQT) in England usually starts work on the minimum rate of the main pay range, currently £25,714 a year (rising to £32,157 in inner London). Academies and independent schools may offer different conditions.
Many public sector schemes offer pay that is comparable to that on offer from big graduate recruiters in the private sector, and many graduate schemes guarantee a pay rise after the first year. Among the highest payers are MI5 (the technology programme has a starting salary of £34,366), HM Revenue & Customs (which pays between £30,880 and £35,105) and the Intellectual Property Office (which pays patent examiners in telecommunications £33,101). The Civil Service Fast Stream typically pays between £28,000 and £32,000.
- What starting salary should a graduate in the public sector be looking for?
- Will you earn more as a manager in the public sector or the private sector?
Starting salaries for events assistants are typically around £20,000 to £21,000 but may vary depending on the location, industry in which the events are run, size of the company, level of responsibility and level of previous experience. Some employers will reward their events staff with commission-based payments and bonuses on top of their base salary.
What could you earn as a graduate in hospitality and travel?
The McDonald’s trainee manager scheme offers a starting salary of between £24,000 and £27,000, while the Mitchells & Butlers programme pays £26,000. When it comes to graduate management schemes in hotels, a salary of between £22,000 and £25,000 is typical.
How much can you earn in IT?
Graduate salaries in IT typically range from £24,000 with a small tech start-up or over £40,000 with a technology giant. Big companies that run IT and technology graduate programmes tend to pay the most. Employers that currently offer a starting salary over £40,000 include Alfa, Lloyds Banking Group, Metaswitch and TPP.
What could you earn as a graduate engineer?
As a graduate engineer, your salary will depend on factors such as your industry, your employer, your location and your qualifications, but a typical starting salary in engineering is between £24,000 and £31,000. Smaller and medium-sized or regional employers may offer slightly lower pay, often between £20,000 and £25,000, while larger employers will pay their graduate engineers £30,000 and above. The energy sector, particularly oil and gas, is well known for paying the highest salaries.