What are the best paying jobs for graduates?

Last updated: 27 Feb 2024, 13:44

Find out the UK’s average graduate salary, the highest paying graduate jobs and how your degree discipline could affect your earning potential.

A pile of money: discover the graduate jobs with the highest salaries

The average (median) graduate salary in the UK is £35,170, according to an annual salary survey conducted by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) in 2023. One sector it surveyed offers pay head and shoulders above that: the average graduate salary at law firms comes in at £47,000.

However, the ISE’s student recruitment survey comprises findings from its member employers, which are typically the largest employers with structured graduate programmes, and so might not be representative of salaries across the entire early careers market; in fact, just 131 organisations provided salary information. In this article, therefore, we will report on the findings from the ISE to capture the picture at the largest graduate employers before investigating the salaries across employers of other sizes. Along with salary information officially published by employers, we have also referred to data from recruitment agencies and anonymous salary survey sites. Just keep in mind that, while these figures are useful as an indication of what is on offer, they are only representative of what others have been paid in the past, not what be on the table for you.

Go straight to graduate job salaries in different career sector and profession:

  1. at a glance: highest graduate salaries overall
  2. 'competitive' salaries
  3. salary negotiations
  4. solicitors
  5. barristers
  6. accountancy
  7. investment banking
  8. financial services
  9. consulting
  10. IT
  11. engineering
  12. civil and structural engineering, construction and quantity surveying
  13. property surveying
  14. charity
  15. retail
  16. teaching
  17. public sector
  18. event management and hospitality

What are the highest paying graduate jobs and employers?

The highest paying graduate jobs are typically, as the ISE suggests, trainee solicitor posts with commercial law firms (with most City law firms paying between £40,000 and £60,000) or pupil barrister positions with commercial and chancery chambers (which pay as much as £85,000). To give you a flavour of high payers in other sectors, the healthcare technology specialist TPP offers £60,000 for some roles, Aldi’s area manager programme pays £50,000+, and the consultancy Newton Europe offers £49,000 to £53,000.

The ISE breaks down the average (median) salary by business sector as follows:

  • Legal: £47,000
  • Digital & IT: £33,000
  • Finance & professional services: £33,500
  • Health & pharmaceuticals: £31,250
  • Energy, engineering & industry: £31,000
  • Charity & public sector £28,000
  • Built environment £29,500
  • Retail & FMCG: £32,000.

As noted above, these salaries from the ISE are not necessarily representative of graduate salaries across the board, so in the next sections we will look in more detail at pay in different sectors. When comparing careers and employers, however, it is wise to look at the whole compensation package , as there may be significant benefits that supplement a headline salary figure.

What does 'competitive' salary mean?

The above selection of salaries and sector averages are based on salary information officially provided by employers, but it is hard to say definitively which employers and careers offer the highest pay because many employers say that they offer a 'competitive' salary. Sometimes an employer will only disclose salary information at the point of offering you a job. There are multiple reasons why employers might do this – including to be sure that applicants are focused on more than just the money, and to avoid other organisations in their area 'one upping them', so to speak.

If you are motivated by having a high salary, you shouldn't overlook employers you're interested in that don't state a salary or list the salary as 'competitive'. This doesn't mean that the salary they're going to offer is lower than other employers. In fact, it could be the opposite.

Can you negotiate a graduate salary?

The rates of pay offered by employers for graduate programmes are usually fixed, with no or little room for negotiation. There may be more opportunity to negotiate a higher starting salary for an individual graduate job, especially at a smaller employer, if they indicate a range or suggest remuneration depends on experience. Find out more about how to negotiate your starting salary and how to answer the interview question ‘What are your salary expectations?’ to make sure you are prepared.

How much can you earn as a trainee solicitor?

Graduates who join large commercial firms tend to earn the highest solicitors’ starting salaries. Most City law firms offer between £40,000 and £60,000 to first-year trainees. Benefits offered by these large recruiters often include season ticket loans, private healthcare, life assurance and gym memberships. The salary package offered by regional and high street firms, and in the public sector, will be lower; the Government Legal Department, for example, pays £31,696 to its trainee solicitors and pupil barristers.

How much can you earn as a barrister?

The largest pupillage awards can be found with commercial and chancery sets, which typically offer between £40,000 and £85,000 for 12 months. Sets carrying out publicly funded work (for example, criminal or family law) are likely to offer significantly less, but all pupillages must offer an award of £21,060 for pupillages outside of London and £23,078 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.

What are the typical salaries and benefits in accounting?

Most accountancy employers are likely to say that their graduate starting salaries are 'highly competitive' rather than publishing an exact figure. The public sector is an exception to this:

  • The National Audit Office: over £26,000 in Newcastle; over £32,000 in London
  • The Civil Service Fast Stream (finance stream): £31,186 (when open for applications)
  • The NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme (finance stream): £27,701.

Data from recruitment agencies and anonymised salary surveys suggest that the typical salary for a trainee accountant in the private sector falls in the range of £21,000 to £25,000. This will vary depending on the employer and the location. According to the Hays UK Salary and Recruiting Trends 2024 report, the following are typical salary ranges for trainee accountants:

  • trainee ACA accountants: £20,000 to £31,000 (lowest in Northern Ireland and highest in London)
  • trainee ACCA accountants: £23,000 to £30,000 (lowest in Wales and highest in London)
  • trainee CIMA accountants: £24,000 to £30,000 (lowest in Wales and highest in London)
  • trainee CIPFA accountants: £21,000 to £29,000 (lowest in Northern Ireland and highest in London).

Larger employers, especially the Big 4 professional services firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) may pay at the top end of these ranges or more. Anonymous survey sites suggest that graduate-level pay at the Big 4 is around £30,000. The Big 4 firms are all members of the ISE, with the institute's average graduate salary with professional services and finance employers being £33,500. However, individual salaries may be lower than this, depending on the role and the location.

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.

Pay and perks in investment banking

Investment banks usually state that their pay is competitive or highly competitive, so you have to turn to anonymous salary surveys and recruitment agency reports to get an understanding of what is on offer.

A typical graduate programme lasts for two or three years, with pay rises based on performance over the course of the programme. The average UK starting salary for graduate analysts (a typical graduate role) is around £52,000. This could rise up to £70,000 by your final year.

Potential future earnings are high. The 2023 salary survey from specialist recruiters Pearse Partners reports that the median salary for investment banking analysts is around £85,000, rising to £140,000 for associates.

All of the figures mentioned do not take bonuses into account. These are generally linked to fund performance and can be up to 200% of your salary at management level.

Salaries in financial services and insurance

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, and are not always made public.

According to the Hays UK Salary and Recruitment Trends 2024 report, the following are typical salaries for graduates in actuarial jobs:

  • general insurance: £30,750 to £37,500 (lowest in north-west England and highest in London)
  • life insurance: £27,250 to £38,000 (lowest in Scotland and highest in London).

Below are some of the big employers who publish starting salaries for their graduate schemes:

  • Aviva: £33,500 (finance)
  • Bank of England: £31,000 (graduate development programme and actuarial programme)
  • Lloyd's: £32,000 (insurance); £36,000 (actuarial)
  • Lloyds Banking Group: £42,000 (finance and actuarial); £45,000 (business and commercial banking, corporate banking and markets)
  • NatWest Group: £33,500 (internal audit)
  • Santander: £35,000 (retail banking); £38,000 (corporate and commercial banking)
  • Zurich Insurance Group: £32,550 (actuarial)

What salary and benefits can you expect in consulting?

Most consulting employers are tight-lipped about their salaries until they offer you a job. Anonymous salary surveys suggest that the average salary for a graduate management consultant is £30,000 to £35,000 but that many established graduate consulting employers pay £40,000 or more. Consulting firms typically offer a wide range of benefits, most notably MBA programme sponsorship, and some of the consulting firms offering slightly lower salaries may have more generous benefits than those offering more on paper. This is a profession in which it is worth considering the entire compensation package.

A few consultancy firms publish salaries for their graduate consultant, analyst and associate jobs. For 2024, starting salaries include:

  • Accenture: £33,500, plus a £10,000 sign-on bonus
  • Alfa: £40,000, plus a £5,000 sign-on bonus
  • Newton Europe; £49,000 to £53,000, plus a £2,500 sign-on bonus.

How much can you earn in IT?

A graduate salary in IT could be under £24,000 or over £30,000 – it all depends on the employer you choose. According to IT Jobs Watch, the median salary for an IT graduate was £28,500 in the six months running up to 2 February 2024. For a graduate developer, it was £31,500; for a graduate tester, it was £25,000; for a graduate IT analyst, it was £22,500; and for a graduate in IT support, it was £27,500. All of these figures take into account salaries with employers of all shapes and sizes.

As the examples below show, starting salaries for IT jobs tend to be highest at big employers that run IT or technology graduate programmes. All figures refer to 2024 start dates, unless otherwise stated.

  • Alfa: £40,000 (software engineering)
  • Aviva: £33,500 (technology)
  • BAE Systems: £34,000 (technology)
  • Babcock International Group: at least £31,000 (IT and digital engineering)
  • Bank of England: £35,000 (technology)
  • Lloyds Banking Group: £45,000 (data science and analytics and technology engineering)
  • MI5: £33,000 (technology)
  • NATS: £30,000 (engineering and technology)
  • Softwire: £42,000 (software developer)
  • TPP: £60,000 (software developer and technical engineer)
  • Zurich: £29,500 (change and technology).

Also according to IT Jobs Watch, the median salary for developer jobs (of all experience levels) in the six months running up to 2 February 2024 was £60,000. For technology jobs in banking it was £75,000; for fintech jobs, £80,000; for IT consultants, £49,800; for games developers, £50,000; for IT project managers, £54,000; and for IT analysts, £35,000.

IT Jobs Watch’s analysis also shows that, in the six months running up to 2 February 2024, the median salary for jobs requiring AI skills was £70,000. For .NET jobs, the average salary was £60,000; for jobs involving C#, £60,000; for Python, £67,500; and for Java, £70,000.

If you’re applying for an individual job vacancy (especially at a tech start-up) there may be more scope for negotiation than there typically is in other sectors.

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 the £25,000 and £32,000 mark. Smaller and medium-sized or regional employers may offer slightly lower pay, often between £20,000 and £25,000, while larger employers typically pay their graduate engineers £30,000 and above. The starting salaries here are for programmes advertised in 2024:

  • AECOM: £28,500 (with a bachelors degree); £30,500 (with a masters)
  • Babcock International Group: at least £31,000
  • BAE Systems: £34,000, plus a £2,000 welcome payment
  • BP: £37,000 to £48,000
  • Jaguar Land Rover: £31,000, plus a £2,000 joining bonus
  • Nuclear Graduates: £30,000
  • Rolls-Royce: £29,000, plus a £2,000 joining bonus
  • Unilever: £35,000
  • United Utilities: £30,000, plus a £2,000 welcome bonus,

What is the graduate starting salary in construction and civil engineering?

Salaries for construction graduate jobs typically fall in the region of £24,000 to £32,000. 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. According to the Hays UK Salary and Recruitment Trends 2024 report, the typical salary for a graduate civil engineer is £27,000 to £30,000 and the typical salary for a graduate structural engineer is £28,000 to £30,000.

The starting salaries here are for graduate programmes advertised in 2024:

  • AECOM: £28,500 (with a bachelors degree); £30,500 (with a masters)
  • Amey: £28,500
  • Atkins: between £29,000 and £32,750
  • Babcock International Group: at least £31,000 (for the civil and structural engineering, civil design engineering and quantity surveying/construction management programmes)
  • Barratt Developments: £26,000 to £29,000
  • Nuclear Graduates: £30,000 (for the civil engineering programme)
  • Transport for London: £28,500 (for the civil engineering programme).

What salary can a graduate property surveyor expect?

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.

Over the years, a few graduate employers have broken their silence on salaries, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Expect to see plenty of ‘competitive’ salaries on job adverts. The following figures are for opportunities advertised in 2024:

  • AECOM: £28,500 with a bachelors; £30,500 with a masters (for its landscape architecture and building surveying programmes)
  • Atkins: £29,000 to £32,750 (for its town planning scheme)
  • Barratt Developments: £26,000 to £29,000 (for its ASPIRE scheme, which includes its land and planning department).

According to the Hays UK Salary and Recruitment Trends 2024 report, the following are typical salaries in the property sector:

  • graduate building surveyor: £22,000 to £32,000
  • graduate project manager: £25,000 to £28,000
  • graduate general practice surveyor: £21,000 to £32,000
  • graduate property manager: £21,000 to £32,000
  • graduate commercial surveyor: £21,500 to £32,000
  • graduate development surveyor: £20,500 to £32,000
  • graduate valuation surveyor: £20,500 to £28,500.

For each of these, the highest salaries are in London and the lowest in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Macdonald & Company 2023 survey of property professionals reports a UK median salary of £59,926. It groups graduate, assistant and junior roles together, reporting an average salary of £30,500 in this category. The highest salaries by sector are in investment banking/corporate, followed by investor/fund/real estate investment trust. The lowest are owner/occupied/end user and central/local government.

How much can graduates earn in the charity/not-for-profit sector?

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 £22,000 – some charities also pay an additional allowance if you’re based in London.

There are a few structured graduate schemes in the charity sector, which often pay more than entry-level roles. These include:

  • Charityworks graduate programme: the salary meets the Living Wage (as set by the Living Wage Foundation). For 2022/23, the salary was £21,255 (UK-wide) and £23,302.50 for London-based placements
  • Cancer Research's Accelerate scheme: £26,000 in the first year, increasing to £27,750 in the second year
  • Wellcome Trust graduate development programme: £40,000 in the first year.

As your career progresses, your salary will become more or less comparable with salaries in the private sector, but perhaps slightly lower than you could earn at the largest employers in London. Fundraising managers can earn anywhere between £26,000 and £40,000, depending on the exact role requirements. Heads of functions can earn far more.

What can graduates who work for retailers earn?

Aldi outstrips most of its competitors in terms of pay, offering £50,000 for its area manager programme. The rates of pay from other retailers depends partly on the graduate job role and location, ranging from around £21,000 to £37,000. For example:

  • Lidl: £38,000 for its retail graduate management programme
  • Tesco: £30,000 to £37,000, depending on the graduate programme
  • John Lewis Partnership: said to be £27,000 to £29,000
  • Next: £25,000 for its trainee merchandising vacancies
  • Majestic Wine: reported to be around £23,000 for its trainee manager vacancies.

The perks offered by retailers usually include discounts on their products.

What is the starting salary for a teacher?

An early careers teacher (ECT) can expect to earn in line with the agreed national pay scale, usually starting on the minimum rate of the main pay range. Progression within the scale will then be determined by the school they work for. Academies and free schools can set their own salaries, but they tend to pay similar to state-maintained, local authority (LA) schools.

The main pay ranges for qualified teachers across the UK in the 2023/24 academic year are as follows:

  • England (excluding London): £30,000 to £41,333
  • London fringe: £31,350 to £42,689
  • Outer London: £34,514 to £46,001
  • Inner London: £36,745 to £47,666
  • Scotland: £32,217 to £48,516
  • Wales: £29,278 (with an extra lump sum of £412.37) to £40,443 (with an extra lump of £569.61)
  • Northern Ireland: £24,137 to £35,277.

These figures are revised annually. You can find further details of teacher pay scales on the National Education Union website and the NASUWT website .

If you want to work in further education, the salary scale recommended by the Association of Colleges for qualified FE teachers is £26,090 to £39,347. You can find further details on the University and College Union website .

What is public sector pay like for graduates?

Many public sector schemes offer pay that is comparable to that available in the private sector, with many also guaranteeing a pay rise after the first year. Here are the first-year salaries for a selection of public sector graduate programmes or roles:

  • MI5: from £33,000, depending on the role, with a guaranteed increase after one year
  • The Government Legal Department: £31,696 for trainee solicitors and pupil barristers in London, Leeds, Bristol and Manchester
  • National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP – the local authority graduate programme): £30,296 minimum
  • The Civil Service Fast Stream: £31,186
  • NHS Graduate Management Training Schemes: £27,701 with the opportunity to increase to £29,832 after 12 months
  • The National Audit Office: from £26,000 in Newcastle and from £32,000 in London
  • Police Now: £36,775, rising to £37,975 at week 30 and increasing each year.

The Frontline social work programme offers a tax-free bursary of £18,000 or £20,000 in London for the first year and then a salary of up to £34,000, depending on location, in the second year of the programme.

What salary can a graduate expect in events management and hospitality?

Starting salaries for entry-level events assistant roles (requiring little or no experience) typically sit somewhere between £20,000 and £25,000. According to the recruitment website Indeed, the average salary for an event assistant is £23,000; for an event coordinator, £25,000; and for an event manager, £33,000. Some employers will reward their events staff with commission-based payments and bonuses on top of their base salary.

Salaries in hospitality vary, with many ranging from the high teens to the mid-twenties, depending on the employer, role and location. Restaurant and pub chain Mitchells & Butlers offers a salary of £30,000 for its graduate scheme, for example. According to Indeed, the average salary for a hotel or restaurant manager is around £33,800.

Next: search for graduate jobs on targetjobs

Related careers advice

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.