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What is actually the difference between a grad job and a grad scheme?

Charlie Benson
Content Marketing Executive

From your final year of university onwards you encounter a lot of talk about grad jobs and grad schemes. You know you definitely want one or the other, but do you really know what you’re applying for?

The differences between the two are relatively subtle, and you can get many of the same things out of them. But here are the key characteristics of each and what sets them apart:


Graduate schemes

  • The first thing you need to know about grad schemes is that they have set application windows. You typically need to be applying from September of your final year at university, ready for next year's intake which is usually in July or September.
  • They often give you the opportunity to start out your career in a big name company and prove yourself there, which looks great on a CV and can kick-start your career.
  • You can expect high-quality, and very structured, training over the course of your time there.
  • May include the opportunity to gain professional qualifications as you train and work.
  • Grad schemes are very competitive and highly sought-after for the reasons listed above. This means the application process can be tough and quite rigid, as there are a limited number of places available each year. You can expect to have to take psychometric tests and attend assessment centres and so on.
  • If you do land a grad scheme, it doesn’t guarantee you an actual job afterwards. These programs run for a set period of time; tending to last a minimum of 12 months, and a maximum of 36 months. This makes them high pressure, as even once you’ve made it through the application process you’re still competing with other grads to be hired long term in the end. You may find yourself working long hours, including weekends in order to do so.
  • You often get to rotate round the company and learn about different aspects of a business, which can be good if you’re not sure of exactly what you want to do within a given industry.
  • Many grad schemes expect a 2:1 or above, but this isn’t always the case – so do your research, as there are some that will take grads with 2:2s.
  • Generally, you’re likely to be offered a higher salary than you would in your first entry-level graduate job.


Graduate jobs

  • Typically, you wouldn’t apply for a graduate job until you’ve left, or are just about to leave, university. They tend to only be open to graduates. This means there’s less waiting around in-between when you first apply and when you secure the position.
  • There are more of them – only a select number of companies run graduate schemes or programs, but many businesses need talented graduate hires.
  • They can still be very competitive.
  • Your graduate job options are more varied: you can find positions in big and much smaller businesses across all industries. Also, they will all have slightly different hiring practices, which may not be quite so rigorous as the standard grad scheme application process.
  • If you land a graduate job, you’ve been hired to perform the role at hand immediately. You have the job, so there aren’t so many hoops to jump through in the same way as there are with grad schemes, in which you’re still trying to prove yourself to secure a job at the end.
  • You can expect training, but in a less lengthy, structured way. You will probably be put to hands-on work more quickly.
  • Your time in a grad job is likely to be less structured. Your progression and focus within the company may be more dictated by your strengths and weaknesses, and how things develop as time goes on, rather than following a set program.
  • Grad jobs can in some ways be better for you if you’re not sure what you want to do, as they don’t tie you into a spending a year (or multiple years) training in one specific field.
  • Entry-level graduate job wages tend to be less competitive than graduate scheme salaries.
  • Graduate job opportunities aren't typically advertised as prominently as the major grad schemes, so you have to put more effort into searching for an opportunity.
  • Because grad jobs are entirely dependent on the company and its requirements, there's no guarantee that the employer you want to work for will be taking on any more graduates that year. Unlike grad schemes, which have a guaranteed intake year on year.
  • This does mean you can apply for grad jobs all year round, as opposed to being tied to a particular application window.


Whether you're looking for a graduate scheme or a graduate job, always do your research into the kind of company you'd like to work for and make sure you don't miss any opportunities they're advertising.


You can browse all of the latest graduate jobs and schemes on GradTouch here.