Popular jobs for school leavers and graduates

how to get your star job
Want a good job but not sure what the options are? Use our overview of 16 career areas that are common destinations after university for graduates or ambitious school leavers.

Finding out about popular careers can reveal jobs you weren’t aware of that might suit you well. Take a look at the list below to see what catches your eye, then click through for more detail and to find out how to get into them.

Not all good jobs require you to go to university. There are a number you can get into after your A levels, Scottish Highers or International Baccalaureate and some you can get into with lower level qualifications, though you may need to work your way up. For example, if you want to become a hotel manager you could:

  • go to university then apply for a graduate scheme
  • apply to one of the small number of management training programmes open to non-graduates
  • find a job in a hotel and work hard to get promotions.

List of careers with good prospects for school leavers or graduates

The following careers offer good opportunities to graduates, and to well-qualified school leavers who don’t mind some extra study and training. We’ve listed them in alphabetical order.

  • Armed forces careers. You could apply for officer roles in the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines or Royal Air Force. Starting salaries for officers are around £25,700. You can normally apply for officer training if you have two good A levels, though the majority of successful applicants have degrees.
  • Business careers. Areas to consider include HR, marketing, PR, sales and management consulting (advising organisations on how to make improvements). Starting salaries for graduates are around £18,000 to £30,000. You can get into most business careers with or without a degree, though the vast majority of entry-level roles in management consulting are for graduates.
  • Charity careers. You could specialise in fundraising, lobbying (trying to get politicians to support your cause) or policy-making, among other areas. Starting salaries for official graduate schemes can be between £18,000 and £26,000 but even if you have a degree you’re more likely to start in an entry-level role on a lower salary. School leavers can work for charities, though you might need to get experience elsewhere first.
  • Construction and property careers. This wide-ranging career area includes architecture, landscape architecture, geotechnical engineering, civil engineering, structural engineering, building surveying, site management and quantity surveying (estimating and tracking costs). Starting salaries for graduates tend to be around £25,000 in large companies and a bit less in smaller ones. There are good opportunities in construction for school leavers.
  • Emergency services careers. There are job opportunities in the police, ambulance, and fire and rescue services, and emergency planning careers. Typical starting salaries in the emergency services are around £22,000. You can get into the emergency services without a degree, though in some cases having a degree helps.
  • Engineering careers. There are many different engineering specialisms to choose from. Some of the most popular are mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, electronic engineering and chemical engineering. Graduate starting salaries in engineering are around £18,000 to £35,000, depending on the company and industry you join. Both school leavers and graduates are very welcome in this profession.
  • Finance careers. Your options include accounting, investment banking, retail banking (working for a high-street bank) and actuarial work (calculating risk for insurance companies). Graduate scheme salaries in finance vary from under £25,000 to £45,000 or more depending on the career and firm you choose. Lots of finance professionals are graduates but there are routes into most areas for school leavers too.
  • Hospitality and travel careers. You could consider hotel management, event management, adventure tourism, managing a bar or restaurant, or becoming a travel agent. Graduate scheme salaries in this area are typically around £18,000 to £25,000. You can get into this area with or without a degree, though many formal training schemes are for graduates.
  • IT careers. Technical roles in IT include software development, games development, network engineering, cyber security and software testing. There are also non-technical jobs such as project management. Graduate starting salaries in IT are often between £21,000 and £30,000. There are good opportunities for both school leavers and graduates.
  • Law careers. The main career options are to become a solicitor, barrister or paralegal. Starting salaries for lawyers can be anywhere between £12,000 and £50,000. Currently you must have a degree if you want to become a solicitor or barrister, although this may change in the next few years for solicitors.
  • Media careers. This wide-ranging area includes journalism, editing, photography, design, broadcast production, copywriting and presenting. Starting salaries in the media for graduates tend to range from around £12,000 to £23,000. Lots of media workers are graduates but there are some opportunities for school leavers.
  • Public service careers. You could work for the Civil Service, an intelligence agency or in local government. Starting salaries for graduates in the public sector range widely, from around £17,000 to £33,000 or more. There are plenty of opportunities for graduates and some for school leavers.
  • Retail, buying and fashion careers. There are career opportunities in store management, fashion design, buying, product technology (creating and improving products), merchandising (deciding which products to stock) and visual merchandising (creating store displays). Starting salaries in this area for graduates can be anywhere from £12,000 to £40,000 or more. There are lots of opportunities for gradates and some for school leavers.
  • Science careers. You could use your study of science to launch a career in chemical development and manufacturing, food production and development, crop research, meteorology, pharmaceutical research and development, or monitoring and preventing pollution. Starting salaries for graduates are often between around £23,000 and £30,000. Most jobs are for graduates through there are some apprenticeships.
  • Social work careers. You could work with children and families, older people or adults with mental health problems. Starting salaries for social workers tend to be around £19,000 to £25,000. Social workers need a degree, though there are related careers where this isn’t necessary.
  • Teaching and education careers. Career paths open to you include becoming a primary or secondary school teacher, teacher in a hospital or young offenders’ institution, youth worker or teaching assistant. Salaries for newly qualified teachers are at least £22,467; in inner London the figure is £28,098. You need a degree to teach, though you can be a teaching assistant without one.

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