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What do graduate employment figures really tell you?

When you’re choosing a course and university, it’s a good idea to think about what’s likely to happen afterwards. Find out how the statistics can help you plan your future…

The Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey is carried out each year across universities to find out what graduates do after leaving university, including the type of job they’re doing, salary they’re earning (or what they’re up to if not in work).

As with all statistics, you’ll need to add a bit of context to get the full story. Here are some handy tips to help you make sense of all those numbers.

It’s only after six months

The current unemployment rate six months after graduation for the class of 2013 is 7.3%. But if you’re looking at a different industry, such as the ever-popular media, or a different part of the country, like Wales or the North East, the rate may be higher as you might take a little bit longer to get the right kind of job. 

Six months isn’t very long, so don’t get too hung up on that figure. It doesn’t mean that 7.3% of graduates will never get a job. We also know that of the graduates from 2009 who were out of work after 6 months, only 12% were still out of work three years later. So, just because graduates didn’t find work straight away, that doesn’t mean they never find work. They usually do. 

‘Not in work’ doesn’t (always) mean ‘unemployed’

Yes, if you’re unemployed, you fall into that section, but you also do if you’re travelling, taking time out to look after children (common in subjects such as fine art with a lot of mature students), or if you’re in prison. Ok, that last one isn’t very positive, but, fortunately, there aren’t many people in that group.

Recession has affected some industries or regions more than others

Don’t be put off a course just because these figures show high unemployment now. There is still some recovery taking place following the recession a couple of years ago. You won’t be graduating for a few years yet, and things might be very different then.

The recession has been bad for everyone, but far worse for some. Construction, for example, was really badly affected, and that really hit degrees such as civil engineering and architecture. Before the recession, these had low unemployment rates, but now they’re much higher - although, thankfully, we can see that they’re coming down again, and it looks as if they’re set to fall further.

The same goes for courses in different parts of the country. So, if you’re looking at two courses in different parts of the country, don’t forget that the jobs market in the North East is very different to the jobs market in the South East. If one has slightly better job figures than the other, it might not really be telling you which course is better – it’s often telling you that graduates like to stay near to where they studied.

What’s a ‘graduate job’ anyway?

It’s actually tricky to work out what a ‘graduate job’ is, because people disagree about what the phrase really means, and because the job market moves so quickly these days – how many jobs do you think there were in smartphone apps five years ago?

So a lot of research goes into trying to keep up with the jobs market to work out what is and what isn’t a ‘graduate job’. We can’t promise they’re all well paid, interesting or offer good promotion possibilities – but the chances are that they do. Oh, and just because graduates don’t have them after six months doesn’t mean they never will.

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    Don’t expect big bucks straight away

    The average salary for a graduate from 2012 six months after they graduated was £20,039 – the first time that graduate starting salaries were over £20,000.

    You’ll often see in the media quoted starting salaries for graduates of £25,000 or more. Not everyone ends up (or wants) to be a management consultant or in finance for a big London firm. If you do, a decent starting salary in that region is a fair expectation.

    But most grads aren’t in those jobs, and so the average salary for a graduate from 2013 six months after they graduated ranged between £18,615  £22,785. This varies quite a bit with industry and around the country. So, be realistic about what you’re likely to start on. Most graduates find their degree doesn’t make them rich quick, but will help them earn a comfortable living.

    Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), an independent research charity specialising in higher education and graduate employment. 


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