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Will going to a top university guarantee me a good job?

Nothing can actually guarantee you a good job – and a degree of any sort has never guaranteed anyone a job. But there’s more to it than that, of course…

Let’s unpick the question to get into the nuts and bolts of it.

Top university?

First, don’t worry too much about the phrase ‘top university’, because people’s opinions differ about what a ‘top university’ actually is.

In reality, though, there are a group of universities – often belonging to the Russell Group or 1994 Group - that ask for high entry requirements for students, are often seen as being more prestigious and whose grads tend to take the lion's share of employment in some industries.

If you don’t go to one of those universities, then (let’s be honest) some recruiters might not look at you unless you have something outstanding – like seriously snazzy work experience - to show them.

Not all employers think like that, though. And with more students choosing universities for different reasons - for instance, to cut costs by living at home and studying locally - graduate employers have to cast their net more widely to attract talent. Other employers are good at establishing links with universities that specialise in their field, or are located nearby (which is why it’s worth thinking about where a university is situated – you might end up there longer than you think).

Good job?

Let’s also not worry too much about what a ‘good job’ actually means – for some of you, it’ll be the best-paid one. For others, it’ll be something that allows you to be creative, or something that inspires you, or something with a social conscience - or all of the above, plus a whole range of other reasons as well.

Let’s try to look at what employers think of different university choices. You only have to look at the data we have for graduates leaving universities to see that the most prestigious universities – the ones that ask for the highest grades to get into – have the lowest average unemployment rate, and for those who do get jobs, more graduates get jobs considered to be graduate employment.

Graduates from unis with the highest entry requirements – those usually asking for AAB or above at A-level – had an average unemployment rate after six months of 6.8%, against 8.5% overall, and about three quarters who got jobs, got graduate level jobs – against about 65% overall.


The other side of the story…

Not all graduates from these universities enjoyed immediate employment success, though – in 2011, even some graduates with first-class honours degrees were working in supermarkets after six months. Not many, of course, and that doesn’t mean they’ll always be there. Or, they might end up as the manager, earning a high salary!

On the other hand, most graduates at universities lower down the league tables have jobs after six months, and most with a graduate-level one. So it’s perfectly possible to get a good job whatever university you go to if you work at it.

Choosing the right university

The best university for you is one that offers a course you enjoy and gets you thinking, with lecturers who inspire you, in an area you like living in, and people you like living with.

When it comes to your long-term prospects, different universities have different strengths. The older, more well-known universities are great if you want to work for a big-name company, or if you want to work abroad, or if you think you’ll want a career in research, or as an academic and therefore want to take a doctorate. The newer universities are often hot on work experience, and have good links with employers. Other universities may have a good reputation with particular employers within a certain field.

If you like the look of a course, but aren’t sure if an employer you’d like to work for will be interested, ask the admissions tutor on an open day if they can tell you which companies graduates from that course went to work with – they should be able to give you some idea.

And don’t forget – once you’ve got a decent work history under your belt, if you’re good enough, most employers won’t be bothered where you went to university.


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