What’s the difference between a graduate scheme and an entry level role?

When it comes to exploring your career options, understanding the different opportunities open to you can help you decide on your first role after graduating. You might be quite familiar with the term ‘graduate schemes’ but do you really know the differences between a graduate scheme and an entry level graduate role?

Here are some considerations:

What are the main differences between graduate schemes and entry level roles?

Although each employer designs their early talent roles to suit their own organisation, there are some broad similarities:

Graduate SchemeEntry Level
TimescaleStructured training programme for a set period of timeUsually a more flexible structure
Type of companyTypically seen in large organisationsCan be with a large or small organisation
Type of roleCan be specific job role or split into time-bound rotations working in different areas of the organisationEmployed directly into one position which could either be permanent or fixed-term
Application ProcessA range of assessment in the recruitment process which can comprise application forms, online tests, video interview, assessment centre and final interview.Generally required to complete application form or submit CV & cover letter and then shortlisted for interview.
When to applySet period to apply for the schemeRolling application depending on organisational resource demand

Are graduate schemes only for undergraduate level students?

No! Many of the graduate schemes are open to both undergraduates and postgraduates. Some graduate schemes will specify the entry requirements the organisation is looking for on the job description. If you’re early on in your career, graduate schemes can offer a good entry point into your industry of choice. If you have more experience, consider if the scheme can provide a means for transition into the type of roles you’re looking to go into. If you’ve worked for a number of years in a similar position, it is likely that experienced hire roles (also known as direct entry roles) might be more suitable for you.

I am an international student looking to work in the UK. Should I apply for a graduate scheme or focus on entry level roles?

International students can apply for both types of roles, depending on eligibility, which can differ from employer to employer and be subject to change. For some organisations, there are different programmes throughout the year for specific markets for example, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific which could have different eligibility requirements. It’s best for you to check by approaching the organisation directly to check if you’re eligible to apply.

Which sectors offer graduate schemes?

There’s a wide range of industries offering graduate schemes and your degree choice doesn’t necessarily limit your options. For example, you could be a finance student interested in joining an HR graduate scheme in the oil and gas industry! You may be interested to find out more about sector information on Prospects.

When do I apply for graduate schemes and entry level roles?

Generally, graduate schemes tend to open for applications in September to February each year, although recently we have noticed that some banks and large accounting firms have started opening their application period as early as July. Some organisations have rolling recruitment, which means they accept applications all year round. As graduate schemes are often highly competitive, it is best to apply as early as possible.

Entry level role recruitment can take place at any time of the year, as and when there’s a need for resource in an organisation.

Which option will provide more growth for me?

It depends! Often, graduate schemes offer a structured programme that lasts for a defined period in your career. It’s likely you’ll have structured access to support and mentors who may work in the same or a different department within the organisation. Some graduate schemes allow you to sit professional qualifications (accountancy, for example), so you should carefully consider whether you want to commit to more study.

Entry level roles can often provide more opportunities for learning on the job and exposure to a wider variety of projects across the business. These types of roles can be more flexible when it comes to professional development – you’ll just need to be prepared to write a convincing business case explaining why the organisation should make that investment.

Not sure which to choose?

We’re here to discuss your plans with you no matter what stage you’re at! You can book a one-to-one appointment with a careers consultant on My Jobs Online to discuss your options.


Lisa Chow, Careers Consultant, ICMA Centre and

Matthew Searle, Head of Relationship Management