Students graduating this year, many of whom were the first to pay £9,000-a-year tuition fees, are the most career-focused of their generation, a survey suggests.
The UK Graduate Careers Survey 2015, based on interviews with 18,412 students at 30 research-intensive universities, finds that 26 per cent were expecting to start a full-time graduate job soon after leaving university, the highest level for 14 years.
There has been a corresponding drop in the number of graduates who expect to be job hunting after graduation, down to 16 per cent, and the number of finalists with no definite plans for life after university reduced to 9 per cent, its lowest level since 1998.
While a quarter of graduates were planning to go on to further study and one in seven expected to take time off or go travelling, the number of leavers intending to run their own business has doubled in two years, reaching 4 per cent.
This group of students appears to start looking for jobs sooner than previous cohorts.
Some 48 per cent had begun considering their career options and researching potential employers by the end of their first year, compared with 30 per cent in 2010, and 79 per cent started looking before their final year, compared with 57 per cent in 2008.
Half of all students had done at least one internship, work placement or spell of vacation work with a graduate employer during their course.
The students who were surveyed are applying for jobs earlier than their predecessors, too. By the time the survey took place in February 2015, 64 per cent had applied for graduate positions, up two points year-on-year, and up 18 per cent in a decade.
Respondents had submitted an average of 7.4 applications each, an increase from 6.9 in 2012 and 5.7 in 2010.
This suggests that graduates of these 30 universities made an estimated 474,000 applications to employers, four-fifths more than the equivalent recruitment period six years ago.
But, with the introduction of higher tuition fees, levels of graduate debt have increased significantly. The average expected graduate debt in the survey stands at £30,000, up 47 per cent from £20,400 a year ago.
Students in London had the highest levels of debt, with students at Imperial College London expecting to leave with average debt of £39,300.
Debt levels were lowest in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have different tuition fee regimes.
Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, which conducted the survey, said this year’s graduates “have prepared more thoroughly for the graduate job market than any other cohort in the last twenty years”.
“New graduates leaving the UK’s top universities this summer – many of whom have been the first to be charged £9,000-a-year tuition fees for their degree courses – are the most careers-orientated, motivated and ambitious of their generation,” he said.