This year's graduates will have a better chance of finding work than at any time in the past five years, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, a group of 300 employers that begins its annual conference tomorrow.
Ben Roggoff, 22, has just completed a degree in history at St Catherine's College, Oxford. He expects a 2:1 or 2:2. Average unemployment rate for an Oxford graduate six months after leaving is 3.55 per cent.

I want to work in finance for a bank or stockbrokers. I have sent off 80 letters asking for work placements. I'd prefer to earn, but I am willing to work for nothing.

It might seem shocking for an Oxford graduate to offer to work unpaid, but it is a sign of the times. I suppose I am a bit cheesed off that I have had to spend pounds 50 just to get work experience, but it is quite hard to penetrate these big organisations and I am willing to do whatever it takes.

There is a lot of nepotism in banking. I have got relatives who work in finance, but I don't want to ask anyone to help me to get a job. It may sound cliched, but I want to stand on my own two feet. I think I have a lot to offer. My curriculum vitae is good. I was head boy at school and treasurer of the college Junior Common Room. I have also been running my own nightclub at Oxford, which shows I have organisational skills.

When I first came to Oxford I thought, "This will make my fortune". Now I realise you need more than an Oxford degree. There is fierce competition for merchant banking. They want you to have an economics-related degree and previous work experience in that area. I went to a state school in London. I was told that if you are not sure what to do, keep your options open. I opted for a history degree. In a sense I have the wrong degree for the job I have decided to go for - but how was I to know? If I get a 2:1, I might do a master's in economics, which would give me a good grounding.

Now college is finished I am moving back to my parents'. I cannot afford to do otherwise. I've lived for three years on a full grant and owe pounds 1,600 in student loans. My parents are very supportive. They do not particularly want me to rush into a career, they want me to do a PhD.

I want to make money quickly so that by my mid-twenties I can reappraise my life. I want the financial cushion to make changes if I need to. No way do I want to get past 30 and be feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.

Tracy Rankine (above), 22, graduated in 1994 from Thames Valley University, formerly the Polytechnic of West London, with a degree in modern European studies. She has spent the past year as a student union officer. Average unemployment rate among graduates from Thames Valley after six months is 12 per cent.

I began searching for work last Wednesday and got a job as a personnel assistant within the week. It is something I really want to do. I feel amazing.

I went to see recruitment consultants in Maidenhead, showed them my curriculum vitae and had a chat about my skills. I told them I was interested in working in personnel or public relations. A few days later I went for an interview with a computer software company in Slough. It offered me a six-month contract, but I am hoping it will lead to a permanent position.

I think spending a year as a student union officer really made a difference to my employment prospects. The whole year has made me very focused, helped me to realise what I want to do and improved my communication skills. As a welfare officer I had to deal with a range of student issues, from debt and housing to personal problems. The post involves negotiating with the university authorities, lecturers, talking to the Citizen's Advice Bureau, counselling services, even doctors and family planning.

My starting salary is pounds 12,500. After living on a grant of pounds 3,000 a year, I think that's a good start. I share a rented house with university friends in west London. I expect I will continue living there and commute.

I don't see it as a traditional graduate job, but it is a step in the right direction, a foot in the door. Most students I know believe that the way to get a good job is to work your way up. You have to be flexible.

As long as you have the commitment and drive and are willing to do anything - apart from sleep with the boss - you will get on. It is the people who mean business and go for it who succeed. Eventually, I might like a job in personnel in the Army. In five years I'd like to be earning about pounds 15,500 and have more responsibilities. I would like to have taken further professional qualifications.

I'm starting work with debts totalling pounds 4,700 - student loans, bank loans and credit card - so as long as I earn enough to pay all that off, I will be happy.

Martin Jopson is a mature student about to graduate from Derby University, formerly Derby College of Higher Education, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in photographic studies. Expected result 2:1. Average unemployment rate among Derby graduates after six months is 18.5 per cent.

I'm going to start looking for work this week. I've not had the time until now because I have been too busy with our final photography show, which counts for 40 per cent of the degree.

I want to be a photographer's assistant. It would have to be in London, because most of the big players are based there. People think if you are studying photography, you are either going to end up as a press photographer or taking wedding and baby pictures, but I'm not interested in any of that. I want to work in commercial photography, advertising or fashion. And eventually I want to make a lot of money and use it to finance my own projects.

Even people with degrees have to start off as assistants - it is like an apprenticeship. Everyone fights for those places and the pay is very low. The Association of Photographers recommends that assistants should be paid pounds 150 minimum - but I have heard of people working for pounds 75 or pounds 50 a week.

I even heard of one guy paying a photographer his dole money for the privilege. I don't think I'd be prepared to be exploited like that. I already owe pounds 2,000 to the Student Loans Company. To live in London you need at least pounds 100 to pounds 150 a week, unless your parents are going to support you. At the age of 26, I don't think it would be right to expect that.

Before coming to Derby, I did a foundation course at the London College of Printing and my parents helped me then.

There are 35 people on my course. Some have said they realise now that they do not want to be photographers. The competition is so intense that you have to be really committed to succeed.

Having given up work and made sacrifices to return to higher education, I am determined. I know I'll get where I want in the end.

Until that happens, I'll do any job just to pay the bills.

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