Graduates more hopeful about their job chances

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Students about to leave Britain's universities are as optimistic about their job prospects as they have been at any time in the past decade, according to research published today.

The class of 2011 also expects to earn higher starting salaries – £22,600 a year on average – after two years in which pay has been frozen at £22,000 as they embark upon a headlong rush for jobs.

A study of 17,851 final-year students at 30 of the country's leading universities shows they have put investment banking top of their list for job applications for the first time since 2008.

No-go areas for graduates include the police force, the armed services and working in government or the public sector – where applications are down by a fifth.

The police force is the least popular occupation with only one in 200 making an application to join – compared to 17 seeking a job in investment banking.

Today's graduates are also much better prepared for entering the graduate market with a record 37 per cent making early job applications – applying in September or October last year. On average, they have sent in 6.8 applications – compared with 5.7 last year.

In all, 40 per cent expect to either have a graduate job by the autumn – or still be confidently searching for one. This compares to 36 per cent last year.

Martin Burchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, which conducted the research, said: "During the worst of the recession, many of the country's brightest university leavers opted out of job hunting and instead enrolled for further study or went travelling after graduating in the hope that employment prospects would be better when they returned.

"Our latest survey of final-year students shows that confidence in the graduate job market is finally improving and that more of the UK's top students are expecting to find work after graduation."

Today's survey also reveals that just over half – 51 per cent – say they would not have gone to university if fees had already gone up to £9,000 at the time they were seeking a place.

They are also graduating with an average debt of £18,700.