This year’s final-year students have applied for an average of 7.5 jobs each / Getty Images


University life used to be about fun, friends and finding yourself as well as about hard work. But those carefree student days appear to be a thing of the past after a new survey revealed that almost half of undergraduates have started job-hunting by the end of their first year.

Looking for work is no longer something crammed into the final few weeks of a degree course. The vast majority of undergraduates begin their search for work at least a year before graduation, the study by High Fliers Research found.

This year’s final-year students have applied for an average of 7.5 jobs – the highest number since the survey began in 1995.

Record numbers of students have already secured job offers months before finishing their degrees this year. Around one in four of those who had applied for jobs by the time the survey was carried out in March have received definite job offers, the study shows. This is the fourth year running that the success rate for applications has increased.

Researchers said the findings were “the most upbeat assessment since the beginning of the recession” and noted that the “prolonged recession” had had a profound effect on the graduate recruitment market.

The study showed that three-quarters of those surveyed (75 per cent) had started researching their career options before the start of their final year at university, compared to 57 per cent in 2008, 61 per cent in 2010 and 64 per cent in 2012.

Of those who began their job hunt early, a quarter (25 per cent) started looking in the first year of the degree, and a further fifth (20 per cent) were searching before they started their course.

In total, the students who took part in the poll have collectively made 463,000 job applications this year, up from 257,000 made by those who graduated in 2010.

Overall, a quarter (25 per cent) of the students surveyed said that they expect to start a full-time graduate job as soon as they finish their studies. A further 17 per cent said that they will be looking for work when they graduate, while 3 per cent plan on running their own business. Around in one in eight (12 per cent) said that they have "no definite plans".

Postgraduate study and travel remain popular alternatives to employment for new graduates, with 24 per cent of final year students hoping to go on to further study and 14 per cent planning to take time off or go travelling after graduation.

On average, new graduates expect a starting salary of £23,000, the survey found, while London is still the place where students would prefer to work.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research said: "Our latest research confirms just how dramatically the process of getting a graduate job has changed over the last five years.

"Finding a first graduate job for after university is no longer something that students do in their final few months of study - nearly half of those graduating this summer from the class of 2014 had started researching their career options by the end of their first year at university and record numbers of students made their job applications to employers up to a year before graduation."

The study is based on a survey of more than 18,000 students at 30 leading universities who are due to graduate this summer.

It also revealed the growing importance of work experience. More than four in ten (41 per cent) of finalists had done an internship or other vacation work with a graduate employer whilst at university. This was the fourth consecutive rise in work experience– only 26 per cent of students who graduated in 2010 had completed internships or work placements.

The expected graduation debt for finalists leaving university this summer has risen to an average of £20,300, an increase of £100 compared with last year.

Dom Anderson, vice president of the National Union of Students, said: “It's certainly good news that there are signs of recovery in the graduate job market but assuming that everything is now rosy for all study-leavers would be wrong. A rise in graduate jobs does not mean that the wider and more pressing issue of youth unemployment will just disappear.

"It should be a wakeup call to politicians and employers that just a quarter of graduates are optimistic about their job prospects. The experience of graduates varies significantly across universities, with students from traditional redbrick institutions still faring much better in the graduate job market than those from other institutions.

"Competition for jobs is now incredibly high, which is why many students are applying for jobs earlier. There needs to be a greater investment in careers guidance right from school through to leaving, to ensure that students are able to make informed, meaningful decisions about their career choices."