Students leaving university this year are going to face intense competition for jobs – with a survey indicating a 33% increase in applications.
The High Fliers recruitment survey suggests students are applying more often and earlier for graduate jobs.
The survey was based on the experiences of almost 18,000 final-year students at 30 leading UK universities.
The study also indicates confidence is returning in the graduate jobs market after the gloom of the recession.
Students in the universities taking part are expected to send out a total of 343,000 applications – up by a third on last year and 75% compared with 2004.
And 40% expect to begin graduate jobs this year – compared with 36% last year, 25% expect to move on to postgraduate study, and 35% are planning to travel or take temporary or voluntary jobs or have not yet decided.
For the first time in three years, graduates are expecting starting salaries to increase – and investment banking has once again become a popular careers option.
Public-sector jobs, a more attractive choice during the recession that followed the financial crisis of 2008, have less appeal for this year’s university leavers – with applications dropping by a fifth.
While many students in Belfast and Glasgow intend to stay and work in those areas, the survey shows a strong pattern across England for new graduates to gravitate to London.
In 25 of the universities surveyed, London was the first-choice destination for jobs.
Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers 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 years students shows that confidence in the graduate job market is finally improving.”
Universities Minister David Willetts said: “I am pleased to see indications of increasing confidence in the graduate employment market.
“As this report demonstrates, graduates are rising to the challenge of a difficult market with a record number making early job applications. A degree remains a good investment and is one of the best pathways to achieving a good job and rewarding career.
“Improving information for prospective students about what they can expect at university and from their degrees is a key part of our future plans for higher education.”
Source: Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent.