There are a number of ways to start a career in public services, from direct entry roles, graduate schemes, internships and apprenticeships. Learn more about these different routes and the qualifications you'll need
Do I need a public services degree?
A degree may help you to stand out in a pool of applicants, but for the majority of careers in the public sector, graduates of all degree disciplines are accepted. For example, most Civil Service graduate programmes on its Fast Stream accept any undergraduate qualification, although some organisations may prefer specific degrees and knowledge.
- a degree in accountancy and finance, business, mathematics or economics is preferable for a career as a chartered public finance accountant
- qualifications in business and management and law are particularly useful for company secretaries
- a degree in politics, legal studies or social administration and social policy may increase your chances of becoming a local government officer
- aspiring facilities managers may find an undergraduate qualification in building management, construction, hospitality or surveying beneficial.
Other public service jobs such as NHS nurse or paramedic, police officer and social worker usually require subject-specific degrees.
For entry into technology-focused careers, it's likely that you'll need to have studied a STEM (science, technology, engineering or maths) subject.
Degrees in social science subjects, such as politics, are particularly sought-after by employers in public services. Degrees in IT, law, business, finance, economics, management or accountancy are also helpful for many administration jobs.
While not essential, you could also consider studying for a Masters of Public Administration (MPA). Most MPA students possess a 2:1 undergraduate qualification and at least one to two years' managerial experience.
That said, the MPA doesn't always reject new graduates. An increasing number of universities offer MPA courses, including:
- University of Birmingham
- London School of Economics (LSE)
- Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)
- University of Nottingham
- University of Surrey
- Teesside University
- Ulster University
- University College London (UCL)
- University of the West of Scotland (UWS)
- University of York.
The cost of an MPA varies depending on which institution you attend. At the University of York, the one-year, full-time 2024/2025 programme costs UK students £10,590, while LSE charges all students £30,792 per year for its two-year MPA.
Read more about social policy courses and search all postgraduate public administration courses.
A degree isn’t always necessary. Within public services there a range of direct-entry jobs available including those in administration, the armed forces, Civil Service, police force and the NHS.
For information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications in the sector, see our public services job profiles.
What skills do public sector employers want?
You'll need to show:
- adaptability and flexibility
- an interest in world affairs
- commitment to improve society or your local community
- communication and interpersonal skills
- knowledge of the latest office technology
- the ability to work independently and meet deadlines
- strong organisational, planning and leadership skills
- the ability to interpret complex data
- time management skills, including the ability to prioritise and make decisions.
To learn more, read about the top skills for a successful career in public services.
Where can I find public services work experience?
The public services sector is diverse, and with a variety of careers on offer, it's worth taking advantage of work experience, volunteering or internship opportunities. As well as helping you to identify where your interests lie, opportunities such as these also provide an insight into what to expect from a full-time role.
- Civil Service departments offer structured work experience in the form of summer internships and 12-month sandwich placements. Examples of Civil Service internships include the GES Summer Scheme for economics students, GCHQ summer placements for STEM students and FCDO work experience for those interested in an international relations career. In terms of ensuring greater diversity, the Civil Service offers the six to eight-week, paid Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP), aimed at disadvantaged, disabled and ethnic minority students and graduates.
- Charity organisations also serve the sector, with Movement to Work supporting employers in providing work placements combining employability skills training with gaining valuable on-the-job experience.
- The National Health Service (NHS) offers work experience at a local level.
- Many local authorities, such as Rochdale Borough Council also provide students with the chance to get involved with the delivery of public services.
- The Institute for Government (IfG) runs year-long, paid, graduate internships for those looking to start a career in policy research or communications.
- The Bank of England has internship programmes for undergraduate, penultimate year and postgraduate students.
- The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) offers a ten-week summer programme in addition to other early careers programmes.
- The European Commission (EC) offers five-month Blue Book traineeships in areas including law, human resources (HR) and environmental policy. Any degree is accepted, but you must have a strong knowledge of English, French or German, plus a second European Union (EU) language. A limited number of places are available to non-EU nationals, including those from the UK.
To find work placements and internships, search for public services and administration work experience.
What public sector graduate schemes are available?
Those within central government include:
- FCDO - this five-year, Diplomatic and Development Fast Stream scheme is typically split into two 12-month, UK placements (years one and two) before deploying you overseas in years three to five, giving you the opportunity to promote British interests abroad.
- HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) - the Tax Specialist Programme (TSP), HMRC's graduate scheme for tax professionals is open to graduates of any discipline who've achieved a 2:2.
- HM Treasury - there are opportunities in policy adviser roles.
- Legal Trainee Scheme (LTS) - this two-year scheme (for trainee solicitors and pupil barristers) can be carried out in a number of government departments, such as the Government Legal Department (GLD), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), National Crime Agency (NCA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
- MI5 - with four streams available you can apply to the Intelligence Officer Development Programme (IODP), Intelligence and Data Analyst Development Programme (I&DADP), Technology Graduate Development Programme (TGDP) or the Business Enablers scheme.
- MI6 - if you want to work for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), there are MI6 graduate schemes for operational officers, technology professionals and language specialists.
For more details on some of the schemes mentioned above, see intelligence services careers for graduates.
According to the Institute for Government, the Civil Service currently employs around 489,280 people across the UK (June 2023). There are 15 Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programmes, each designed to equip candidates with the skills and knowledge to become senior civil servants.
These Civil Service graduate schemes require either a 2:1 or 2:2 grade, with the Commercial, Digital Data, Technology & Cyber, Diplomatic and Development, Government Policy, Human Resources, Operational Delivery, Project Delivery, Property and Houses of Parliament schemes all accepting a 2:2. Find out more about becoming a Civil Service Fast Streamer.
Another option is the local government National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP), a two-year management programme run by the Local Government Association (LGA) for graduates with a minimum 2:2 degree. You'll earn at least £28,371 a year and enjoy placements in key strategic areas across the council such as policy, social care or human resources.
The NHS also runs the Graduate Management Training Scheme - available in six specialisms:
- General Management
- Health Analytics
- Health Informatics
- Human Resources
- Policy and Strategy.
The Bank of England runs a graduate development programme, and the National Audit Office (NAO) has its Chartered Accountancy Training Scheme.
To find out more about the different entry routes for police officers, including graduate schemes and apprenticeships, see joining the police.
If you'd like to work in a local authority as a social worker you can join a fast-track graduate scheme such as Frontline, Think Ahead and the governments Step Up to Social Work initiative, see social work courses to learn more.
Jobs with local authorities are advertised on local government jobsites. You could also explore public health careers and search for vacancies at:
To find graduate jobs in this sector, search for graduate jobs in public services and administration.
Can I do a public services apprenticeship?
If university study isn't for you, a selection of public service and administration apprenticeships are on offer.
If you've already completed your A-levels or an equivalent qualification, you could consider a degree apprenticeship. You'll gain a Bachelors or Masters-level qualification while earning a wage. Organisations offering degree apprenticeships in the public sector include:
- Bank of England - degree apprenticeships include programmes in data science, digital and technology solutions and professional economist.
- GCHQ - offers degree apprenticeships in cyber security (CyberFirst) and software engineering.
- MI5 - offers a three-year software engineer degree apprenticeship and an 18-month infrastructure engineering apprenticeship.
- The GES Degree Apprenticeship Programme (GES-DAP) - in partnership with the University of Kent, the four-year programme provides the opportunity to become an expert in economics and work in a range of central government departments across the UK.
- Home Office - runs a variety of apprenticeships across all levels. Degree programmes include those in leadership and management, project management, digital and technology solutions, data science and finance.
- Civil Service - offers degree apprenticeships at both Bachelors and Masters level.
What about public sector recruitment agencies?
To help you find a job in public services you could sign up with a recruitment agency. Popular choices include:
Find out more
- Get an overview of the UK's public services sector.
- Take a look at graduate public sector jobs.
- Explore other relevant careers in law enforcement and security.