/ Parenting

Should salary dictate your degree choice?


There’s a wealth of information out there for students thinking about university. But how often do we talk about the impact academic choices will have on life after university? Is it time to give more pragmatic advice to students?

In secondary school students are given a lot of advice about how to choose the ‘right’ uni course. They’re told to think about likes and dislikes, and their strengths and weaknesses. They’re told that university is a time to grow academically and round out their personalities.

However, our 2015 applicant survey, found that the main reason applicants said they were going to university was ‘to improve employment prospects or pursue a specific vocation’ (64%). But only half of applicants aged 19 and under said they felt they had enough advice from their school/college to make an informed choice about courses/ universities.

Learning and earning

I did think about career earnings before attending university. I felt comfortable in academia and had the grades to pursue whatever degree I wanted. In the end, my interests won out and I chose liberal arts and social sciences. I don’t regret this, as I believe that if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, nothing else will follow.

Yesterday the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reported on individuals’ income 10 years after graduation. The data showed that those choosing to study medicine and economics have the highest earning potential a decade after graduation.

The median earnings for medical graduates after 10 years is £45,400 for women and £55,300 for men, and for economics graduates it’s £38,200 for women and £42,000 for men. Whereas the median earnings for creative arts graduates is £14,500 for women and £17,900 for men.

On reflection, I would’ve appreciated a bit more pragmatic discussion around what would happen after university. Despite my forethought, I didn’t really feel the full extent of my decision until I entered the workforce. Where once my intellectual capital was highly valued, it now seemed stigmatised by being labelled by a degree.

But for some going to university isn’t about the degree. Recently a friend of mine applied to Stanford Graduate School of Business. I asked him if he felt an MBA would give him knowledge or experience he wouldn’t be able to gain from a workplace. ‘Well,’ he laughed, ‘It’s not about the degree, it’s about the networking’.

The IFS study did highlight that a student’s background or networks appear to also be contributing factors to earnings, as did gender and university attended. A university friend of mine joked that she chose to study engineering because, although she didn’t like it, her future career in sciences would help her make up for the gender pay gap.

The IFS findings, which aren’t necessarily surprising, still surprised me. I had a moment of – Is this still what we’re finding?

Forward planning

The data is clear that these choices affect not just career aspirations, but also career practicalities. However, observing trends won’t necessarily solve the problem – such as when the data emerged that when women break into a traditionally male field, the field is apparently devalued.

So as illuminating as studies such as this are, what can be done about it? How can we help students make more informed decisions about life both during and after university?


For the majority of the young population in this country that isnt a choice due to deprivation and lack of incentive due to social background leaving them in service industry jobs -ie-dead end jobs , very low pay . I will leave it to others to debate the finer points of those with social backing/ability /drive to answer your convo.


I’m sure some students will worry about the need to be able to pay off student loans after uni. Hence they may be drawn towards degrees that can lead into well paid jobs.

Others however will follow their hearts and pursue the subject that most interests them.

Also, I think, it is hard to really be certain about the salary prospects from any particular degree.

Furthermore, the option of a further degree – such as a more focussed Masters Degree, can dramatically increase the job prospects of many students.


Until you have joined a profession it seems to me that most people will not know whether they will really enjoy the work. A job is not just about the subject you have chosen, but about the environment and structure within which you have to operate. Even work experience is too brief to be a real insight.

So most people have to think about earning a living, and relying on any interest you have developed while at school, through hobbies or from family – science, for science, engineering, medicine for example – is about as good a guide as you can get. Being educated at university then should teach you the ability to use your mind and learn how to apply yourself to problem solving and critical analysis. So a “useful” degree from a decent institution should not tie you to a particular profession, but develop your abilities to give you choice as to where to apply them.

Some may have the luxury of studying a subject for pleasure only, with no need to worry about future job prospects and money. But for most a decent useful degree with potential financial security means they can study and develop other interests after university.


Its a shame this Conversation did not include the most damning information.

“Date: 13 April 2016
Authors: Jack Britton , Lorraine Dearden , Neil Shephard and Anna Vignoles
Graduates from richer family backgrounds earn significantly more after graduation than their poorer counterparts, even after completing the same degrees from the same universities. This is one of many findings in new research published today which looks at the link between earnings and students’ background, degree subject and university attended.”

Perhaps the choice should begin earlier as in which public school to go to. Eton is very popular and the networking opportunities better than most. Essentially networking is the key component all other things being “equal”.

Pragmatically a lot of people are being deluded that a University education will be key in a financially secure future. This is balderdash. Firstly look at all the current jobs and decide which ones will be replaced or made less job intensive by smart systems . Which jobs can be done overseas at 80% of the cost.

Having ruled these out go for an apprenticeship doing a job that will not be replaced and in a growing area. Electric car mechanics – apparently only 1000 in the UK. Nursing – we have to import staff but of course it is now a degree course. Plumbing will always be safe …..

Incidentally unskilled bricklayers around London get around £200 a day.

And remember after all this that A levels used to be what your degree is worth now in terms of rarity value. Not a lot. With jobs being de-skilled vast swathes open a decade or two ago, the things your parents grew up with are no longer what they were. Bank manager hahhaha!


I’m always dubious about “research”, like “surveys”, and “experts” being totally factual and correct. “Graduates from richer family backgrounds earn significantly more after graduation than their poorer counterparts”. All graduates from richer families do better, and all graduates from poorer families do worse? Of course in some cases connections and paid-for education helps and although we might envy those who make use of their better-off circumstances should it be condemned. Life is not equal or fair to everybody and never will be. We have to make the best of it.

Once, a degree meant something – a sign of application, hard work and aptitude for thinking things through. Now, with so many universities, poor standard courses, insufficient decent teachers, and everyone thinking it is the only way to be educated, they are devalued. And they might only help get you on the first rung of the ladder; if you haven’t got what it takes to do a job properly, you’ll get no further. As dt intimates, a degree, whether academic or fairly practical, is good for some, but not everyone. We should respect those with practical skills – they will always be in demand.


Personally, I’d expect graduates from better orf backgrounds to have higher expectations of what “reasonable” salaries and life styles were, and thence to be more motivated to attain then.


While it’s true that things have changed a lot since our parents’ time the questions of what constitutes a ‘good’ university, what courses to follow and what the fiscal return on those studies will bring needs examining in more depth.

There are Universities and universities and no two are equal. The top few – Oxbridge, Durham, Warwick, Edinburgh and Bristol, among others – seem to provide their graduates with the best armoury of abilities after graduation. But what seems to be the best determinant for future careers is the subject studied. Medicine, Veterinary Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Dentistry embody the most potential, while Fine Arts, Photography, Literature and History the least.

But it’s a popular misconception to assume A levels are not as ‘hard’ as they once were, and are now only equivalent to the modern degree. Over the past fifty years there has been little change in difficulty in Mathematics, for instance (although, interestingly, the way the questions are posed has changed and is seen as easier) but the most significant changes occurred when units of the previously examination-only A level courses were changed to coursework.

That aside, however, employers now look at two things: the quality of the degree (First, 2:1, Masters, etc.) and the awarding body. Getting a first is still an accomplishment, but where that first was gained is viewed as almost as important.

Youngsters looking to attend University should ask themselves what do they really enjoy? Schools ought to be doing more serious profiling of students to ascertain where their interests (and thus drive) really lie. Students who love solving puzzles, for instance, should consider one of the Sciences – hard or soft – whereas those who enjoy drawing, painting, writing and reading might be better advised to look at one of the Creative subjects, such as History, or Literature. One worrying statistic is the number of students who either drop out or who choose to switch courses.

In the long run, however, students need to understand that University is there primarily to make them think. And nothing is more important.