With recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealing that almost half of recent UK graduates are in non-graduate jobs, it's clear that a degree is far from a guaranteed ticket to immediate success. Graduates are now earning on average 12% less and owe 60% more than their equivalents before the financial crisis, so employability must surely be an increasingly key factor when choosing a degree subject. Degree choice should still stem from a passion for the subject, but gone are the days of choosing any degree and being guaranteed a good job at the end of it.
According to the ONS statistics, the top five degrees for average graduate salaries are:
Physical/Environmental subjects eg Chemistry/ Physics and Geography (£35,984)
Maths and Computer Science (£34,008)
*Average lifetime salaries of graduates. Doctors for example, may go on to earn much more, but will begin on much less.
So what can we take from all this? Unsurprisingly, vocational subjects lend themselves to prosperous career paths. We will always need doctors, so the lengthy stint at university seemingly pays dividends in terms of securing a well-paid position. Similarly, as long as we live in a society that deems a roof over our heads a requirement, architects are unlikely to be out of a job. Perhaps the most savvy degree choice in an increasingly digital world is Computer Science- with more and more of our systems being computerised, companies will need more and more experts to facilitate this.
However, this kind of data should be treated with caution. Money is of course not everything, and degree choices and choosing whether or not to go to university should be based on far more than career prospects alone.
The statistics show that Medicine degrees lead to the highest average salaries, with Media degrees ranking last. However, Media graduates have the second highest employment rate of all graduates at 93%. So before your dreams of a career in the media industry are shattered, it is worth asking yourself how much importance you place on salary. Is it worth sacrificing a career doing something you love for another job with a slightly higher payslip?
Choosing a degree is often the first step into deciding if your career choices will be fuelled by money or passion. With rising tuition fees and a turbulent graduate market, the choice is perhaps more important than ever. Little is achieved without some interest in the subject. A natural flair for the subject and prior knowledge will also come in handy. Medicine may top the graduate rich list but without extensive scientific knowledge and a passion for helping others, you can put away the stethoscope.
Degree choice not only means choosing a subject, but a location. This can be an equally important factor. Is the university in a town I'd like to live in? Will I meet like-minded people? What are the employment statistics of that particular university?
Finally, not doing a degree at all might in fact be the most lucrative option- tuition fees and student loans are substantial sums of money, particularly if you find yourself in a degree that's not right for you. There are endless well-paid careers that don't require university qualifications. However, the unemployment rate for graduates still remains much lower than for non-graduates.
Choosing the right degree, or whether to do one at all, is ultimately a highly personal decision based on any number of social and economic factors. Analysing your salary expectations, career motivations, academic strengths, and social and geographical needs should put you on the path to degree choice enlightenment. One thing is for sure, it's not a decision to be taken lightly.