Graduates on the job hunt may be interested in data released this week revealing which degree courses lead to the greatest earning power. The statistics, released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), show that Cambridge economics graduates received the highest salary of last year’s university leavers, earning an average of more than £38,000 six months after graduating. The next highest paid group were computer science graduates of Imperial College London. The study also throws light on the lowest paid graduates, which include those completing the Teesside Media Studies course (average £13,067) and creative arts graduates of Newcastle (£12,000). This has led some to question the value of some students going to University to complete a course that will apparently add little to their earning potential.
So what does this mean? Firstly, if you are a graduate of one of the top-named courses and you’re still looking for work – take heart. Even in a tough market, your subject peers have been succeeding in netting top jobs, so be confident in the fact that your profile is well-regarded. And if you’re an undergraduate of one of these courses, be encouraged, but don’t rest on your laurels. Many employers look to such factors as work experience and extra-curricular achievements as well as the magic degree class + institution + subject formula, so be proactive. Make the most of vacations to gain exposure to industries that interest you, and think what you can continue to add to your profile through leadership, creativity and competition in University clubs and societies.
Secondly, if your academic experience deviates from the courses identified - don’t despair – these statistics are descriptive, not deterministic. Next year, things could change. And as with most league tables, the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt and a recognition of the role you can play in making the most of what opportunities come your way. If, for example, if you’re an Arts graduate from a University that tops the league tables, or if you’ve completed a numerate degree from a mid-tier University, the future is still bright. Plenty of the strong candidates we encounter on a daily basis shine not solely on their academic pedigree, but because of the effort they’ve made to increase their commercial awareness through exposure to different industries, gain experience abroad, contribute to their community or start their own businesses.
Thirdly, you take a lot more away from University than just earning potential. I agree that there needs to be a conversation within education policy as to the value of putting the majority of the school leaving population through University as standard, particularly in the current economic climate. However, most graduates report positive experiences – and life lessons – from their time at University that go far beyond a salary uplift. As well as the value of academic learning for its own sake, the experiences of meeting new people, managing your own finances and developing extra-curricular interests are not to be dismissed. It’s not just about the money, folks.
Finally, on a related and equally positive note, the figures showed that many graduates are still finding top jobs in the City despite turbulence in the banking industry. There’s a lot out there for the taking, so go for it – whatever your degree.
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Jo Lynas is an account manager on the Graduate Team