How to land your dream job

Which are the best courses for future earnings? By Beth Mellor

In the heady days of undergraduate study it was easy to forget the minor matter of getting a job at the end of it all. But now that the issue of graduate unemployment is firmly on the agenda, prospective university students will be more anxious than ever to ensure that their choice of degree pays off when they graduate.

Unsurprisingly, of the top five degrees for future earnings, four are vocational. Medicine, dentistry, chemical engineering and veterinary medicine graduates all took home, on average, over £24,000 in their first year after leaving university. The only exception is economics, which comes in at fourth place. So what is it that makes a degree in economics more profitable than any other social science subject?

Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, believes that his subject gives students a wide range of skills. "The advantage of economics is that it mixes mathematical and humanities skills, which is very useful to employers. There are many different opportunities available, such as the Civil Service, banking, accountancy or consultancy," he says.

The high-flyer Mark Knox, 25, is a good example of this. He went straight into a job with the Government Economic Service after completing a Masters in economics at Warwick. "I chose economics because I knew it wouldn't close any doors to me afterwards. The range of jobs you can do with it is amazing. In my job at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform I've been given responsibility from the start."

And it seems that tough economic times have made the subject even more popular. "Applications have gone up a lot this year," says Oswald. "The financial crisis has made people realise how fundamental economics is to the world."

For scientifically-minded students, engineering continues to be a good choice. Chemical engineering has suffered from a lacklustre reputation in the past – it has an image of being less applicable to real life than other types of engineering. But the subject has been slowly gaining in popularity recently – no doubt helped by the high starting salaries that graduates can expect.

One notable change from last year's results is an apparent drop of over £1,500 in the average starting salary of medicine graduates. According to the British Medical Association, the pay of junior doctors in their first year after graduation is made up of a basic salary of just over £22,000, with supplements given for working long and anti-social hours. However, take-home pay has been dropping for several years as NHS trusts adapt to European limits on working hours.

Surprising too is the high rank of social work in the tables. It scrapes into the top 10 subjects for graduate salaries, above business studies and computer science. In addition, just under 70 per cent of social work graduates were employed in graduate jobs – a higher percentage than for many other courses.

Ian Johnston, former chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, says that social work is a good course choice for students. "Nationally, there are higher vacancy rates in social work than in many other sectors," he says. "Social work can be misrepresented in the media and it's not for the faint-hearted, but it is extremely rewarding."

For some subjects, further study is a common next step for graduates. Almost half of all law graduates continued on to further study, reflecting the fact that undergraduate law students have to complete a year-long legal practice course or bar vocational course to qualify in their field. Further study is also popular with science graduates, with almost 40 per cent of chemistry, physics and astronomy graduates opting to stay on at university.

The average unemployment rate for students in the survey, who were polled six months after graduating, was six per cent, with computer science, East and South Asian Studies and art and design graduates reporting the highest rates of unemployment.

These results may give some guidance to students on what to expect after graduation. Yet, traditionally, the popularity of courses is often unrelated to salary expectations or the prospect of getting a graduate job at the end of it.

Communications and media studies, for example, continues to be one of the most popular areas of study, even though it consistently ranks relatively low in both tables.

Prospective university students would do well to heed Mark Knox's advice on how to land their dream job at the end of their course. He says: "Think very carefully about the skill set you get from a course, because that's what's important when it comes to applying for jobs. But it is also important to make sure you enjoy the course so you get a good grade at the end of it."

So, along with writing essays, sitting exams and joining societies, students should keep an eye on their goal, and think about how to sell their skills in the job market afterwards.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Belong: Volunteer Mentor for Offenders

This is a volunteer role with paid expenses : Belong: Seeking volunteers who c...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Reach Volunteering: Trustees with Finance, Fundraising and IT skills

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses reimbursable: Reach Volunteering: St...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in the devel...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent