The Complete University Guide

Starting salaries: What the future holds

Will these years of study lead to a job? Lula Boardman and Alix O'Neill look at pay and job prospects

With so many decisions facing prospective university students it is no wonder the thought of a job slips under their radar. Fresher's week is imminent and funding their degree is more pressing than future career concerns.

But three years go by in a flash. Before you can say "graduation ceremony", you will be thinking "job". Today's tables can help you. Gathered from students six months after leaving university, the figures show that your job prospects vary greatly depending on the degree you choose.

It should come as no surprise that vocational degrees give graduates the greatest employment opportunities. Medicine and dentistry have the highest rates of employment – 87 and 83 per cent of students respectively go straight into work and earn more than other graduates. Medics start on a salary of £30,492 while dentistry students can expect up to £28,030 a year.

It certainly pays to be a scientist. The statistics show that eight out of the highest 10 starting salaries go to graduates with science-related degrees. The other categories that do all right are graduates of economics and social work. The average starting salary for economics graduates is £24,466 and for social workers £22,560. Salaries for mathematics graduates are also firmly in the top 20.

It really does make sense to go into engineering, if you have the right A-levels because most engineering degrees lead to well-paid jobs. The aspiring chemical engineer can earn £25,136, and the civil engineer £22,392 in their first job. Engineering is better paid than computer science, widely regarded as a sensible option for those who are interested in technology.

In some subjects you will need to do a further degree before seeking employment, for example law, where further legal training is required, and chemistry, where many students go on to postgraduate study.

Brian Heap, author of Good Degree Courses, attributes the higher employment rates of science graduates to the fact that their courses are more likely to offer a sandwich structure, where they spend a year away from university on a work placement.

"There is an 80 to 90 per cent employment rate among students in sandwich courses," he says. "A lot of help is given to students on business studies and sciences degrees: such as how to write a good CV and how to give a good interview, and this accounts for their rates among these students."

Bottom of the employment table come sociology graduates, showing that this subject is not seen as preparing people for work. Only 30 per cent are employed in a graduate job six months after graduation on an average salary of £17,685.

But not all humanities students should be concerned. The statistics show that many courses are useful for employment, specifically languages. Those who leave university with a language fare significantly better than those without.

Many prospective students, uncertain of what to study opt for what they know, for example, history, geography or English. However, these subjects are often difficult to get in to and, when compared with more unusual courses such as Middle Eastern and African Studies, fare worse in terms of graduate employment and earnings.

Starting salaries for graduates in subjects such as East and South Asian Studies or town and country planning and landscape, are on average about £2,000 higher than graduates of more traditional arts and humanities degrees. Nearly 20 per cent more graduates in East and South Asian Studies are employed in graduate positions than those with a history degree.

And a less conventional degree will help you stand out from the crowd. Angela Phillips, convenor of the MA journalism course at Goldsmiths, says that a lot of students think that English is the right degree for journalism. "I don't think there is a correct degree. If you've spent three months researching a fascinating dissertation in anthropology you'll have a lot to talk about at interview. I am interested in people who are overflowing with enthusiasm."

While science and business degrees are best for graduate prospects, it's really how you use your time at university that matters. So, relax, enjoy the university experience and don't lose sight of the next step.

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