Skip to main content

Going to university is a rite of passage for many young people in the UK, but do the years of education and tuition fees pay off by helping them land the salary they want?

Well, in their own opinion, more than a third of graduates in the UK are now earning less than they thought they would be when they graduated.

Big aspirations

A recent survey* carried out for us found that more than one in three former students think they’re doing worse financially than they once predicted. Of these, half say they make over £10,000 a year less than they thought they should, and one in five say their income is over £20,000 less than they’d once hoped it would be.

Just one in 10 of the graduates who took part in the survey believe they now earn more than they once thought they would. But what are they basing this judgement on?

The majority of former students reveal they use their age, education, qualifications and the salaries advertised for jobs similar to their own as the basis for what they think they should be earning. However, a third say they considered what their peers are making, and one in five also looked at the lifestyle of their peers. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that more than a quarter of graduates admit they feel anxious if they think their peers earn more than they do.

Was it worth it?

Despite so many ex-students saying they earn less now than they thought they would when they graduated, the majority still believe going to university was worthwhile. However, a third admit that attending university had not been as valuable in terms of their career as they’d hoped.

It may be difficult but it’s best to avoid comparing your salary to those of people in your age group as there are so many things that can influence it. In addition to your skills, qualifications, experience and how long you’ve been in the job, salary can also be influenced by the type of industry you’re in, the size of the company you work for and how many hours you put in at the office.

Weighing up how much you think you should earn based on the lifestyle of others is even less scientific. Friends who live alone and don’t have a family to support may be able to afford to splash out on more fancy holidays than you. And if they have a fast car parked in the driveway - that might be a company perk, even though their actual salary is less than yours.

As most graduates still regard their decision to go to university as worthwhile, it seems that this path towards a career will remain a popular rite of passage – for now.

*OnePoll questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over between 2nd May and 12th May 2014, of whom 758 attended university.

Legal Information