Skip to main content

When you finish college, you’ll have to weigh up whether or not to continue with your studies or enter the world of work. If you do decide to stay on and go to university, there’s another difficult choice to make – what to study.

According to a recent study, picking the right university course can have a big impact on the amount of money you can earn after you graduate. To help you decide what to study, we’re going to take you through which degrees could pay off in the long run.

The findings

The research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and looked at 260,000 students 10 years after they graduated.

It found that graduates were much more likely to have a job after 10 years than those that didn’t go to university. A typical male graduate after 10 years would be on an annual wage of £30,000, compared to £22,000 for men that didn’t attend university.

The gap was even bigger for women. A typical female graduate would earn £27,000 after 10 years, in comparison to just £18,000 for someone without a degree. But this research only studied past graduates – those graduating today would be likely to have more debts.

One of the main factors in how much graduates earned was what they chose to study. You can check out the courses that pay the most in order in the table below.

Degree Annual earnings





Engineering and technology




Physical sciences






Subjects related to medicine


Maths and computer science




History and philosphy


Social sciences




Medicine is the ‘best value’ subject but this is probably no surprise based on the length of the degree (typically five or six years) and the job prospects. Close behind are degrees in economics as well as engineering and technology.

Towards the bottom of the list are subjects like history and philosophy, social sciences and biology. If you study one of these courses, it’s likely you’ll earn around £26,500 annually after 10 years.

Although the research doesn’t specify the degrees that earn graduates the least, it did reveal that graduates who went on to have creative careers don’t usually earn any more than non-graduates.

Tuition fees

It’s not just the degree that you should consider when deciding whether or not to head to university – the tuition fees are another big cost.

From 2012, tuition fees for universities in the UK rose to £9,000 a year. As a result, the Sutton Trust reveal that last year’s graduates from English universities owe an average of more than £44,000.

Students that enrolled in university after 2012 will start to repay their loan if they earn over £21,000. But with student loan interest rates set to rise from September, the total amount that you have to pay back could start to rise.

Legal Information