Which degrees give you the best chance of earning a high salary once you’ve graduated? We’ve ranked the top 15 highest paying degrees in the UK.
Many people who have studied at university will tell you that the most important factor when choosing a degree is to pick a field of study you enjoy. However, taking a university degree is a considerable investment, so it’s important that your qualification will also have tangible results in terms of income when you go into professional work.
Not least, because most of us will spend a good chunk of our working lives paying off the student loans we took out. The good news is that these two things – enjoying your studies and earning a good salary – are not mutually exclusive. You can have both! What’s important is choosing your degree wisely; a degree that balances both sides of this tricky coin.
We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to the highest paying degrees on offer in the UK – meaning, the degrees that are most likely to get you the best starting salary when you graduate. We’ve also looked into other factors, like your earnings potential later in your career, how competitive the job market is, and the best universities to study at.
Balancing money and passion
The first thing to say is, don’t be daunted by the idea of starting off your working life in debt. Borrowing to pay for important things is somewhat a way of life. You will most likely want to buy a house one day, and that requires borrowing the kind of money that takes 20-30 years to pay back.
Logically speaking, if you’re prepared to take out a loan to buy a house, then why not do the same when it comes to your education? Look at it as investing in yourself and your long-term prospects. Your future self will thank you for it one day.
Expanding your knowledge, learning invaluable skills, mastering a subject in depth, and walking away with a certificate of accomplishment that no one can ever take away from you – these are hugely important things. Many graduates look back on their university days as the best years of their life. All these things make a degree hugely worthwhile, empowering and even life changing.
At the same time, we all live in the real world, where there are bills to be paid and a good quality of life that we aspire to for ourselves and those who we may want to provide for. So spending huge amounts of money with no return on our investment doesn’t make much sense. Read on, to find out which degrees will give you monetary payback, as well as a life-enriching experiencing.
What are the highest paying degrees?
The data we’ve used is from the most recent HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) survey, published in May 2023. It surveyed students who graduated between 2019 and 2021 and gathered the average starting salary of people who took different degrees and were employed in a ‘high-skilled’ job in the UK. The skill level of all jobs are defined by the ONS (Office of National Statistics) standard occupational classifications. Remember that the figures are a guide to what you could earn. If you study medicine but decide to work in a bar as your first job after graduating, that would be defined as a ‘low-skilled’ job and you wouldn’t earn the figure we’ve quoted. If you became a junior doctor, however, that would be classified as high-skilled.
- Dentistry – £35,000
Dentistry is the highest paying degree and has been for some years. The average starting salary is £35,000. NHS dentists who progress through training will earn between £47,653 and £101,923 a year, while NHS consultant dentists can earn up to £126,281. Working in the private sector you could make even more.
There is a real demand for dentists in the UK, so you are likely to get a job soon after graduating. Over 90% of dentistry graduates are employed within six months. There are also opportunities to specialise, for example, in orthodontics, surgery or in a non-clinical public health management role.
Some of the best universities for studying dentistry have partnered with FutureLearn, and you can learn more about what becoming a dentist involves by taking our short preparatory courses with the University of Glasgow and University of Sheffield.
- Medicine – £35,000
Becoming a doctor or healthcare professional is hard work, and medicine degrees take up to six years to complete. But recent pay increases for NHS junior doctors and consultants mean that the hard work will pay off. Nursing graduates too are now earning more as a result of pay negotiations.
The average starting salary for a medicine graduate is £35,000, with junior doctors in the NHS earning up to £32,300 in their first year and £43,900 after three years. Consultants can earn between £93,600 and £134,000 per year, and just like in dentistry, private sector healthcare providers tend to pay even higher salaries than the National Health Service.
Specialising as a surgeon, oncologist, GP, ophthalmologist or any of the fields of medical practice can lead to a long and enjoyable career helping hundreds, if not thousands, of people within your career, as well as securing a good pension for your retirement.
There are many universities in the UK that offer excellent medicine degrees. Look out for those attached to teaching hospitals such as University College London, King’s College London, Imperial, Oxford and others. To find out more about career options in medicine read our useful healthcare industry blog.
- Veterinary science – £32,000
If you love animals and animal welfare, being a vet could be the right career for you. Graduates who studied veterinary science started off with an annual salary of £32,000 and 91% got a job immediately after finishing their studies.
Data suggests that the average vet in the UK earns £45,000 per year, while experienced and specialists vets earn over £70,000. Find out what being a vet involves with our specialised virtual work experience course.
- Engineering – £30,000
Engineers are highly sought after in the modern world. The range of engineering specialisms is vast and includes civil engineering (designing society’s infrastructure and transport systems), manufacturing (designing the machines that produce consumer and industrial products), electronics (building, maintaining and repairing electrical systems from households to big business) and aeronautics (working on planes and aviation).
As an engineer, you will never be short of work. Technology moves rapidly however, and you will need to keep up to speed with learning new skills in your field of engineering over the course of your career.
The average starting salary for a civil or chemical engineer is £30,000. Electrical engineers start of on £29,000 and aeronautics and manufacturing graduates on £28,000. Experienced engineers can earn up to £75,000 and there are additional industry qualifications, such as becoming a chartered engineer, that can boost your pay further.
- Maths – £30,000
Currently there is a push in UK education to re-establish maths as one of the most important subjects. Through human history, maths is perhaps the one subject that underpins most of our societal advancements, inventions and discoveries. Yet, with so many digital resources now available, the need to develop our mathematical brains has been in decline for some time.
If you are mathematically gifted, then a degree in mathematics will not only be rewarding but will pay well too. Whether you decide to go into banking, finance, accounting, economics – or indeed any career where numbers, calculations and problem-solving are important, such as management consultancy – you are highly likely to earn high pay.
The average starting salary of a mathematics graduate is £30,000 and you can expect a rapid increase.
- Computing – £30,000
Now here’s a degree for the modern age. Computer science graduates will start off on the same average salary as maths and engineering graduates (£30,000) and will have a multitude of employers and industries to choose from.
IT companies will always need computing experts. Today, most companies in the world need IT professionals, whether they provide hardware and systems support to users in an office, or behind the scenes providing cyber security for an organisation’s network.
The boom in software developing (average UK salary circa £45k-£60k), graphic designers (£32k-£50k) and coders (£45k-£55k) that began in the 1980s has continued to grow. With big tech companies like Apple and Google ever expanding, a computing degree could see you working in Silicon Valley or the UK HQ of a tech giant, where you could conceivably end up earning a six-figure income.
- Physical sciences – £28,000
Studying physics or chemistry at university level, you will certainly have earned your degree. Physics provides theories and solutions for hugely important questions both on planet earth and beyond into the solar system. As a physicist or astrophysicist you could end up teaching the subject at school or university, or even working for NASA or the UK Space Agency. Chemistry, meanwhile, leads to discoveries that are vital for human health and industrial development.
Physical sciences require great intellect and a passion for understanding confounding things like gravity, geology and propulsion. As a graduate, you will start on a salary of around £28,000, which will increase to around £40,000 in your first ten years. As a university lecturer in a physical science you can earn up to £60,000 per year.
- Social sciences – £28,000
Social science means the study of people, societies and behaviours. The most common social science degrees are sociology and anthropology, but career paths after studying these subjects diverge hugely. While some people remain in academia, taking a masters, then a PhD and working in research, lecturing or authoring books, many pursue careers in law, health management, social work, therapy, journalism, community development roles or even the creative arts.
Whatever field you enter, the average starting salary for a social science graduate is £28,000, and you’ll have picked up foundational knowledge about human societies that will set you up with a genuine understanding of why the world works as it does.
- Business and Management – £27,000
Most students who study business at undergraduate level go on to take an MBA (a masters of business administration) postgraduate degree – and that’s when the big bucks start rolling in. With an MBA, you are likely to start on around £50,000 a year and the sky’s the limit. Directors and CEOs can earn from around £80,000 up to £2 million or more per year.
If you complete your business degree and then go straight into work, you will start off on around £27,000 and over time can earn anything up to £150,000 through hard work, promotions and changing companies to climb the pay ladder. Your career path could be anything from board level leadership/management, HR, communications or business law.
- Environmental science – £26,500
With climate change and sustainable development massively on the agenda of most organisations, studying an environmental sciences degree could see you saving the planet and being highly in demand. The salary you can earn depends on your expertise levels and ability to find scientific solutions to environmental concerns.
Starting off on a £26.5k salary, you could end up being the chief sustainability officer of a multinational company earning a colossal salary, or earning less (around £50k a year) working for a charity or public sector organisation.
Five more degrees and their salaries in brief
The range of degrees on offer is extensive and it’s worth reiterating that the best degree for you is the one you most enjoy learning about. The more you enjoy a subject, the more likely you are to complete your degree and get a high grade – which is something employers take into account.
If a starting salary is the most important criteria for you, here are the next five best paying degrees in the UK:
- Architecture – £26,000
Design the houses and buildings of the future and start off with a £26k average salary at an architect firm.
- Languages – £25,500
Languages open up gateways to living and working abroad for organisations like the UN and are a hugely employable skill.
- Psychology – £24,500
Increasingly in demand with the mental health strains of today, psychology graduates can work in the public or private sector and start off on £24.5k a year.
- Law – £24,000
While the starting salary for law graduates might seem low, they very quickly increase and are one of the best-paying careers around.
- Journalism – £23,000
Journalists often say you don’t go into the media for the money, but for the variety of interesting work. That’s reflected in the entry level salary of around £23k per year, while a reporter at a national newspaper can earn around £35k, an editor £50k and an editor-in-chief anything up to £500k.
Take your first step towards one of these high paying careers and check out our range of flexible online degrees.