Finding the right course

Top degree subjects for graduate starting salaries

By Rebecca Hughes (Digital content producer, Which? University) - 16 November 2012

Source: Aberystwyth University

When we asked students why they wanted to go to university, improving employment prospects came out as a top factor. And while making lots of cash isn't the only mark of a successful career, it's nice to think you could emerge from uni with the potential to become a top earner. One of these subjects may help you get off to a good start...

Here are the top subject areas for graduate starting salaries. We're looking at the money, on average, earned by students six months after graduating with a degree in that discipline (according to the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education survey) - so it's a only a snapshot.

We've also included some extra insights from careers experts HECSU, to give you a flavour of the types of jobs graduates of these subjects typically tend to get into. Plus you can also find out which universities produce high-earning graduates.

1. Medicine: £31,383

Medical degrees have, and will no doubt continue to have, some of the best employment outcomes of any degree in terms of salary expectations and long-term prospects. Unsurprisingly, most graduates go into jobs within the health sector. If you're taking a shorter pre-clinical course, you'll need to continue on to further medical training to complete an accredited qualification, which explains why a high proportion of medicine grads are 'in further study' six months after graduation.

You could become a: general practice doctor, hospital doctor
Alternative options: clinical molecular geneticist, health service manager

2. Dentistry: £29,664

Dentistry qualifications are a savvy choice if a solid and stable career is top of your priority list. It's one of the very few degrees out there able to rival medicine for the strongest employability prospects and starting salary around. The recession appears to have barely touched early career options available for new dentists - almost all graduates get dental jobs on leaving their courses.

You could become a: general dental practitioner, hospital dentist
Alternative options: community clinical dental officer, corporate practice dentist

3. Botany (plant sciences): £28,591

Only a handful of students take this subject, but their expertise is in high demand from employers in a number of areas including crop engineering and biofuel research. A substantial number of plant science grads pursue careers in industrial and academic research, and so go on to further study six months after graduation.

You could become a: plant geneticist, soil scientist, project coordinator

4. Chemical, process and energy engineering: £28,219

With a shortage of chemical engineers in the UK, chemical engineering grads are in demand and starting salaries are good. That's especially the case for the oil and gas industry in Scotland, where chemical engineers started on an average of nearly £30,000 last year. Most graduates take a longer course that leads to an MEng – which is what you need to take if you want to be a Chartered Engineer.

You could become a: process development engineer, industrial manager, investment analyst

5. Operational research (management science): £26,776

With advanced analytical and problem-solving skills, operational research grads are attractive to a wide range of employers across multiple sectors including business and manufacturing. Typically, a large proportion of 2011 graduates are working in finance, but some pursue careers in management consultancy or IT.

You could become a:  financial analyst, economist, accountant

6. Biotechnology and industrial biotechnology: £26,309

A new and emerging field of technology, further study is common for biotechnology grads as research jobs usually require a postgraduate qualification. Graduates are in demand from a wide range of employers, including pharmaceutical companies, food companies and the public sector.

You could become a: bioprocess developer, fermentation scientist, genetic engineer

7. Veterinary medicine and dentistry: £25,885

Most graduates get jobs – as vets – on graduation and starting salaries are much higher than average. Not surprisingly, they work in mainly rural areas (not so much in London!), but UK vets are also in demand abroad so if you fancy working overseas, this can be a great degree to choose.

You could become a: veterinary surgeon
Alternative options: veterinary researcher

8. Economics: £25,717

Almost half of 2011’s economics grads are now business and financial professionals, but some go into areas including public sector management, retail and marketing. It's also quite common for economics graduates to go into jobs such as accountancy which require you to take more training and gain professional qualifications.

You could become a: business analyst, account manager, insurance adviser

Remember, taking a degree in a particular subject won't guarantee you a job or top salary. Whatever you want to study, it's worth making the extra effort when it comes to work experience and extra-curricular activities while you're at uni to help you get ahead in the jobs market.

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Notes: DLHE survey salary data is based on stats from 2005/6 - 2009/10. Extra insights thanks to HECSU and Prospects.ac.uk.

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