The UK Degrees With The Best Earning Potential
Choosing the right degree can be a daunting task with thoughts of your potential future career running through your head. If that’s the case then you’re not alone, NatWest’s Student Living Index 2022  found that 31% find their university degree stressful.
What’s more, in 2022 the then leadership hopeful, now Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, spoke  of his aim to phase out ‘low value’ degrees that do not “improve earning potential”, with the Government basing a degree’s value solely on earnings.
With that in mind we have looked at a number of degrees across 20 sectors based on data available on Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) to see which degrees offer the best long-term prospects and those that may be seen as ‘low value’ by some .
The analysis looked at graduate and enrolment figures in 2021/ 2022, median graduates salaries, number of degree-related entry level jobs available, and the total graduate high-skilled employment rate for each sector.
Each datapoint was given a score that each sector was ranked against. All scores were then added to identify the top and bottom degree sectors to pick with a maximum 900 points available.
- Medicine and dentistry were shown to be the best degrees for earning potential out of the 20 sectors studied, scoring 533.32 out of 900 points with the best median starting salary of £34k and highest total graduate high-skilled employment rate of 98%.
- Veterinary sciences followed closely taking 2nd place with 521.63 points, followed by engineering and technology degrees in 3rd place with 430.75 points out of 900.
- Historical, philosophical and religious studies were revealed to be the least desirable degrees to study with a median entry level salary of £23k, scoring just 28 out of a possible 900 points.
- Law degrees are expected to grow the most over the next decade with 147,860 graduates in 2031/2032, a 155.77% increase from 2021/2022.
- Natural sciences degrees are predicted to have the biggest decrease in graduates in a decade with an estimated 6,365 graduates in 2032, a dramatic -37.38% decrease from 2021/2022 which is disheartening given the current climate crisis.
- Design, and creative and performing arts degrees have the lowest median starting salary of £20k.
Analysis Uncovers The Degree With The Best Earning Potential
The analysis of degrees across the UK found that medicine and dentistry offer the best earning potential of the 20 sectors studied scoring 533.32 out of 900 points.
The degrees offering the best earning potential
So what resulted in medicine and dentistry being named the best degrees? Let’s find out.
With 63,705 people enrolled and 19,625 graduates in 2021/2022, research shows that the median graduate salary for the sector is £34,000, the highest out of the 20 degree sectors analysed.
Using data from Indeed the study found 34,025 degree-related entry level jobs available in November 2022, resulting in an average of 1.73 jobs per graduate, 17 in 10, which comes to an average of 20.81 per year.
Veterinary sciences scored the second highest points landing 521.63 out of a possible 900 points, with an average median graduate salary of £31k and an estimated 5.19 degree-related entry level jobs per graduate which is 519 in 100, the highest jobs per graduate ratio of all 20 sectors analysed.
In third place is engineering and technology degrees scoring 430.75 points out of 900 for the sectors’ 81% total graduate high-skilled employment rate and estimated 2.32 degree-related entry level jobs per graduate, which comes to 58 in 25.
Business and management degrees and subjects allied with medicine make up the remaining top five degrees respectively. Subjects allied to medicine came in second place for the best degree to go for, scoring 336.9 out of 900 points. According to UCAS, subjects include anatomy, physiology, and pathology, pharmacology, toxicology, and pharmacy, complementary medicines, therapies, and wellbeing. 
You can read the full findings of the analysis below.
Business and management is the sector with the highest number of graduates in 2021/22 at 176,985, in addition to having the highest enrolment figures in 2021/22 of 350,660 and largest number of average degree-related entry level jobs per month at 235,608.
The Degrees With The Least Earning Potential
In addition to knowing which degrees provide the best earning potential in the future, the analysis also highlighted those that don’t.
In bottom position is historical, philosophical and religious studies degrees with 28.16 points out of a possible 900.
The worst degrees to choose
With 86,080 people enrolled and 28,385 graduates in 2021/2022, the median salary for the historical, philosophical and religious studies sector is £23k.
In fact, historical, philosophical and religious studies ranked second lowest for the number of degree-related entry level jobs available of 0.11, which is 1 in 9, and third lowest for the average total graduate high-skilled employment rate of just 68%. This highlights the importance of graduates also searching for roles that aren’t directly allied with their field in order to get a job.
Psychology degrees came in second place for the least desirable degree for potential earnings. With an average median graduate salary of £21.5k, psychology falls into the group of degrees offering low end salaries in joint 3rd place alongside Law for lowest average median graduate salary, scoring it just 39.76 points out of 900.
Biological and sport sciences took third place with just 41.12 out of 900 points. With the lowest estimated degree-related entry level jobs available per graduate each year in the field of 0.05, which equates to 1 in 20, most will struggle to land their dream job straight out of university.
You can read the full findings of the analysis below.
Design, and creative and performing arts offers the lowest entry level salary of £20k, with biological and sport sciences having the least jobs available (19,368). Agriculture, food and related studies has the lowest total graduate high-skilled employment rate at 48%.
Veterinary sciences is the sector with the fewest graduates in 2021/22 at 2,700, in addition to having the lowest enrolment figures in 2021/22 of 9,715, but a total graduate high-skilled employment rate of 93%.
So what can we expect in the future for these degrees?
Our analysis of current and projected graduate numbers predicts that law degrees will grow the most over the next decade with 147,860 graduates in 2031/2032, a 155.77% increase from 2021/2022.
On the other hand, natural sciences degrees are expected to experience the biggest decrease in a decade with an estimated 6,365 graduates in 2032, a dramatic -37.38% decrease from 2021/2022. This is disheartening given the current climate crisis we find ourselves in.
Touching on the findings Tilan O’Connell, Senior Student Advisor at Oxford Learning College said “The predicted increase in sectors like law, computing and business and management graduates in the next decade will no doubt be a result of the ripple effect from the pandemic and people wanting to take ownership of their own career and progression path. However, with AI becoming more commonplace, in one case being the elected lawyer in a US trial, we can expect outside factors to impact these rankings”
O’Connell continued, “It’s surprising to see that graduate numbers for natural and biological science degrees are set to decrease so rapidly over the next 10 years, especially given the incredible breakthroughs the medical sector has provided over the past couple of years. It’s worth considering a career in medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences as the study shows that these degrees provide the best earning potential for graduates.”
The 20 degree sectors analysed were chosen by data available on Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) ensuring that we included a wide breadth of subjects so the main sectors were represented.
Each datapoint was assigned a score, to then calculate the overall score with a possible 900 available.
Scoring was broken down as follows.
- Number of graduates 2021/2022 – 100 points maximum
- Number of students enrolled 2021/2022 – 50 points maximum
- Average number of degree-related entry level jobs – 150 points maximum
- Median graduate salary – 200 points maximum
- Number of jobs available per graduate – monthly – 200 points maximum
- Total graduate high-skilled employment rate (%) – 200 points maximum
Enrolment 2021/22 data was taken from Higher Education Statistics Agency’s HE student enrolment table . 2019-2021 data from the table has then been used to make a future prediction using the trend forecasting formula known as TREND.
Graduates 2021/22 data was taken from Higher Education Statistics Agency’s HE qualifications obtained table . This was then used to make a future prediction using TREND. This was then used to calculate the percentage difference between 2021/22 and 2031/32.
TREND analysis uses forecasting a pattern of key variables using past data; it is a statistical function that calculates the linear trend line to the arrays of known y and known x.
The median graduate salary was taken from Higher Education Statistics Agency’s data on median salary of UK domiciled full-time graduates who obtained first degree qualifications and entered full-time paid employment in the UK by subject area of degree and skill marker; Academic year 2019/20 .
Total high-skilled graduate employment (%) was obtained from Higher Education Statistics Agency’s higher education graduate outcomes study .
Degree-related entry level jobs available per sector data was taken from Indeed on November 25th 2022 by searching for individual degrees on the site using keywords, sorting by date to show the newest results and then adding those figures together for each sector .
The sector figure was then divided by the number of graduates per sector to give an estimated jobs per graduate figure. Indeed’s policy is to remove job ads after 30 days, unless they are sponsored.
 NatWest’s Student Living Index 2022 – https://www.natwest.com/life-moments/students-and-graduates/student-living-index.html and https://www.natwest.com/content/dam/natwest/personal/life-moments/documents/NatWest_Student_Living_Index_Survey_2022.pdf
 Useless degrees comment – https://www.lbc.co.uk/news/rishi-sunak-wants-to-phase-out-degrees-that-do-not-improve-earning-potential/
 Enrolment 2021/22 – https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/25-01-2022/sb262-higher-education-student-statistics/subjects
 Graduates 2021/22 – https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/25-01-2022/sb262-higher-education-student-statistics/subjects
 Median entry level salary – https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/16-06-2022/sb263-higher-education-graduate-outcomes-statistics/salary
 Total graduate high-skilled employment (%) – https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/16-06-2022/sb263-higher-education-graduate-outcomes-statistics/study
 Number of degree-related entry level jobs available – https://uk.indeed.com/