Which University Degree Has The Best Return on Investment?

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student accommodation in loughborough

With the news that Loughborough University has been named the best value for money, offering both low living costs and excellent graduate prospects, we’re sure Loughborough students will be feeling pretty pleased with their choice of university. But if you really want to make the most of your experience – and get the most value possible from your degree – you might be wondering which university degree offers the best value for money and will give you the best earning potential over the course of your future career.

We’ve put this blog post together to answer that question. We’ll be looking at twenty of the UK’s most popular degrees and the common career paths people tend to follow after completing them to give you the final verdict on which university degree has the best return on investment. We’ll tell you what to expect from the jobs themselves, and what your salary is likely to be both when you first start out, and after a few years experience. Take a look below to find out the full details on what you can expect from your degree.


Business & Administrative Studies

In a world seemingly full of thriving tech start-ups and charismatic entrepreneurs, it’s no surprise that business and administrative subjects are the most popular course in the UK, with a total of 232,785 applicants in the 2016/17 application cycle.

Business degrees can have a variety of different titles, including:

  • Business & Management Studies
  • Finance and Management
  • International Business
  • Management Sciences
  • Banking, Finance and Management

The exact topics studied will vary depending on your degree, but you can expect to develop a solid knowledge base in key business concepts like management, finance theory, entrepreneurship, marketing, and human resources. Many also offer a sandwich year, giving you a chance to test your mettle and develop your skills in a real business environment.

There’s plenty of career scope for those with a business degree, with possible paths including sales, management consulting, banking, human resources, and management – amongst many others.   

Study Length for Qualification: 3 years or 4 years with a placement year


Possible Career: Sales Executive

If you’re a silver-tongued communicator with a knack for persuasion, sales offers a potentially very lucrative career option for business graduates. The ultimate goal of any sales job is to sell a particular company’s products and services to prospective customers.

This job is often phone-based, but there are also opportunities for travel – you might be visiting prospective clients to sell a product for example. You can expect a sales role to be very targets driven, which is perfect for those with a competitive streak who want to earn big bucks in commission. However, it can be intense and stressful, and you’ll need a great deal of positivity and confidence to succeed.


Average Salary

For sales staff, your salary will likely be a combination of a base salary (which you’ll get regardless of what you sell) and commission (which will be based on sales performance). These are normally combined in job adverts to give you an OTE (on-target earnings), which is what you’ll earn if you meet all the relevant targets.

We’ve looked into the figures, and this is what you can expect to earn as a sales executive over the course of your career, from your first day in the office as a graduate through to more senior roles in your 30s.



Medical degrees have retained their popularity and distinction as one of the most competitive degree subjects, with thousands of applicants vying for a place every year. There are up to 10 applicants for every medical school place.

Medical degrees provide you with the comprehensive training you need to become a doctor, covering everything from anatomy and physiology, to psychology, biochemistry, surgery, and ethics. Courses will be structured differently depending on where you study, combining pre-clinical theory with clinical placements and practice.

Be aware that medicine will be a long and difficult slog before you’re fully qualified – to be a G.P, you’ll need to complete a five year degree, followed by two foundation years and three years vocational training. For aspiring surgeons this will be even longer – it can take up to fifteen years to become fully qualified.

Study Length for Qualification: 10 years

Possible Career: General Practice Doctor (GP)

GPs work in surgeries and clinics to offer a first point of call for patients worried about their health. You’ll be responsible for carrying out consultations, determining diagnoses, and implementing treatment plans, as well as referring patients to specialist doctors where necessary. You’ll need a broad and deep understanding of medicine, as well as a compassionate attitude and great communication skills. 

Average Salary

In the NHS doctors’ salaries are banded based on experience – you’ll progress through the different pay grades as you complete training and gain experience. 

Take a look below for the salary you can expect as a junior doctor through to your next step as a registrar, and finally a role as a GP. 

Biological Sciences

Biological sciences is the umbrella term for a broad spectrum of subjects, including biology, microbiology, biochemistry, and zoology. You’ll study a wide range of topics related to life and organisms, including genetics, physiology, life cycles, adaptations, and the environment. If you’d love to know more about the most fundamental elements of life itself – from the tiniest cells, to the vastest ecosystems – this could be the degree for you. 

Study Length for Qualification: 3-4 years 

Possible Career: Biotechnologist

Biotechnology involves using biological principles, living systems, and organisms to develop and improve processes and products. Most obviously, this might be in the pharmaceutical and medical industries where you could be designing and improving medicines and vaccines. 

However, biotechnologists are being hired across loads of other sectors too – everything from food production and agriculture, to dealing with industrial waste, refining biofuels, and creating better detergents. These are just the tip of the iceberg; biotechnology is used everywhere across governments, private companies, and hospitals.

Average Salary

Social Studies

Social studies are the study of society and human relationships. This can encompass degrees like Criminology, Sociology, Social Work, Economics, Anthropology, and Human Geography. You might learn about the structures that underpin society and communities, social interaction, large scale social problems, or how to defend the most vulnerable in society.

Study Length for Qualification: 3 years


Possible Career: Social Worker

 Social workers act to protect and safeguard children, families, and vulnerable adults through difficult circumstances and situations. There are many different roles available, including within:  

  • Fostering and adoption services
  • Mental health services
  • Drug and alcohol support
  • Homeless liaison

Working as a social worker will bring you into contact with many tough and upsetting situations, and you’ll have to make challenging decisions about peoples’ lives. This means you’ll need resilience and the ability to work under pressure, as well as a great deal of kindness, patience, and compassion. You’ll also need to have a comprehensive understanding of the legislation you’ll be tasked with enforcing.

You will likely have to work with other agencies, complete paperwork and reports, and attend multidisciplinary meetings about your cases. Good communication skills are therefore a must. 

This isn’t an easy career and can be incredibly stressful at times, especially when dealing with distressing cases. However, it can be also be very fulfilling and rewarding – you can make a tangible difference in peoples’ lives.

Average Salary

Creative Arts & Design

Creative Arts and Design includes a wide range of degree topics, including Fine Art, Graphic Design, Photography, Illustration, Performing Arts, and Creative Writing. If you’ve got boatloads of creativity, talent, and passion, a degree in art and design can provide you with a solid background to kickstart your career in the creative industries.

Your degree will help you to refine your work by improving your practical skills and theoretical knowledge. You’ll be able to build a great portfolio that will help you to find work in the future, and some courses also give you the opportunity to work on live briefs. 

Study Length for Qualification: 3 years

Possible Career: Graphic Designer

Visual communication is a graphic designer’s bread and butter. You’ll use a combination of images, typography, and illustrations to communicate a specific message or build a visual brand. In the digital age, a solid understanding of UX (user experience) principles will also go a long way.

Graphic designers may work in house for businesses, helping them to establish their brand, build marketing and advertising materials, and design websites and product packaging. Equally, you might find employment at a design agency working for a variety of clients, or with enough experience, go freelance.

Whichever path you choose, you’ll need excellent communication skills in order to build relationships with clients, understand their goals, and explain your work to them. Naturally, you’ll need to be a talented problem solver and visual thinker as well. 

Average Salary

Engineering & Technology

Engineering degrees teach you how to use mathematical and scientific principles to design projects and solve problems. There are a number of specialities available, including:

  • Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Materials Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering

Engineering is a vast subject; the number of disciplines available means that you could learn to work on anything from designing the world’s biggest and fastest planes, to exploring the possibilities of microscopic nanotechnology.

Accredited engineers solve the world’s problems, designing innovative solutions to advance technology and improve the world around them. As well as having a knack for maths, you’ll need to be a creative person who can think outside of the box to succeed in the engineering industry.

Many courses offer industrial placement years, giving you the chance to refine your skills in a practical setting before you graduate.

Study Length for Qualification: 3-4 years

Possible Career: Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace engineers are responsible for designing and developing everything from commercial jetliners to advanced weapons systems, satellites, and spacecraft. You could work in a variety of different environments, including aircraft hangars, factories, labs, and even just a regular office.

You’ll be expected to stay up to date with the most cutting edge technologies, and learn how to deploy them in your own projects. You might be involved in anything from building design plans, to supervising aircraft assembly, or testing and maintaining systems. Some aerospace engineers may choose to pursue consultancy work, where you could be investigating aircraft accidents, or giving advice to clients within the industry. It’s a varied and exciting career with plenty of different paths to follow.

Average Salary

Teaching & Education

Teaching and education undergraduate degrees allow you to study educational processes in order to understand the best practices for educating the next generation of students. They’ll incorporate educational theory with other subjects such as developmental psychology and philosophy.  Some undergraduate degrees include Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), especially if you’re interested in Early Years teaching. 

However for the most part you will also have to complete a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) if you want to become qualified. If you want to teach at a secondary school, it’s often recommended to study the subject you want to teach at degree level and then move on to your PGCE afterwards. There are also specialised degrees which combine degree level study of your subject with teaching theory and training. 

Study Length for Qualification: 4 years

Possible Career: Teacher

As you’re probably already aware, teachers work in schools to impart their knowledge to students and help them to achieve the best results possible. It can be a very rewarding job, but also challenging at times; you’ll be working with students from a variety of backgrounds, with different needs and attitudes towards learning. The workload can be intense – although you’ll get a lot of holidays, you’ll likely have to work during them to create lesson plans and mark work. 

You’ll need a comprehensive understanding of your chosen subject, as well as the ability to deliver your lessons in an engaging and positive way. Whether you’re working with teenagers or primary school aged children, you’ll need to be patient too – young people won’t always be eager to learn and it’s your job to encourage them to make the most of their abilities.

Average Salary

State school teachers have banded salaries, but schools are increasingly given autonomy to reward teachers as they feel fit. If you take on extra teaching responsibilities, or go above and beyond with your students, you’re likely to progress more quickly. Here are some of the average salaries you can expect:

Computer Science

In today’s world, computing and coding skills are more valued and essential than ever before. Developers, software engineers, and programmers are in high demand, and a computer science degree will teach you all the key principles and concepts to succeed in this field.

 As well as learning programming languages, you’ll probably cover a range of related topics like AI, logic, mathematics, databases, and algorithms. There are also likely to be practical modules in topics like mobile app development, leaving you well placed to succeed in a modern business environment.

Study Length for Qualification: 3 years

Possible Career: Software Engineer

Software engineers build software, working to develop bespoke systems and programmes for businesses and clients. It’s complicated technical work with lots of processes involved; as well as writing code, you’ll be responsible for testing and debugging it. You’ll also need to maintain software in the long term – for example, rolling out updates to apps, and eliminating any bugs that show up further down the line.

Beyond technical expertise, it’s useful to a good degree of business acumen so that you can understand the goals of the software you’re creating. Great communication is also incredibly helpful – it makes it much easier to work with clients and fulfil their brief to the exact specification.

Average Salary


Law degrees arm you with the knowledge you need to embark on a career as a solicitor or barrister. Although you’ll still need to complete a Legal Practice Course (for solicitors) or the Bar Professional Training Course (for barristers) followed by a training contract or pupillage to practise law professionally, a law degree is a good first step.

During your degree you’ll learn the intricacies of the British legal system, including policy, case studies, and theories. You’ll also get a chance to develop the professional skills you’ll need for a career in law – for example, you’ll be able to build up your knowledge of technical language, learn how to draft legal documents, and practise mooting and debating.   

Study Length for Qualification: 7 years. This is the time it takes to be fully qualified as a solicitor – a 3 year degree, followed by the 2 year Legal Practice Course and a 2 year training contract with a firm. 

Possible Career: Solicitor

Solicitors advise clients on a range of legal matters. There are lots of areas you can specialise in, including criminal law, family law, human rights, commercial law, and intellectual property law. For example, you might help someone draw up a will, advise on a divorce, help businesses stay on the right side of the law, or prepare a defence case for a criminal hearing. You’ll work directly with clients to help them get the best possible outcome, and represent their rights and interests.

As a solicitor, you won’t normally appear in court; that’s the role of a barrister. You will be responsible for dealing with paperwork, drafting legal documents, co-ordinating case work, and gathering evidence. Once the case is prepared, a barrister will present the work in court. 

If you want to pursue this profession, you’ll need to be prepared to work long hours and deal with intellectually taxing work. Lawyers regularly work 12 hour days to get case work done

Average Salary


A degree in History is the study of historical events. As well as finding out what actually happened, you’ll learn how to conduct in depth analysis of the lasting impacts of events, as well as looking at historical trends. Does history repeat itself? This is your chance to find out!

History degrees can cover lots of different periods of history, from ancient times through to the modern period. Normally, degrees will start with core modules in the first year, followed by elective modules that you pick yourself in the second and third year. This gives you the chance to really get to grips with a particular period of history that fascinates you. You’ll also develop valuable transferable skills – how to put together and communicate an argument, for example.

Time for Qualification: 3 years

Possible Career: Historical Buildings Inspector

A degree in History is the study of historical events. As well as finding out what actually happened, you’ll learn how to conduct in depth analysis of the lasting impacts of events, as well as looking at historical trends. Does history repeat itself? This is your chance to find out!

History degrees can cover lots of different periods of history, from ancient times through to the modern period. Normally, degrees will start with core modules in the first year, followed by elective modules that you pick yourself in the second and third year. This gives you the chance to really get to grips with a particular period of history that fascinates you. You’ll also develop valuable transferable skills – how to put together and communicate an argument, for example.

Expected Salary


Dentistry courses are your gateway to a career as a dentist. As with medicine, you can expect intense competition for places – it’s still an incredibly popular course, and universities will only take the very best.

The five year course will teach you everything you need to know about biology, biochemistry, anatomy, oral disease, and physiology in order to become qualified. As well as all the theoretical knowledge, you’ll develop your practical skills in areas such as dental examinations, using anaesthetic, and orthodontics. This is achieved by working with patients under supervision. You’ll learn everything you need to know for a successful career in oral healthcare.

Time for Qualification: 5 years

Possible Career: Dentist

To become a dentist after completing your degree, you’ll need to undertake one or two years of supervised practice. Afterwards, you’ll be free to pursue a career in the area of your choice, whether that’s at a practice as an associate, in community dentistry, or working in a hospital. 

On a typical day, you can expect to be carrying out dental checkups and hygiene work, performing minor dental operations such as fillings and teeth extraction, and installing dentures, bridges, and implants for those who have lost teeth. 

Whichever path you choose, you’ll need a great bedside manner and excellent communication skills with patients of all ages. This is especially important in dentistry – 1 in 4 people dread going to the dentist, so it’s important that you’re a naturally sympathetic person who can put people at ease.

Average Salary

Architecture, Building & Planning

Architecture combines the disciplines of science and art and applies them to the design of structures and buildings. You’ll learn to develop buildings that are attractive, but most importantly, are also safe and reliable. 

This involves the study of many different elements – you’ll need a strong grasp of numeracy, trigonometry, geometry, and algebra to design buildings that are structurally sound and functional. You will also be taught 3D design in order to create visualisations of your ideas, as well as the theory behind architecture – this could involve urban planning principles, planning law, engineering costs, the history of architecture, design theory, and environmental studies.

In the modern world, it’s important to create buildings that are environmentally friendly, so courses will also incorporate theories on sustainability and energy use, as well as educate you on the best building materials and engineering practices.

Time for qualification: 7 years

Possible Career: Architect

Architects design buildings and create technical drawings that can be followed by those in the construction industry. The dream is naturally to have an awe-inspiring skyscraper with your name on it, but failing that, there’s plenty of work with housing developers and in the commercial sector, where you could be designing housing estates and supermarkets. You might also find smaller scale work for individual families – for example, designing a conservatory or similar extension.

Average Salary


If you’ve got a knack for numbers, a degree in maths is a great way to deepen your knowledge of mathematical principles. You’ll learn how to create mathematical models, discover the intricacies of the various fields of mathematics, and learn how mathematical theories underpin the very world we live in.

Most degrees allow you to study a variety of different areas, including algebra, geometry, statistics, mechanics, and calculus, with many giving you the option to specialise in the field of your choice. 

Time for qualification: 3 years

Possible Career: Data Analyst

Data is more important now than ever before. Around the world, organisations, businesses, and governments are using data to inform their strategies and operations. The rise of big data has meant data sets are becoming increasingly large and complex. These data sets can be used for a huge range of applications, from planning international development efforts, to providing personalised prescriptions in healthcare, and analysing user behaviour on websites.

All this means that there are jobs for data analysts in practically every sector. If you have a highly analytical mind, an understanding of databases, and a flair for maths, you can put these skills to use managing organisational data. This role can involve a range of tasks, including interpreting complex data sets and writing detailed reports on your findings, creating visualisations, and advising businesses on their processes based on your analyses.

Average Salary

Compare All Graduate Jobs

See the graph below to compare all the data from above in one handy chart! 

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