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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 25 Jan '17

What's a Masters Worth? - Postgraduate Study and Employment

There are plenty of reasons to consider a Masters and, with the value of UK postgraduate loans rising, plenty of students will do so in 2017.

But what will those students actually get out of their extra qualifications? If you commit to another year (or more) at university, what will you gain in return?

We recently looked at the broader benefits of postgraduate study: the new experiences, the personal development opportunities and the transferable skills.

Those are all important. But the value of a Masters can also be a lot more literal. For many students it's the prospect of improved earnings, better career prospects (or both) that draws them to postgraduate study.

Does a Masters actually deliver these things? We've had a go at finding out.

First things first. . .

It's important to be careful when talking about employment and earnings statistics - particularly if you're using them to make a decision about postgraduate study.

What follows is an explanation of the data we've used in this post, together with a quick outline of its strengths and weaknesses.

You can skip this if you want to and just head straight to the tables, but we recommend you give the following information a quick read.

Our data source

The analysis below is based on real data, reported by real students graduating with Masters degrees and other postgraduate qualifications.

It's based on a survey carried out by the UK's Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), called the 'Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Longitudinal survey' (or, DLHE-L, for short).

The DLHE-L surveys students four years after graduation. The most recent version was published in 2015 and is based on students who completed degrees in 2010-11.

There are some advantages and disadvantages to the DLHE-L and you should bear them in mind as you read the rest of this post:

  • The DLHE-L surveys students after they've spent some time using their qualifications. This means it can gather more useful employment and earnings data.
  • These statistics are officially recognised. They are trusted and used by the UK government and other organisations.

  • Data is based on a sample of students who graduated four years ago. It may not exactly reflect prospects for current graduates. In addition, not all students surveyed will have responded.
  • These statistics only reflect outcomes for students who earned a degree in the UK.

It's also worth remembering that, with a couple of exceptions, the data below isn't subject-specific. It's based on the total number of postgraduates surveyed and can't reflect exact outcomes for any specific degree.

After all, a Masters is nothing if not specialised, with differences between qualification types, subject areas and individual courses.

In a nutshell. . .

The following information can tell you something about the value of a Masters (and most of what it says is very positive) but you shouldn't over-value it.

Postgraduate employment - will a Masters get you a job?

You've completed another year (or more!) at university, you've made a home in the library, you've conquered your dissertation and you've earned your Masters degree.

The next step may well be to put that qualification to use and get a job. Will your Masters help you do that?

The short answer is that it probably will. Data from the 2010/11 DLHE-L reveals that the majority of graduates with a taught postgraduate qualification are in paid employment when surveyed. Most of them are in full-time work.

Postgraduate Employment
Full-time paid work 75.2%
Part-time paid work 7.6%
Further study 5.6%
Work and further study 5.1%
Data is based on the percentage of taught postgraduate students in specific occupations, as recorded by the 2010/11 DLHE-Longitudinal survey.

According to this table, Masters-level postgraduates are highly employable. Roughly 85% are in paid work after four years.

What do Masters graduates earn?

OK. So, it looks like a Masters will lead to a job, but how much will you actually earn? And will your salary be higher than it would have been otherwise?

The following table compares the percentage of graduates and postgraduates at different salary levels after four years:

Postgraduate Salaries
Salary Band Bachelors Masters
£15,000 - £19,999 16.2% 6.5%
£20,000 - £24,999 16.7% 7.8%
£25,000 - £29,999 16.1% 10.3%
£30,000 - £34,999 9.3% 10.8%
£35,000 - £39,999 8.2% 13.5%
£40,000 - £44,999 3.3% 6.1%
£45,000 - £49,999 2.1% 4.1%
£50,000+ 3.2% 12.1%
Data is based on the percentage of Masters graduates earning within specific salary bands after four years, as recorded by the 2010/11 DLHE-Longitudinal survey.

So, with increased employability comes higher earnings - or so the data seems to suggest.

Nearly 50% of Masters graduates are earning an annual salary over £30,000 after four years. And over 10% are in the highest earning bracket measured by HESA's survey.

Postgraduate salaries also compare well with their undergraduate equivalents, but it's important not to get too carried away with comparisons. Undergraduates are more likely to have gone on to further study before starting work, and their salaries may reflect that.

What the table does show is that Masters graduates are likely to earn a relatively high salary after four years.


It's good to know that postgraduates are employable. It's also handy to know that a Masters will probably boost your earnings, over time.

But, as discussed earlier, this information needs to be used carefully. It's based on the experiences of real students, but those experiences won't necessarily reflect yours.

Should you be encouraged by positive data for postgraduate employment and earnings? Sure!

Should you assume that the outcome of your specific Masters, in your specific subject-area will exactly reflect that of another student on a different course, several years ago? Well, you don't need a Masters in Statistics to answer that question.

And don't forget that there are a huge range of other resources you can also use when considering further study: course descriptions, university rankings, postgraduate open days and events, or even discussions with other students.

Looking for more information on postgraduate employability and earnings? Take a look at our guides to the value of a Masters from an employer's perspective and our tips for making the most of postgraduate study.