Masters Degrees, Employment and Earnings - A Guide |
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Masters Degrees, Employment and Earnings

Postgraduate study can be a great opportunity to gain advanced training, new skills and in-depth subject knowledge. But will it make you more employable?

And will a Masters degree help you find a better job? Or earn a higher salary?

On this page we've examined the facts and figures relating to postgraduate employment, using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) to look specifically at the job prospects of Masters students in the UK. We've also looked at HESA’s data on postgraduate earnings.

Elsewhere in this section you can read more about the value of postgraduate study, including advice on employer perspectives and tips for making the most of your Masters.

On this page

Will a Masters make me more employable?

A Masters degree is a qualification to be proud of, whatever your plans. But, for most students, it's also a big investment of time, effort and, of course, money.

So, the likelihood is that you want to know if a postgraduate degree will be 'worth it'.

Some students do study a Masters purely for the love of their subject. And that's as good a reason for postgraduate study as any. But it's probably not going to apply to most of the people reading a guide to postgraduate employment.

The good news is that research suggests further study does have a career benefit. Graduates with a Masters degree appear to be more employable. Many also go on to earn more over their lifetime.

Higher overall employment for postgraduates is obviously good news if you're considering a Masters degree. But it doesn't mean that a Masters will automatically boost your employability on its own.

You'll need to make sure you think carefully about your reasons for postgraduate study – and that you're able to 'sell' the value of your qualification to employers.

Employability data for UK postgraduates

One of the best sources of employment data for postgraduate study in the UK is the Destinations of Leavers From Higher Education Longitudinal Survey, produced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

This survey asks leavers from different academic years what they’ve gone on to do. The most recent edition of the survey asks people who left higher education in 2012-13 what they were doing in the winter of 2016-17.

This data is historical, but it can be a good indicator of employability and career prospects for future postgraduates – like you!

Destinations of 2012-13 higher education leavers
Status Graduate Postgraduate
Work 81.3% 83.1%
Work and study 5.4% 5.2%
Further study 7% 5.2%
Unemployed 2.4% 1.7%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2016-17 Longitudinal DLHE Survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after three and half years.

As you can see from this table, both graduates and postgraduates enjoy high levels of employment three and a half years after leaving education, with postgraduates almost 2% more likely to be in work than those with a Bachelors degree.

Of course, this doesn’t seem like a particularly wide margin. But the real difference in employment between graduates and postgraduates comes in the kind of work they do, which is what we’ll look at shortly (spoiler: postgraduates are more likely to be in a professional role than their graduate counterparts).

How do you make the most of a Masters?

A Masters degree is about more than a qualification – or another three or four letters after your name. There's a lot you can during and after your course to get the most out of it. For more advice, take a look at our guide to making the most of your Masters.

Will I find a better job with a Masters?

Knowing that a Masters degree could make you more employable is one thing. But will the job you get with a Masters be any better than the opportunities available to you with a Bachelors degree? In short, will a Masters degree boost your career prospects?

Again, the good news is that postgraduates do tend to enter higher level positions.

Figures from the DLHE Longitudinal Survey indicate that postgraduates are around 12% more likely to be in a professional role. These roles are also more senior than those held by first degree graduates.

Postgraduate employment in 2016-17

The following table compares the percentage of 2012-13 UK graduates and postgraduates in professional roles after three and a half years. Professional roles are generally held to be those for which more advanced training is necessary or beneficial. They are a good hallmark of graduate employability.

Postgraduate careers
Position Graduate Postgraduate
Managers, directors and senior officials 6.2% 9.9%
Professional occupations 47.4% 68.3%
Associate professional and technical occupations 28.5% 16.1%
Total 82.1% 94.3%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2016-17 Longitudinal DLHE Survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after three and half years.

As you can see, a Masters degree or other postgraduate qualification can have quite a striking effect on the level of employment you’ll be in a few years into your career:

  • The chances of you being in a ‘professional occupation’ (rather than a less senior associate role) are just over 20% higher if you have a postgraduate qualification. In other words, a Masters means you’re more likely to be in a job with greater professional competency and responsibility.
  • You’re nearly 4% more likely to hold a managerial role with a postgraduate qualification.

This is backed up by the UK Government's Graduate Labour Market Survey (GLMS), which found that high skilled employment rates among postgraduates aged 16-64 was 77.8% in 2017, compared to 65.5% among graduates. For those in the 21-30 age bracket, meanwhile, postgraduates are 16.1% more likely to be in a highly skilled job than graduates.

Another thing to bear in mind is career satisfaction. According to the DHLE Longitudinal Survey, postgraduates are 3.5% more likely to be satisfied with their employment than graduates (and 3.4% less likely to be unsatisfied).

Is there a benefit to studying a Masters abroad?

Many students choose to combine further postgraduate training with an opportunity to study abroad. Reports suggest that this brings extra benefits.

One of the most important has been an investigation by the Erasmus+ programme. This is a set of funding schemes set up by the European Commission to support study mobility. Its 2016 report (PDF) highlighted the career prospects of participating students.

Though it does not distinguish between study levels, the Erasmus report suggests employers do value international experience:

  • Those who have studied abroad are half as likely as their non-mobile counterparts to be unemployed
  • Erasmus students are almost 10% more likely to be in a management position five to ten years after graduation

Of course, some of the advantages of studying abroad are clear without this data.

The added benefits of studying winemaking in France, or international law in the Netherlands, for example, are quite obvious.

More general advantages include useful language skills, experience of living and working in important international marketplaces and evidence of your willingness to adapt to new challenges.

What salary do Masters graduates earn?

We've established that a Masters could make you more employable and help you find a better job. But will you actually achieve a higher salary with a postgraduate qualification?

Again, research suggests that a Masters degree may do more than improve your job prospects. UK studies appear to show that people with postgraduate qualifications tend to earn significantly more across their lifetime:

  • A 2015 report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (PDF) found that postgraduates earn around 9% more than graduates over the course of a lifetime.
  • A 2013 report by the Sutton Trust (PDF) also found that students earn more with a Masters degree. Their 'postgraduate premium' amounts to approximately £5,500 in extra earnings per year. This results in more than £200,000 of added lifetime earnings projected over a typical 40-year career.

These figures are encouraging, but they are mainly projections. They predict earnings, rather than measuring them.

Thankfully the increasing popularity of Masters study means more specific data is becoming available for graduates in the UK.

How much do postgraduates earn?

The most recent version of the DLHE Longitudinal Survey gives data for workers who earned a postgraduate degree in 2012-13.

This doesn't cover salaries for more recent postgraduates, but it can tell you what people with a Masters go on to earn after a few years in work.

Key findings from the Longitudinal DLHE reveal that:

  • 91.7% of postgraduates earn over £21,000
  • The median salary for postgraduate degree holders is £32,000
  • Workers with a postgraduate degree are more likely to be earning salaries over £27,500 (compared to workers with undergraduate degrees only)

These figures apply to salaries for workers with a Masters degree (or above) in the UK, three and a half years after graduation.

Salary data for Masters graduates

The following table provides more detailed information on earnings with a Masters degree (or above). It compares the percentage of graduates and postgraduates within different salary bands:

Earnings of 2012-13 higher education leavers
Annual salary (£) Graduate Postgraduate
Less than 15,000 4.6% 1.4%
15,000 - 17,499 6.5% 1.8%
17,500 - 19,999 7.9% 2.4%
20,000 - 22,499 12.5% 5.1%
22,500 - 24,999 11.1% 5.3%
25,000 - 27,499 15.5% 11.2%
27,500 - 29,999 8.3% 9.2%
30,000 - 32,499 11% 13.8%
32,500 - 34,999 3.5% 5.3%
35,000 - 39,999 7.3% 13.4%
40,000 - 44,999 4.4% 10%
45,000 - 49,999 2.8% 6.1%
50,000 or more 4.6% 15%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2016-17 Longitudinal DLHE Survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after three and half years.

This data indicates that postgraduate qualifications appear to provide a significant earnings boost once students have been working for a few years.

Of particular note is the fact that the largest group of postgraduates (15%) earned the highest salary band (£50,000 or more).

The UK Government's Graduate Labour Market Survey (GLMS) reaffirms the findings in this report. Among the working age population (16-64 year olds), the median salary of a postgraduate in 2017 was £39,000, compared to £33,000 for a graduate. Among 21-30 year olds, the median salary for postgraduates was £28,500, with graduates earning a median salary of £35,000.

Postgraduate employability worldwide

This page focuses on postgraduates in the UK, but data from the OECD reveals similar patterns in other countries. In terms of the OECD average, postgraduates are 5% more likely to be employed than graduates, while people with a Masters or Doctoral qualification earn around 27% more than graduates.

Where can I find data on postgraduate employability and earnings?

As postgraduate study has become more popular, increasing attention has been paid to its benefits – particularly in the UK.

This means that data on career prospects and earnings with a Masters degree is now available from various sources.

The following is a quick guide to some of the main sources of information on postgraduate employment and earnings – including those we've used on this page.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)

HESA is the largest and most comprehensive provider of information on the outcomes of university study in the UK. This includes information on what students go on to do, the kinds of jobs they end up in and how much money they earn.

HESA operates on a not-for-profit basis as a higher education charity, but the data it collects has an official status and is used by various groups, including the UK Government.

There are two main HESA publications that cover employment data for postgraduates:

  • The Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) Survey is an annual survey of university graduates in the UK. It collects information on the activities of students six months after completing their degrees. Find out more about the DLHE.
  • The DLHE Longitudinal Survey is a second phase of the main DLHE. It collects further information from graduates three and a half years after leaving university. We’ve used the DLHE Longitudinal data for the tables on this page. Read more about the Longitudinal DLHE.

The Graduate Labour Market Survey (GLMS)

The Graduate Labour Market Survey is an annual survey compiled by the UK Government using data from the wider Labour Force Survey (LFS). It takes a different approach to the HESA reports mentioned above, in that it assesses the current employment and salary status of all graduates within a certain age range – not just those who graduated in a particular year.

It's possible to filter the GLMS data by 'recent' graduates – those in the 21-30 age bracket – and the entire working population, which makes it somewhat easier to get an idea of what people are doing in the first few years after leaving universitiy.

Other surveys of postgraduate careers and earnings

Along with regular data collection, recent years have seen specific surveys carried out by organisations seeking to understand and review postgraduate study.

Three of the most important are:

  • The Postgraduate Premium – This report was published (PDF) in 2013 by education charity The Sutton Trust. It assesses social mobility in the UK and USA, focussing on the value and accessibility of postgraduate study.
  • The Independent Review on Social Mobility and Child Poverty – Sometimes referred to as the ‘Alan Milburn report’, this publication (PDF) was presented to the UK Government in 2012. It also assesses the benefits of postgraduate study and the case for widening participation in Masters-level training.
  • Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators – This report gives an impression of the state of education across the world, with details on postgraduate earnings, country by country.

Using this information

The information on this page is based on the datasets and reports listed above. We’ve picked out some of the most important points to give you a general idea of the value of postgraduate study.

Sadly, we can’t predict the benefit of a specific Masters degree in a specific subject to a specific student in a specific career. We’re pretty good at helping people find Masters degrees, but, well, we’re not magical.

For more help judging the value of postgraduate study, see our guides to making the most of a Masters and our tips for making your Masters count with employers.

Last updated 30/04/2018

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