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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 and earnings, using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the UK Government to look specifically at the job prospects and salaries of Masters students in the UK.

Elsewhere in this section you can read more about the value of postgraduate study, including advice on employer perspectives.

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 Graduate Outcomes survey, produced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The most recent edition of this survey contacted leavers from the 2017-18 academic year 15 months after their graduation to find out what they’ve gone on to do.

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

Destinations of 2017-18 higher education leavers
Status Graduate Postgraduate (taught)
Full-time employment 57% 64%
Part-time employment 10% 9%
Employment and further study 10% 9%
Further study 10% 6%
Other 13% 12%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2017-18 Graduate Outcomes survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after 15 months.

As you can see from this table, both graduates and postgraduates are likely to be in work or further study 15 months after leaving education, with postgraduates 7% more likely to be in full-time employment 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 Graduate Outcomes survey indicate that postgraduates are around 18% more likely to be in a professional role. These roles are also more senior than those held by first degree graduates.

Postgraduate employment

The following table compares the percentage of 2017-18 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 (taught)
Managers, directors and senior officials 4% 7.2%
Professional occupations 41.1% 62.7%
Associate professional and technical occupations 26.8% 20.2%
Total 72% 90%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2017-18 Graduate Outcomes survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after 15 months.

As you can see, a taught Masters degree can have quite a striking effect on the level of employment you’ll be in just over a year 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 around 3% more likely to hold a managerial role with a postgraduate qualification.
  • Overall, you’re 18% more likely to be in a high-skilled job if you have a Masters.

Another thing to bear in mind is career satisfaction. According to Graduate Outcomes, postgraduates are 4% more likely to think that their current employment is meaningful than graduates.

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 of these schemes is the Erasmus+ programme. This is a set of funding schemes set up by the European Commission to support study mobility. Several reports on its impact the career prospects of participating students.

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

  • Nine out of 10 employers look for the transferrable skills gained during study abroad
  • 72% of Erasmus students say their experience contributed to them getting their first job

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. Studies appear to show that people with postgraduate qualifications tend to earn more:

  • A 2020 report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) suggests that postgraduates earn on average 18% more than first degree holders, six months after graduation
  • A 2019 report by the OECD found that the earnings advantage for a Masters or PhD holder over someone with high school education is 91% (compared to 44% for a Bachelors graduate)

How much do postgraduates earn?

The most recent version of Graduate Outcomes gives data for workers who earned a postgraduate degree in 2017-18, looking at their salaries 15 months after graduation.

Key findings from Graduate Outcomes reveal that 82% of taught Masters graduates earn over £21,000.

Another source of data for Masters graduate salaries is the UK Government’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes study, which looks at the earnings of postgraduate degree holders in the 2017-18 tax year one, three, five and 10 years after graduation. According to this data:

  • Masters graduates earn on average £5,600 per annum more than first degree holders, five years after graduation
  • The median earnings of a Masters graduate three years after graduation is £29,600

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 2017-18 higher education leavers
Annual salary (£) Graduate Postgraduate
Less than 15,000 3.8% 1.3%
15,000 – 17,999 8.2% 3.4%
18,000 – 20,999 16.7% 8.1%
21,000 – 23,999 18.5% 13.6%
24,000 – 26,999 20.4% 18.7%
27,000 – 29,999 11% 11%
30,000 – 32,999 9.7% 12%
33,000 – 35,999 4.2% 6.6%
36,000 – 38,999 2.8% 5.4%
39,000+ 5.2% 19.9%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2017-18 Graduate Outcomes survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after 15 months. Additional analysis by FindAMasters.

This data indicates that postgraduate qualifications appear to provide a significant earnings boost, even after a comparatively short period of 15 months.

Of particular note is the fact that the largest group of postgraduates (19.9%) earned the highest salary band (£39,000 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 2019 was £42,000, compared to £34,000 for a graduate. Among 21-30 year olds, the median salary for postgraduates was £30,500, with graduates earning a median salary of £27,000.

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.

The Graduate Outcomes survey is an annual survey by HESA of university graduates in the UK. It collects information on the activities of students 15 months months after completing their degrees. Find out more about Graduate Outcomes.

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 university.

Graduate outcomes (LEO)

Each year, the UK Government uses tax data to provide information on graduate outcomes. This is known as the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset.

It doesn’t rely on graduates responding to a survey request, so provides a particularly large sample of data to draw from. The information looks at graduate salaries from a particular tax year, tracking the earnings of students at a series of intervals after their graduation with a Masters or PhD.

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 27/07/2020

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