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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 (so you don't have to!).

We've used data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency to look specifically at the job prospects of Masters students in the UK. We've also analysed reports 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.

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, of course. 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.

Employment data for UK postgraduates

The best source of employment data for postgraduate study in the UK is the annual Destinations of Leavers From Higher Education (DLHE) survey, produced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The DLHE surveys students six months after they graduate and finds out what they've gone on to do.

This data is historical (it's based on what the most recently surveyed year-group of students has done). But it can be a good indicator of employability and career prospects for future postgraduates - like you!

The most recent DLHE survey offers some encouraging news for Masters employment prospects. It reveals that:

  • Postgraduates today are 10% more likely to be employed after six months than undergraduate degree holders.
  • Postgraduates are also around 15% more likely to be employed full-time.

Destinations of UK postgraduates in 2014

The following table provides a more detailed comparison of the destinations of undergraduate and postgraduate degree holders. It gives the percentage of graduates in different activities at each level of study:


Graduates Postgraduates
Full-time work 57.8 72.1
Part-time work 13 9.3
Work & study 5.3 3.9
Further study 12.8 6.9
Unemployed 6.5 4.7
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2013-14 DLHE survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after six months.

This data indicates that postgraduate study does have an employment benefit. You are more likely to be in work with a Masters degree, more likely to be working full-time and less likely to be unemployed.

But remember: these figures are very general. And they don't take account of differences between subject areas or qualifications.

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.

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.

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 2014 report highlighted the career prospects of participating students.

Though it does not distinguish between study levels, the Erasmus report suggests employers do value international experience. It also reveals that students who have studied abroad appear to have a lower rate of unemployment.

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.

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 indicate that postgraduates are around a third more likely to enter professional roles. These roles are also more senior than those gained by first degree graduates.

Postgraduate employment in 2014

The following table compares the percentage of 2014 UK graduates and postgraduates in professional roles after six months.

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.


Graduates Postgraduates
Managers, Directors & Senior Officials 3.5 2.4
Professional Occupations 35.4 72.9
Associate Professional & Technical Occupations 28.8 16
Total 67.7 91.3
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2013-14 DLHE survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after six months.

As you can see, a Masters degree or other postgraduate qualification can have quite a striking effect on the level of employment you could enter after graduating.

The vast majority of postgraduates enter professional, or 'graduate level', work very soon. In contrast, around a third of first-degree graduates initially enter non-professional roles.

A Masters could also accelerate your progress towards more senior positions. Most postgraduates enter professional rather than associate professional occupations. This usually means that they will be in jobs with greater professional competency and responsibility.

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 2012 independent review of social mobility reported that lifetime earnings could be 9% higher with a postgraduate degree.
  • A 2013 report by education charity, The Sutton Trust, 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 increasingly popularity of Masters study means more specific data is becoming available for graduates in the UK.

How much do postgraduates earn?

One of the best sources of information on postgraduate earnings is the DLHE's Longitudinal Survey. This is a follow-up to the standard DLHE. It asks participants for more information about their activities, 3.5 years after graduation.

The most recent version of this survey gives data for workers who earned a postgraduate degree in 2010-11.

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 most recent Longitudinal DLHE reveal that:

  • 90% of postgraduates earn over £21,000.
  • The median salary for postgraduate degree holders is £31,000.
  • 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:


Annual Salary (£) Graduates (%) Postgraduates (%)
Less than 15,000 7.1 1.9
15,000 - 17,499 8.2 1.8
17,500 - 19,999 8.8 3.2
20,000 - 22,499 13.3 5.6
22,500 - 24,999 11 6.9
25,000 - 27,499 15 13.7
27,500 - 29,999 7.5 9.3
30,000 - 32,499 9.3 13.3
32,500 - 34,999 3.1 5.6
35,000 - 39,999 6.5 10.7
40,000 - 44,999 3.8 8.5
45,000 - 49,999 2.4 5.5
More than 50,000 4.1 14.1
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2010-11 DLHE Longitudinal survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after 3.5 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 (14%) earned the highest salary band (£50,000 or more).

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) is an annual survey of university graduates in the UK. It collects information on the activities of students six months after completing their degrees. Most of the tables on this page are based on postgraduate data from the most recent DLHE. You can read more about the survey here.
  • The Longitudinal DLHE survey is a second phase of the main DLHE. It collects further information from graduates three and a half years after leaving university. The Longitudinal DLHE is the best source of information for postgraduate earnings. We've used the most recent version of this data as the basis for our analysis of postgraduate salaries. You can read more about the Longitudinal DLHE here.

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.

Two of the most important are:

  • The Postgraduate Premium - This report was published 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 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.

Findings and recommendations from these reports have been taken seriously by the UK government. They have even lead to the development of a new postgraduate loans system.

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.

Did you know we currently list 24,709 Masters programs worldwide?


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Last updated - 03/03/2016

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