The staple advice given to anybody choosing their degree subject is to study something you’re good at; otherwise, just pick something you love. It’s one of the biggest choices a person will make in their life but few youngsters have the foresight to know if that £27,750 investment will buy them all they want in life.
It’s an unfortunate fact that value for money and good job prospects can be mutually exclusive traits in a degree subject. For example, a degree in psychology has one of the lowest employability ratings in the UK, with just 55% of graduates finding a job six months after graduation; it also provides low value for money at £26 per contact hour.
To put those numbers into perspective, the top three jobs with regards to employment prospects are medicine, dentistry and nursing at 96-99% employment rate. The latter field – nursing – is also one of the best degrees money can buy, costing almost £10 per hour. In fact, seven of the top ten degrees for employability are in a medical field.
Ironically, the worst degree for finding a job is a medical subject too, albeit a rather niche one – animal science, with just 39% of graduates working in a related field six months on.
As a rough rule of thumb, the more intense and complicated your degree is, the better value for money you’ll get out of it, chiefly because you’ll spend more time per semester in the classroom, lecture theatre or in the lab. For that reason, maths, law, biology and sports science (in addition to medicine) are the go-to subjects for students who like to count the pennies.
On the opposite end of the scale, arts subjects dominate. People on history, English literature and philosophy courses will spend less than ten hours per week in lectures and seminars, according to research conducted by Voucherbox, meaning that each hour retails for £34-£38. Put another way, some arts students pay around three times more for three times fewer contact hours when compared to nurses.
Low value for money has no real bearing on employability, however; 85% of history and philosophy graduates find gainful work within six months, while language students (Spanish, French and Japanese) pay an average of £27 per hour at university but have decent job prospects with around 86% employed.
Another discipline with a high rate of graduate employment is engineering and any subject that revolves around construction such as architecture (85%), building (82%) and land management (83%). You only have to look at the skyline in a city like Leeds or London to see why; people will always need new buildings.
With that latter point in mind, there’s also teaching (92%). Employability has a great deal to do with how essential a job is or how desperate a city is for people who can work in that field. It’s no surprise then that graduates with relevance to medicine, dentistry, education, construction, radiography (95%) and veterinary science (95%) have the highest rates of post-graduation employment.
In contrast, psychology does so poorly as far as prospects are concerned because it’s the second most popular degree course in the UK and there simply aren’t enough positions to support the influx of new graduates every year.
As a final point, most of the statistics above concern graduates in employment relevant to their degree course. However, degrees open doors – the subject you take is irrelevant to many employers, with things like creativity and computer literacy valued above the list of philosophers you’ve read – so there’s nothing to say that a person with a sociology degree cannot forge a career in marketing, for example.