What is the most important factor when choosing a university? Some might consider its reputation or prestige first, others look for somewhere close to partners, family and friends. Most are concerned about employability, and the potential to land a reasonably well-paid job after graduation. There’s plenty of discussion around what constitutes a 'typical' grad salary online, not least on TSR, so which university comes out on top, and are there any surprising entries in our top ten?
TSR's graduate salary rankings
Let’s take a look at the data for graduate salaries, six months after graduation.
Using averaged course salary data published by HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency), we calculated an average median, upper and lower salary for each UK university that reported more than 90% of its course salaries to the agency. Upper and lower figures were found by averaging course data from the upper 25% and lower 25% of reported salaries.
This data was then ordered by the highest average median salary as it covers the widest range of university courses, not just those leading into high- or low-paying industries.
|University||Average median salary||Average upper salary||Average lower salary||High-paying course|
|The Open University||£26,373||£35,529||£20,402||Computing & IT (£50K)|
|City, University of London||£24,453||£28,133||£20,800||Civil Engineering (£29k)|
|London School of Economics||£23,818||£28,436||£19,982||Mathematics & Economics (£40k)|
|Queen Mary University||£23,644||£27,649||£19,986||Economics & Finance (£33k)|
|The University of Bath||£23,399||£27,065||£19,698||Politics with Economics (£32k)|
|Brunel University London||£23,246||£26,860||£19,706||Economics & Management (£31k)|
|Loughborough University||£22,942||£26,572||£19,444||Computing & Management (£31k)|
|University of Surrey||£22,826||£26,456||£19,626||Chemical Engineering (31k)|
|University of Cambridge||£22,606||£26,576||£19,030||Economics (£33k)|
|University of Southampton||£22,008||£25,452||£18,946||Medicine (£33k)|
The Winner: The Open University
With 180 qualifications and 600 modules on offer, The Open University (OU) has beaten many celebrated universities to come first in our graduate salary list. Many courses teach the skills required for some of the highest-paying industries (including economics, engineering, management and strategy degrees) and as an institute focused around distance learning, can be studied from home. 76% of OU students even work full or part-time during their studies.
Our league table is made up from mostly southern England universities, which may be due to their students finding employment in London and the south east after graduation (typically where higher salaries are paid). While the East Midlands is represented with the appearance of Loughborough University in 7th place, there are no Northern England, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland institutions featured within the top ten.
In reality, grads may earn more or less than the figures above but it's worth remembering that these numbers are based on reported salaries six months after graduation. Salaries typically increase in the years that follow as grads are promoted, change jobs and increase their experience of their chosen industry.
University selection can be a very difficult decision, but should ultimately be the result of careful consideration of a number of factors. Salary is a common starting point, but the highest paid jobs are often the most competitive. In fast-moving industries, many students are seeing employer flexibility, training and promotion prospects as a greater draw than salary. What do you think?
Comments from the TSR community
Your starting salary isn't *that* important - it's your progression that matters more A good scheme may not pay the most but will provide a foundation of useful work experience/skills and set you up for the next stage in your career path.
Realistically we'll all be working for a very long time so we all have opportunity to earn a significant amount of money over our lifetime. Experience if applied correctly will open doors you never anticipated and behind those doors may be a big portion of pie.
Tips from the experts
Abbie Button, from student lifestyle blog A Little Button:
Starting salary wasn’t hugely important to me as I knew what I wanted to do (and what I have ended up doing) wasn’t going to be paying much, especially when I didn’t have a huge amount of experience. For me, finding a job that I was passionate about was the main thing, not trying for a graduate scheme in London working for a company I wasn’t going to enjoy. It was, and still is, for me, all about gaining experience in my field and building up the list for my CV, but then I am working in a creative field, so things are a little different.
When I was choosing which university to go to, I looked for the course they were offering and the modules involved, the location and the extra curricular activities that were available. I went to Warwick, with a huge Student Union. I didn’t know it when I started, but the activities I did outside of my degree made me realise what I wanted to do as a career and helped me get there. Don’t panic about a first salary! Just find something you enjoy doing, build up your skills and confidence.
Abigail Dove, from university life blog Abigail Grows:
When I picked my university I looked at a couple of things. One was the teaching style, my course has a lot of problem-based learning which is a teaching style I love, and so was a reason I shortlisted Westminster. I also looked at graduate employment statistics; especially into how many people went into course-related work after graduating. If I wasn’t going to get a job related to my degree, it wouldn’t be worth doing anything.
Money isn’t everything. The job you get needs to fit you and your new status as a graduate. Look at mentoring schemes at the graduate placement and read into the fine print about whether the salary increases after initial training. Most importantly you need to be happy in your new job, the money is just a bonus!
Hayley, blogger at lifestyle, beauty and fashion blog LifeThroughTSG:
For me what’s important in a role is growth. If you have to start out on a lower salary, but have the opportunity to further yourself and grow to a much larger one, then that’s the most crucial thing for me. A first salary doesn’t define you. Often, your first graduate job will be a learning experience, and that experience will be of much more value to you as you move through your life.
How did we get our data?
The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) collects, processes and publishes information about higher education in the UK, making some of its data available to the public for free.
We downloaded various data sets and combined the data to find out which individual courses had the highest reported graduate salaries; this data was averaged out by university to create our league table above.
All raw data used to make this table is available from the HESA website.
Join the discussion
How important is (or was) graduate salary in your decision-making? What other things matter to you?