Not all degrees are equal

There’s no question postgraduate  study delivers a range of benefits, yet closer investigation reveals higher degrees in some fields pay greater dividends than others.

The latest data analysis from The Good Universities Guide to Postgraduate Courses reveals significant variation in the return you can expect from a postgraduate qualification, depending on your industry or field of study.

Data Manager, Ross White, says the figures are fairly consistent year on year in terms of which industries deliver the strongest outcomes.

“Business and management postgraduates tend to see a high return on their investment in a higher degree. An average undergraduate salary in this field is $50,426 while  the average postgraduate salary jumps significantly to $101,565,” says White.

The average cost of completing a postgraduate degree in business and management sits at $43,000.

“Effectively, the increased postgraduate salary in this field means you can recoup the cost of your entire course within the first year of completion,” says White.

Dentistry offers a similar return on investment. Postgraduate dentistry courses cost around $43,400 yet they bump graduates’ salaries up from $77,633 to $108,262. Dentists are also in demand, with only 2 per cent of postgraduates in this field looking for work.

Paralegal – which includes law clerks, criminologists and other non-lawyer legal practitioners – is another standout field.

“Completing a paralegal postgraduate degree costs less than $40,000 yet graduates can expect a salary increase of almost 60 per cent, jumping from $52,959 to $84,466.”

Other fields of study yield less compelling results. Rehabilitation is one area where the dollar value of the return is not as high. A postgraduate degree in this field costs over $50,000 yet your salary on completion is only likely to rise by around $10,000.

Another one is social work. Although a typical postgraduate degree in this field costs around $32,000, the resulting salary increase is only around $11,000 and unemployability remains fairly high at 23 per cent.

White says it’s important to obtain the full picture about the field you’re qualifying in. “With the introduction of the Melbourne Model and a similar approach at UWA, more of today’s school leavers will do postgraduate study as a matter of course. It’s worth looking at the big picture as early as you can, so you can make an informed choice about the direction of your career,” says White.

Those considering a higher degree at any stage in their lives would be wise to examine specific course employment and earnings data ahead of enrolment.

“It’s worth looking at the specific outcomes for the courses you’re interested in. Particularly if you’re planning to do further study in a field not renowned for delivering higher wages or increased employability, see if you can find a course that bucks the trend,” says White. “For example, the national average salary for social work postgraduates is $66,177 which is among the lowest for any field. However, social work graduates from Charles Sturt University earn an average of $79,764, which is well above the  national average.”

“Similarly, accounting postgraduates have one of the highest national unemployment rates at 50 per cent, yet not all accounting postgraduates struggle with employability. Only 12 per cent of accounting postgraduates from the University of New England were unemployed soon after finishing their degree, and this is well below the national average.”

Paying dividends

This article originally appeared in The Weekend Australian – Not all degrees are equal

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