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Highest and Lowest Paying University Degrees

Highest and Lowest Paying University Degrees

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As millions of students across the UK received their A-level results this year, many are turning their attention to the next step in their education: university.

Most students will choose a degree that is either relevant to the career they want to pursue, in a field they are passionate about, or, reaps the biggest rewards in terms of income. There is, of course, no right or wrong way to choose a university degree. However, it can be beneficial to know how saturated the job market is in your chosen field before you enter it, and what kind of starting salary you can expect to go on to at the end of your studies.

Here, has compiled the top five highest and lowest paying degrees based on the average starting salary in the UK from The Complete University Guide 2022.

Highest Paying Degrees

DegreeStarting Salary
Pharmacology and Pharmacy£31,000
Veterinary Medicine£35,330
Chemical Engineering£30,000

The highest paying degree in the UK currency is dentistry, pulling in an average starting salary of £38,600 – which is immediately above the median average salary for full-time workers in the UK. Below, we’ll take a look at the top five highest paying degrees in the UK.


Average starting salary: £38,600

Dentistry is one of the highest paying degrees in the UK, with a starting salary of £38,600 and rising to an average income of £84,559 to £114,003 for consultants, and upwards of £140,000 for private dentists.

What’s more, dentistry is not an overly competitive profession to get into – 94% of first-degree, full-time graduates of dentists find full-time employment in the UK, making this profession the highest post-graduate employment rate in the country.


Average starting salary: £35,000

Although a junior doctor will start with a salary of approximately £23,000, the average starting salary for medicine overall is higher because more specialised graduates can expect to quickly earn a higher income.

Graduates with a degree in medicine can expect to earn an average salary of around £67,000 – with this figure climbing much higher for those that choose to hone their skills in a specialised area.

Pharmacology & Pharmacy

Average Starting Salary: £31,000

Pharmacology studies drug action, and opens the door to many professional opportunities such as becoming a pharmacist, clinical researcher, pharmacologist, toxicologist, consultant, and more.

Graduates can expect to earn an impressive starting salary of £31,000, with salaries reaching up to £50,000 – £60,000 over time.

Veterinary Medicine

Average starting salary: £35,330

Continuing on the medical theme, third on the list of the highest paying degrees in the UK is veterinary medicine. A degree often driven by those with passion for helping animals, newly qualified veterinarian’s can expect to earn an average of around £35,000, with this figure climbing upwards of £70,000 over time.

Chemical Engineering

Average starting salary: £30,000

Fifth on the list is Chemical Engineering, bringing in an average starting salary of £30,000. This field combines natural and experimental sciences with life sciences, mathematics, and economics to develop and manage the processes that transform raw materials into valuable products. Graduates often go on to work for chemical production companies such as pharmaceuticals, environmental health and safety organisations, and water treatment companies.

As is typical of many of these degrees, time and experience can quickly see this income rise – with the average salary for someone with a career in general engineering is £50,000, with the highest salaries exceeding £150,000.

Lowest-Paying Degrees

DegreeStarting Salary
Marine Biology£20,000

Below, we’ve calculated the lowest paying degrees in the UK based on starting salary. Readers might be surprised to find that the lowest paying degree overall is also within the medical field.


Average starting salary: £17,000

Perhaps surprisingly, despite medical-related degrees being in the top three spots for highest paid professions, Optometry, Ophthalmics, & Orthoptics – a branch of medicine that looks after the eyes – has the lowest overall starting salary, at just £17,000.

Despite the low entry-level salary, Orthoptists can quickly rise through the ranks. A typical high-street optician can earn up to £72,500, with private practices likely earning much more.


Average starting salary: £20,000

Few people grow up not surrounded by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood movies. With celebrities beloved by all – and earning millions for one movie – it’s not a huge surprise that the acting industry is extremely competitive to get into.

For this reason, the starting salary for an acting position is amongst the lowest, at around £20,000. Of course, even landing a yearly salary as an actor can be tricky when first starting out, with many graduates picking up projects here and there supplemented with another form of income. 

For those few that are successful enough to achieve their dream of becoming a legitimate actor, the earning potential is uncapped. Tom Hardy, a graduate from the Drama Centre London, has an estimated net worth of $20 million.


Average starting salary: £20,000

Ecology is the study of living organisms and their ecosystems. Those who graduate from this field often go on to work in conservation, research, and for environmental groups/NGOs. As such, the starting salary for this type of work is fairly low, between £18,000 – £20,000.

Many people go into this field out of a passion for the work itself rather than seeking a high income, but those with lots of experience in the field can expect to earn around £40,000.

Marine Biology

Average starting salary: £20,000

A marine biology degree studies the diversity of marine life within the sea – studying animals, plants, and other organisms present within our oceans. Graduates with this degree often go on to become marine biologists, research assistants, professors themselves, or other roles centred around the study of marine life.

As you might expect, this can be a very competitive field to get into, with few positions available to the thousands of students studying this degree. The starting salary for this field is around £20,000, often lower. Those who progress through the ranks could earn between £30,000 to £70,000.


Average starting salary: £20,100

Archaeology is another research-based degree, looking at the study of humans and prehistory via excavations, analysis, and historical enquiry into past cultures and environments.

Again, this is a competitive field, with fewer positions than there are graduates with this degree. The starting salary for Archaeology graduates is around £20,000, increasing to around £30,000 – £43,000 with time and experience.

Alternatively, some graduates with degrees in Archaeology will go into alternative professions such as crime scene investigation or forensic science.


Jonathan Merry, CEO of, comments “With many students reaching upwards of £45,000 of student debt upon graduation, it’s wise to at least give some thought to your likely income once you’ve finished your studies.

“Notably, the lowest paying degrees we’ve listed above are also amongst the most competitive fields to find employment in. Students considering their options for higher education may be best served to be tactical in their degree choice considering our current economic climate.”

Yasmin Purnell
Yasmin Purnell
Yasmin Purnell is a Content Writer and Editor for Yasmin has a wealth of experience writing across a range of topics within the personal finance, student, and business niche. Yasmin joined the team with the one main mission to provide accessible financial, career and business information and advice for all.