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How much do students expect to earn in their graduate job?

May 2023

The findings of Prospects Luminate's Early Careers Survey reveal how students' salary expectations compare with reality and the extent they vary between regions and job sectors

Between February and March 2023, Prospects surveyed 4,483 of its users to find out about their career plans and experiences over the previous 12 months. Of those, around 1,700 were either studying for a degree or participating in a degree apprenticeship - and we asked these groups to tell us what they expect to earn after finishing their studies.

While financial returns are not the only factor that should be considered when evaluating the value of a degree - with the majority of graduates finding meaningful employment 15 months after graduating whether they graduated with a degree associated with high returns or not - potential earnings are still a crucial factor for students when looking for employment upon completing their studies.1

For instance, the vast majority (95%) of Early Careers Survey respondents who plan on getting a job as the next step in their career indicated that that salary is important to them when looking for employment.

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Early Careers Survey 2023

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Those living in London have higher salary expectations

Half (48%) of respondents said that they expect to earn between £20,000 and £30,000 a year when they finish their studies, with 20% expecting to earn £20,000 to £24,999 and 28% expecting to earn £25,000 to £29,999. However, there were differences in salary expectations between groups. As an example, male respondents had higher salary expectations than their female counterparts, with 58% of male respondents saying that they expect to earn a salary over £30,000, compared with just 42% of females.

Salary expectations after completing studies
Less than £20,0006%
£20,000 - £24,99920%
£25,000 - £29,99928%
£30,000 - £34,99921%
£35,000 - £39,9999%
£40,000 - £44,9997%
£45,000 - £49,9993%
£50,000 - £54,9992%
£55,000 - £59,9991%

We also found regional differences in salary expectations, with two thirds (67%) of those living in London saying that they expect to earn a salary over £30,000. Conversely, just over a third (35%) of those residing in the North East of England had similar expectations.

Salary expectations by region
Less than £20,000£20,000 - £24,999£25,000 - £29,999£30,000 - £34,999£35,000 - £39,999£40,000 - £44,999£45,000 - £49,999£50,000 - £54,999£55,000 - £59,999£60,000+
East of England4%17%34%17%9%9%4%2%4%0%
East Midlands7%22%35%21%10%2%0%2%0%2%
North East England8%17%40%12%10%6%2%2%0%4%
North West England2%17%33%29%9%5%3%1%0%1%
South East England5%19%28%23%11%8%2%2%2%0%
South West England5%21%25%27%8%9%2%1%0%2%
West Midlands7%22%35%15%8%8%3%0%1%1%
Yorkshire and the Humber4%23%33%15%6%10%5%0%0%3%

Using house price as a proxy for cost of living, we can see that London has the highest cost of living of any UK region, with a median house price to earnings ratio of 12.5, meaning that the spending power of a graduate earning less than £30,000 in London would be significantly lower than a graduate earning the same salary in the North East - which has a median house price to earnings ratio of 4.9.2 This difference in spending power may explain the stark difference in salary expectations between students residing in the two regions.

Graduates with disabilities less confident of achieving high salary

Respondents with disabilities had lower expectations than those without them, with one in ten (11%) expecting to earn a salary below £20,000 after completing their studies, compared with just 4% of those without one. This finding comes as no surprise, as disabled graduates typically face boundaries that others do not when attempting to transition from higher education to employment (e.g. limited access to work experience opportunities) and consequently tend to be less confident in their ability to secure a high paying job after completing their studies.3

Nevertheless, with flexible working arrangements becoming ever more common following the COVID-19 pandemic, graduates with disabilities not only have more access to work experience opportunities, enabling them to gain the experience that many graduate employers require, but also the more opportunities there will be for graduates with disabilities to find work that suits their specific circumstances. In addition to this, being able to work remotely also means being able to apply for more opportunities, making it less likely that disabled graduates will be forced to settle for a low paying job due to a lack of opportunities.4

Postgraduates have higher salary expectations than undergraduates

There were also differences between undergraduate and postgraduate students, with postgrads having slightly higher salary expectations than undergrads. While 40% of undergraduate students were expecting to earn more than £30,000 after finishing their studies, just over half (53%) of postgraduate students indicated the same. Additionally, undergraduate students were twice as likely to say that they were expecting to earn a salary below £20,000.

Salary expectations after completing studies
Undergraduate studentsPostgraduate Masters students
Less than £20,0007%3%
£20,000 to £24,99923%17%
£25,000 to £29,99930%27%
£30,000 to £34,99920%22%
£35,000 to £39,9996%12%
£40,000 to £44,999  5%8%
£45,000 to £49,9993%3%
£50,000 to £54,9991%3%
£55,000 to £59,9991%1%

Salary expectations vary according to area of interest

Respondents were also asked to tell us which industries they would like to work in after finishing their studies. Students interested in engineering and manufacturing were more likely to say that they expect a salary above £30,000 than any others, with 61% saying this when asked. Similarly, the majority of those interested in accountancy, banking and finance (61%); business management (59%); IT and telecommunications (59%); and research, information management and analysis (54%) were also expecting to earn over £30,000 after finishing their studies.

Salary expectations by industry
Less than £20,000£20,000 - £24,999£25,000 - £29,999£30,000 - £34,999£35,000 - £39,999£40,000 - £44,999£45,000 - £49,999£50,000 - £54,999£55,000 - £59,999£60,000+
Accountancy, banking and finance4%11%24%28%9%8%8%2%2%4%
Business, consulting and management1%12%28%23%12%11%5%2%1%4%
Charity and voluntary work9%26%30%12%7%9%4%1%1%1%
Construction and property4%14%20%20%12%12%6%2%4%6%
Creative arts and design10%30%27%16%3%6%2%2%0%2%
Digital media, publishing and journalism8%30%28%15%5%3%4%0%2%5%
Engineering and manufacturing4%12%17%32%14%9%6%0%1%4%
Environment, conservation and agriculture5%28%25%18%8%7%6%0%2%2%
Government, public services and administration7%19%27%19%9%9%4%1%1%3%
Healthcare and psychology6%15%35%19%11%7%3%1%1%2%
IT and telecoms7%11%23%14%14%14%5%4%3%5%
Leisure, sports tourism and hospitality10%16%34%18%6%3%3%1%3%6%
Logistics, supply chain and transport4%17%31%20%13%6%2%0%2%6%
Marketing, advertising and PR5%21%36%17%9%5%4%0%0%4%
Police, armed forces and security5%18%32%23%7%7%5%0%0%4%
Research, information management and analysis3%16%27%21%10%10%5%1%2%5%
Science and pharmaceuticals6%22%31%19%9%6%3%1%0%3%
Social care6%20%34%17%7%9%4%1%2%1%
Teaching and education6%19%30%22%7%6%5%3%2%2%

According to HESA Graduate Outcomes data, the median salary for engineering professionals 15 months is below this at £28,520, therefore it is unlikely that all respondents who find employment in engineering and manufacturing will earn a salary that meets their expectations immediately after finishing their studies. However, those interested in accountancy, banking and finance; business management; IT and telecommunications; and research, information management and analysis are more likely to find a salary that meets their expectations with the data suggesting that the median salary for graduates working in each of these industries 15 months after finishing their studies is above £30,000.5

On the other hand, those interested in some industries had very low salary expectation. For instance, one in ten respondents who are interested in both creative arts and design; and digital media, publishing and journalism said that they expect to earn less than £20,000 after finishing their studies. While these salary expectations are low, they are not far off from the median salary of graduates working within this industry, with those working in artistic, literary and media occupations earning £21,909 and those working in design occupations earning £22,692 fifteen months after finishing their studies. Of course, this varies by region, with the median salary of graduates working in these occupations being below £20,000 in some regions of the UK (e.g. the North East), and above in others (e.g. London, the South East, the West Midlands etc.).


  1. How graduate salaries vary by degree subject, Prospects Luminate, 2023.
  2. Housing affordability in England and Wales: 2022, ONS, 2023.
  3. Employment levels among graduates with disabilities, Prospects Luminate, 2022.
  4. The Fourth Industrial Revolution: helping students with disabilities to thrive, Prospects Luminate 2018.
  5. Graduate salaries in the UK, Prospects Luminate, 2022.

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