Is University Still Worth Enroling In?

Hundreds of thousands of students enrol in universities across the UK each year. Teenagers in England and Scotland were more likely to go to university in 2018 than ever before, figures published by UCAS show. Many of them believe that a university degree will help them land better jobs. More than half of students say they went to university because they wanted to pursue a particular career, according to a 2017 survey.

But universities struggle to continue providing the same value they once did. British universities are down in employability rankings compared to schools in Europe and East Asia. Students feel slightly less satisfied by their studies each year. Drop-out rates have increased. Young people are afraid that getting a diploma will not guarantee a job.

At the same time as deciding whether to go to university at all, young people must also decide which subject they would like to study and which institution to attend. These choices will likely have a substantial bearing on their employment and earning opportunities throughout their adult life.

The impact of undergraduate degrees on early-career earnings

Modest Returns for Attending Higher Education

“Be cool, stay in school” doesn’t ring true for a lot of young people these days. The average female student sees a return of 26% on her higher education, according to a new study. The average male student sees a return of just 6%. That means that an average male undergraduate will bring home only 6% more at the end of the month compared to men who didn’t go to university at all.

If you’re a man who wants to study creative arts, English or philosophy, from a financial perspective you might be better off not bothering at all. Men who choose to study in these fields make less than men who didn’t enrol in higher education. Women see positive returns across the board, although things get trickier once you get down to looking at individual universities in particular.

Whilst this particular data suggests the numerical return is much stronger for women graduates than men, there is a wealth of data and lived experiences that demonstrate how male graduates do receive a huge amount of benefit from going to university.

James Uffindell, CEO and Founder of Bright Network, an organisation that helps students and graduates find jobs.

On top of that, the study notes that university is not a cheap investment. In England, most universities charge a tuition fee of £9,250 a year. Students also need to decide whether they’re ready to spend three to five more years on education.

So Is University Worth it For You?

If you’re thinking whether university makes sense for you, you’re in luck. We have set up this calculator to allow you to compare what the return is for different subjects in different universities. While you can use the basic version of it here, we recommend going to this link on your computer for the full experience.

This tool will not give you a final decision. The data for individual universities is based on small samples and the study accounts for pre-university characteristics. In other words, if you come from a rich family, you are already expected to earn more whether you went to university or not. Do your own research, talk to alumni and decide for yourself what the best option is for you.

Dropping Out

Things are looking bleak for the future of higher education in the UK. Although drop-out rates are lower than pre-2009 levels, they have been steadily increasing since 2011/2012. Data for the 2015-16 academic year released by the HESA shows that 6.4% of full-time student drop out after the first year. One in 10 students will conclude their experience with universities without getting a degree.

Part-time students struggle even more. One in three will drop out by the end of their second year.

It’s Not All Bad

Most people still stand to benefit from higher education. Research shows that 67% of men and 99% of women (85% of students) who attend universities have significant positive returns by the age 29. It is also difficult to estimate the lifetime value of education. Experts believe people who go to university get promoted faster. They also experience more pay increases as their careers progress.

Even if the numbers don’t add up in your favour, university isn’t just about the financial returns. Studying provides other opportunities such as social interaction, civic participation and network building.

In our Bright Network survey, findings showed that 68% of students believe that after their course they can pursue any career path they wish – and it is true that an undergraduate degree can open up doors to countless career routes. It also instills in young people confidence in their abilities to succeed and learn – a vital tool for establishing themselves in the workforce.

James Uffindell, CEO and Founder of Bright Network

There are many other options available to university, such as apprenticeship schemes or entry level jobs. Whether you should enrol in a BA or not is a decision that you will have to make for yourself.


24 years old. Eastern European. Gypsy Punk fan. Not an alcoholic yet. Data Editor at London Student. Please hire me.

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