Is a degree a good investment?

As legendary investor Warren Buffett once said, ‘The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself.’

Benjamin Moore
7th November 2023
Image Credits: Unsplash, Charles Deloye
In a world where higher education is more expensive than ever and gaining a graduate roll is fiercely competitive, can we really say that a degree is a good financial decision?

The cost-of-living crisis has hit students hard, with 1 in 7 in full-time work and 1 in 10 reported to be using food banks. The average combined cost of tuition fees and accommodation in England is nearly £50,000 (with most of this being funded by debt, part time work or parental contributions).

This makes the question of the value of a degree more pressing than ever. Thankfully, there is still a significant ‘Graduate Premium’- with employers willing to pay substantially more for people with a degree. For example, if you look at the top 20% of earners at aged 30, 68% of them are graduates. However, grouping people into averages is often misleading as the economic benefits of a degree are entirely up to the individuals’ circumstances.

The average combined cost of tuition fees and accommodation in England is nearly £50,000

One of the major factors that affects your future earning power is what course you choose. In research conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), they found that net discounted lifetime earnings for women are close to zero on average for creative arts and languages graduates, but more than £250k for law, economics, or medicine. Men studying creative arts have negative financial returns, while men studying medicine or economics have average returns of more than half a million pounds. The study also found that significant discrepancies in wages still exist between men and women, with male graduate salaries increasing by £15k from ages 30 to 40 and just £5k for women. Overall, the study concluded that for at least 75% of people, a degree will produce positive financial returns.

The stats are clear, university is the best financial decision most students ever make. That does not mean university is for everyone or that it is a guarantee of a higher salary. Part of the reason for the discrepancy between graduate and non-graduate earnings is the amount of opportunities university offers you. Things like being active in a society, volunteering on campus or gaining an internship are just some of the opportunities that allow students to improve their CV, and, hence maximise their opportunities.

for at least 75% of people, a degree will produce positive financial returns.

The fascination with monetary returns is not helpful either. Oscar Wilde said the definition of a cynic was, ‘a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing,’ and he was right. Who could put a price on the friendships made at university, the experiences, or the thrill of living in a new city? University has never been a financial weighing scale for future riches, it is the opportunity to become educated, skilled, and a better version of yourself. So, my advice is to do everything you can to maximise the student experience (you may as well get your money’s worth).

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