5 highest paid jobs and degrees

As degrees get more and more expensive, is uni still worth the cost? Cash in on your investment with a high-flying career like these!

Despite rising tuition fees, surveys still suggest that a degree can significantly enhance your lifetime earnings potential.

We’ve done the research to help you really maximise your salary packet after university. You can also see our list of average graduate starting salaries based on degree subjects.

The methodology is outlined below, but note that these figures don’t account for bonuses or other benefits. Instead, they refer to each job’s median salary (before tax), according to official government statistics.

We’ve also picked out some degrees that would lend themselves to entering these professions. Of course, don’t expect to go straight into the upper end of the salary range on day one – but if you want to make it there someday, these career choices might be for you.

5 highest paid jobs in the UK

  1. Chief Executives and Senior Officials

    Average salary: £97,083

    In the UK, Chief Executives may also be known as Managing Directors or CEOs, and are the highest ranking individuals within an organisation.

    You’ll be happy to hear that there are no stipulations for Chief Executives to hold any formal qualifications, and notably some of the world’s most famous CEOs dropped out of uni without attaining a degree (including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson)!

    Unless you follow in their footsteps and start your own company, you’ll find that most organisations require their head honchos to be educated to at least an undergraduate degree level.

    Studying a business related degree and actually starting your own business is likely to set you in good stead.

    Many CEOs have previously served on the board of directors and may also have postgraduate or professional qualifications. Leadership skills and a thick skin are essential, too!

  2. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers

    Average salary: £79,258

    Pilot salaries vary according to employer, experience and the type of aircraft being flown. Minimum entry qualifications required to train as a pilot are five GCSEs and two A-levels, although a degree may help you stand out against the competition.

    While it’s now possible to gain a BA in Air Transport with Commercial Pilot Training, degrees that demonstrate you have a thorough understanding of maths and physics may also provide you with an advantage.

    An Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL) is a necessary prerequisite, and in order to retain their licence, pilots are required to pass certain exams every six months.

    A degree can therefore be a useful preparation for balancing studying around other commitments.

  3. Medical Practitioners

    Average salary: £75,855

    All medical practitioners, from doctors to brain surgeons, require a medical degree before beginning training in their area of specialism.

    This involves at least five years at medical school, before completing a compulsory two-year foundation training programme and then applying for training programmes in a speciality.

    For those who aspire to become a consultant, further specialist training is required. The intensity and length of training is reflected in the salaries of those who make it to the top of the profession.

    Be aware that competition for places on medical degree courses is fierce. Not only will you require the highest A-level grades in relevant subjects such as maths and science, but you’ll also need some work experience in a caring role.

    Doing your research and gaining the necessary experience is therefore essential before applying for a place on a medical course. Even some time spent shadowing at your local GP could help.

    Information on volunteering opportunities that provide pre-entry work experience can be found on the Do-it website.

  4. Marketing and Sales Director

    highest paid jobs marketing and sales

    Average salary: £75,126

    Sales and marketing are imperative to the success of many organisations; it doesn’t matter how good your product is if no one knows about it!

    But marketing isn’t solely confined to the private sector – there are a diverse range of roles within the public sector and not-for profit organisations.

    As a marketing executive you could be involved in anything from promoting a new product to raising awareness of a charity.

    Like many sectors, marketing is highly competitive, with many employers preferring graduates with related degrees in marketing or business. Previous work experience is also an advantage, whether gained through internships, holiday jobs or placements.

    You can also find a whole host of great specialised online courses in marketing that you can do for free. These will keep you up to date on the latest practices (marketing evolves pretty quickly) and will look great on your CV.

  5. Air Traffic Controller

    highest paid jobs air traffic control

    Average salary: £74,124

    Technically this salary applies to “Transport Associate Professionals”, but since nobody actually knows what that means, we’ll go one of the main jobs included under that umbrella definition term: Air Traffic Controllers. Yep – it seems that aviation is the field to go into if you’re after some sky-high wages…

    Air Traffic Controllers have a huge amount of responsibility and operate 24/7, so it’s no surprise that they’re handsomely rewarded for their efforts.

    Coordinating hundreds (if not thousands) of departing and arriving planes every day is no mean feat, and aside from having five GCSEs, you’ll need to pass the NATS course to become an Air Traffic Controller. Sounds simple enough, but less than 0.5% of applicants (15 out of 3,000) are successful each year.

    While a degree isn’t necessary to become an Air Traffic Controller, the highly competitive nature of the application process is such that it won’t hurt to have something extra to stand out from the crowd.

    As the role involves problem solving and plenty of data interpretation and assessment, a degree in maths or computing will help you prove that you’ve got the skills they’re looking for.

These careers, as well as those as brokers, financial advisers, in-house legal professionals, IT professionals and countless other lucrative roles, are extremely competitive.

While the above salaries won’t be available to recent graduates, don’t despair; a degree should still be seen as an investment in future earning potential.

And although there might not be a shortcut to the top-earning careers, a relevant degree and work experience can help you gain a foothold on the occupational ladder.

How far you climb is up to you – good luck!

In the meantime, find out what your starting salary is set to be once you finish uni and land your first graduate job.


Data on average earnings is compiled and made available by the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE).

The figures we’ve used were sourced from the dataset ‘Earnings and hours worked, occupation by four-digit SOC’. We looked at the full-time gross annual pay, and sorted the data by median – as per the ONS’ recommendation. Bonuses have not been accounted for.