Jobs & Careers

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 ones!

highest paid jobs

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

You can find out the average starting salary for your degree subject, but for those of you attending university to really maximise your earning potential, we've done the research for you.

The methodology is outlined below, but it's worth noting that these figures don't account for bonuses or other benefits.

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

JobAverage salary
Chief Executives£89,825
Air Traffic Controllers£87,889
Pilots & Flight Engineers£84,761
Marketing & Sales Director£78,876
Medical Practitioners£75,577
  1. Chief Executives and Senior Officials

    highest paid jobs chief executive

    Credit: JD Lasica - Flickr

    Average salary: £89,825

    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. Air Traffic Controllers

    highest paid jobs air traffic control

    Average salary: £87,889

    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 fewer 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.

  3. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers

    pilot highest paid job

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Average salary: £84,761

    It seems that aviation is the field to go into if you're after some sky-high wages...

    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.

  4. Marketing and Sales Director

    highest paid jobs marketing and sales

    Average salary: £78,876

    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. Medical Practitioners

    medical practioner average salary

    Credit: ABC

    Average salary: £75,577

    All medical practitioners, from GPs 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.

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

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 of National Statistic’s (ONS) Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE).

The figures we've used were sourced from a BBC salary calculator. The BBC used its own methodology to produce these numbers, and you can read the full details on their website.

At the time of writing, the BBC's calculator had last been updated in November 2017.

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