Specialised degrees give best returns on university fees: Study

Computing courses reap the most financially in first year of graduation for NUS students
Specialised degrees give best returns on university fees: Study
Published 19 Sep 2017

Specialised majors such as computing may give the most bang for your buck, according to a new study.

Computing and computer engineering courses took the top three spots in a study done last month on which university majors reaped the most financially in the first year of graduation.

Consumer research firm ValuePenguin compared tuition fees of different majors at the National University of Singapore (NUS) with annual starting salaries of students who graduated last year, adjusted for the employment rates of different graduates.

For $8,150 in annual tuition fees, graduates from the three computing-related courses can expect to earn gross median monthly incomes of $3,900 to $4,000.

Degrees with high tuition fees had the least immediate returns. For instance, medicine and dental surgery students pay $27,400 per year in tuition fees, and earn $4,000 to $5,000 in median gross income monthly in their first year after graduation.

The study showed general science and arts degrees were ranked among those with the lowest returns on investment.

ValuePenguin senior vice-president Duckju Kang said: "The fact that the top three courses are all related to computing speaks of how much demand there is for talent in this field. The fastest-growing companies today are tech companies.

"We see the same trend happening in Asia and across the world. Governments are looking at tech solutions and there is a growth in start-ups."

Tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter can offer six-figure annual salaries to new graduates, he said.

The study used only NUS figures for ease of comparison across majors as each university defines its specialisations slightly differently, Mr Kang added.

Some 6,300 NUS graduates were surveyed by the university in last year's graduate employment survey.

NUS computing science graduate Rey Neo, 26, landed a job at online payment service PayPal as a software engineer during his internship with the company.

"I took the offer because I liked its work culture - friendly, open and flexible," said Mr Neo, who started work in June last year and is earning a monthly sum that is above the median gross salary of $4,000 for his peers.

Architecture, pharmacy, civil and electrical engineering, law and nursing courses were among the top 10 majors with the highest returns.

Said Mr Kang: "Specialised degrees are increasingly becoming more valuable and they definitely make more money than general ones as they help to differentiate you in the job market.

"Specialised skill-sets require more training, and, if they align with industry demand, tend to have higher returns on investment."

But these figures may not reflect the worth of a medical degree in the long run, as their graduates' pays typically pick up and become more stable five to 10 years down the road, said Mr Kang.

Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm People Worldwide Consulting, shared the view.

"You need to invest more to earn a medicine degree, but the pay of a doctor will increase over the course of his career," he said, adding that there are pay variations even within the same industry.

Mr Leong said that the returns on investment "will improve over time, on their own momentum, not on the basis of a graduate's first degree".

"Education is a continuous effort and the basic university degree is just a starting point."