Graduating from university was once a pathway to a skilled career and higher earnings. But today one in three graduates is overqualified for their job, while student loan debt has reached £121 billion.
And not all of that cash has been invested wisely, it seems. So which courses come with a “Mickey Mouse” reputation, and which should you avoid?
Below, we reveal the least helpful degrees to have - plus advice from a recruitment expert on what to do if your CV bears the name of one of these subjects.
Graduates in this field have the lowest employability rankings, according to the most recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on graduates in the UK labour market. In 2017, their employment rate sat at 84 per cent, a drop from 87 per cent in 2013.
2. Humanities degrees
With the second-lowest employment rate (85 per cent), based on the ONS data, humanities covers a broad spectrum of subjects. Rachel Campbell, regional director at Page Personnel, the recruitment agency, says prospective employers can struggle to understand why candidates choose a philosophy degree, for example. Other less established, or less academic, subjects can fall under universities’ humanities departments. “[There] are some that people think of as ‘Mickey Mouse ‘degrees, that people don’t think are serious,” suggests Campbell, giving the examples of drama and film studies.
3. Linguistics, English and classics
These subjects tie with humanities on graduate employment rate (85 per cent). Meanwhile, data from the Department for Education shows languages, linguistics and classics have the lowest percentage of graduates in sustained employment or further study a year after graduating (79.8 per cent) and the second lowest 10 years after graduating (75.8 per cent).
Education graduates also fair relatively poorly in the employment rankings (86 per cent). Campbell suggests that vocational degrees, which gear graduates towards a specific career, can confuse prospective employers when the individual seeks work in an entirely different field.
5. Social sciences
In the ONS figures, “social sciences and law” have an employment rate of 87 per cent. However, as a single subject, law has an employment rate of 97 per cent. In the case of social sciences, it could be that subjects such as sociology or psychology are less understood by potential employers. Dan Hawes, co-founder and marketing director of the Graduate Recruitment Bureau, says that some employers have an old-fashioned view of less familiar subjects. “That can be another hurdle for graduates to overcome,” he adds.
6. Physical or environmental subjects
These also show an employment rate of 87 per cent, according to the ONS data. When it comes to sports sciences, graduates can be hampered by having studied something so specialised. Campbell says: “[With] sports science [employers can think] if you’re not going to do something related to sport, why would you do that degree”.
There’s also an 87 per cent employment rate among technology graduates, according to ONS data. It has a poorer showing in Department for Education figures, particularly 10 years after university, at which point 80.3 per cent of graduates were in sustained employment and/or further study. Changes in employers’ wishlists for graduate skills could play a part. Hawes says that he’s heard from City firms that they are increasingly looking less for technical ability, and more for thinking ability.
8. Biological science
Graduates in biological science also have an employment rate of 87 per cent, according to the ONS data. In the Department for Education figures, where those in further study are taken into account, the subject fares better. However, bioscience still sits behind medicine, dentistry and nursing in the rankings.
Arts graduates have a 88 per cent employment rate, looking at ONS figures. Campbell says of arts subjects that for employers “it is quite hard to see how that will be relevant in the workplace.”
10. Media and information studies
Media and information studies has an employment rate of 89 per cent. By the ONS definition, this subject can include librarianship and information studies (in a degree of more than one subject) and mass communication and documentation in the case of a single subject).
Help! My degree is in one of these subjects!
Those who have graduated from such degrees should take heart: enthusiasm and research are all important at interview. Rachel Campbell, regional director at Page Personnel, part of the Page Group, suggests matching the job description to experience you’ve gained in, or around, your degree.
“Create a story,” she says. “Not everyone makes the best choice aged 16 or 17.” Prove that you have reflected on past decisions and learnt from them. As workplaces become more automated, she adds, soft skills (flexibility, empathy, team work) will be vital.