The five fastest growing subjects studied at university and their career trajectories

Matt Clarke, data content and insight lead at HESA, explores the fastest growing subjects studied at university and their resulting career paths

Prospective university students in today’s society have access to a wealth of information to make informed decisions about which university to attend and what courses they should study. Decisions about where to go to university are aided by course comparison websites such as Unistats and university league tables.

As such, pupils can carefully consider their options, and school’s careers advisors play an instrumental role in supporting their decisions. In the following analysis, we look at some of the emerging subject and career trends from recent school leavers.

Pupils position themselves to support a modern economy

It is clear from our analysis* that business and technology related subjects have fared well recently in terms of student subject choice. Management studies has seen the biggest growth over the last five years at 50% followed by politics (35%), economics (29%), computer science (22%) and business studies (18%).

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Growth in politics and economics may be explained by students being increasingly exposed to and engaged with big political and economic events such as the Scottish independence and EU referendums as well as multiple general elections and the financial crisis of 2009.

These events are already starting to shape the future of generations to come, so it’s no surprise to see these subjects doing well. Many would not be surprised to see computer science – a technology subject, appearing in this top five list due to global economies becoming increasingly reliant on skills within this area.

Does subject choice influence study length and career opportunities?

Everybody wants to know how their subject choice is going to influence their future career. The graph below indicates that employment and further study outcomes six months after graduation** varies significantly by the choice of subject studied.

Politics and economics students were far more likely to be in further study completing courses such as a Masters or PHD compared to graduates in other subjects such as management studies where the proportion of students in employment was higher on completion of their first degree. It is also interesting that the proportion of unemployed graduates from computer science was higher than the other fastest growing subjects. This implies that pupils in school should also consider how long they want to study for when making their subject choice as some subjects lean more towards further study than others.

Economics and politics draw graduates to London

Economics and politics graduates are far more likely to be working in London compared to other subjects six months after graduating***.

This is perhaps unsurprising considering much of the political and financial services infrastructure is located there. Over half of economics graduates in UK employment were working in London in 2016/17 compared to approximately one in five from other subjects. This has also had an impact on salaries where 50% of UK employed economics graduates reported a salary of over £25,000 six months after graduation compared to only 26% from other subjects. This is likely to be partly explained by the previously mentioned high levels of London employment where salaries are generally higher. Our analysis of career trajectories using HESA data suggests that subject choice can influence where you end up working. Those seeking careers in a particular area should therefore consider where existing graduates from their field have found employment.

Where are your pupils now?

Have you ever wondered what happened to your post-16 pupils when they left your school? You can now explore these insights for your own school to better understand your previous pupil’s progression using HESA’s Progression through HE – University and Workplace Outcomes analytics tool.

This new data-rich product designed for independent schools has the potential to transform your careers advice and student recruitment strategies.

  • Where did your pupils go to university?
  • What subject(s) did they study?
  • What class of degree did they obtain?
  • Were they successfully employed six months after graduation?
  • What salary did they earn?
  • Give your careers advisors the evidence they need to help your existing pupils.
  • Evaluate your impact on previous pupil outcomes to help shape your marketing and pupil recruitment strategies.
  • Benchmark your school against three to five competitors of your choice as well as the national average.

If you would like HESA’s Progression through HE analytical dashboard tool for your own school, then contact us today.

We’re offering an exclusive 10% discount for Independent Education Today readers until 19 June 2019 (quote ‘IET OFFER’).

Contact HESA by email at or Matt at Or call us today on 01242 211 133.

For more information about this product, visit HESA. HESA are the experts in UK higher education data and analysis, and the designated data body for England.


Article data notes:

* UK-Domiciled, first degree entrants to subjects with at least 20,000 entrants over the past five academic years (2013/14-2017/18).

** UK-Domiciled, first degree graduates from specified subjects who responded to the 2012/13-2016/17 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education surveys which measures the activity of graduates six months after graduation.

*** UK-Domiciled, first degree graduates from specified subjects who responded to the 2012/13-2016/17 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education surveys (which measures the activity of graduates six months after graduation) – as being in employment in London of all those who were employed in the UK.

As of 2019/20, destinations data will be collected 15 months after graduation through HESA’s Graduate Outcomes platform.

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