Salary Expectations for your First Grad Job

Jan 21, 2019

Salary Expectations for your First Grad Job 

At last check, University of Auckland offered 174 different programmes of study with over 220 courses. With more educational choices than ever before, almost everyone can find something tailored to their needs and interests. But it’s also harder to navigate these choices and figure out what the best choice is for you.

That indecision is clearly felt by the 1/3 of undergraduates who change majors in the course of study. Heck, ¼ of students change their whole degree programme. A lot of this is because of dissatisfaction with the course or faculty, but one of the biggest factors weighing on this decision is what graduates can expect to earn with their profession as they come out of university and into the future.

It’s a big question – we like to say that money can’t buy happiness, but everyone wants to know they can earn enough with their degree to pay for a basic quality of life for them and their families. Some people will be content with merely enough, as long as they enjoy their job or feel like it benefits others. On the other hand, some of us are wanting to earn a lot more, and that’s fine too.


Nursing & Teaching

For some degrees, pay scales are relatively constant and grads have a good idea of what to expect. These include trades and any kind of vocational degree like teacher education or nursing. Graduates mostly end up employed by the government on set pay scales which don’t change much around the country. Nurses and teachers can expect to start on $45,000-$48,000 a year straight off the bat, and employment prospects are good, since these jobs are in demand.

However, the average graduate salary doesn’t increase too much after that. After five years of employment, nurses can expect to earn around $60,000 and teachers just a pip under. Opportunities for higher salaries exist in these pathways – for example, moving into teacher training and professional development, or becoming the charge nurse of a ward. Most people take these kinds of degrees knowing that they are passionate about the job and their salaries will be adequate for a good quality of life.



For doctors, completing a gruelling study programme really pays off. Like nursing and teaching, salaries are reasonably constant and employment is often found from the same DHBs. They start around $85,000-$90,000 and after five years can reach up to $120,000. This is the degree with the highest average salary out of any degree in the country.

Other medical degrees can pull very good salaries too. Five years after completion, radiographers and pharmacists can expect to pull in an average of $65,000 per year, and dentists $75,000. That’s after starting on salaries above $55,000 straight out of school – except for pharmacy graduates, for whom a low starting salary of around $39,000 rapidly increases up to about $62,000 by their third year on the job. Medical professionals with a lot of experience in the field can all pull plus $100,000 salaries, so it’s a good field to pick if you’re keen to earn a lot during your career.



Also included in the “good degrees to get rich off” corner are Bachelors of Engineering. Salaries straight out of school average in the high $40k range across the range of specialisations, with Civil Engineering coming out on top with $48,000. However, it’s important to note that for Engineering and many other degrees, these data can underestimate what kind of salary you could expect. They are median figures which capture those who don’t work in the field. It’s not unheard of for engineers to earn in the $60k range straight out of school.

As with the radiographers and dentists, engineers five years down the track can all expect to be earning in that high $60,000-$70,000 range, and highly skilled employees with a lot of experience can easily earn over $100,000, regardless of specialisation. It’s another field where completing a tough programme of study really pays off.



Rounding out that category are everyone’s favourite – law students. They’ll take an average of $41,000 out of university, rising to $68,000 five years down the track. That sounds great, but it’s better when you consider that law students who pursue further study, like Honours or studying proficiencies and gaining admission to the bar, pull high salaries averaging between $80-90,000 and have a high employment rate of around 80%.


For most other degrees, what you earn really reflects what career path you take, but the overall data are positive across most degree options. The median starting salary for those with a Bachelors degree of any kind is $39,000, which is around $600 per week in your bank account after tax, student loan and KiwiSaver deductions. That’s a living wage! However, some degrees earn considerably less off the bat.



Most Bachelor of Arts graduates can only expect around $32,000 in their first year, which is why over half of BA graduates engage themselves in further training. One year out of a Master’s in a BA field, salaries are in the $40,000-$55,000 range, with lower earnings for Religious Studies and Sociology and higher for Political Studies and Anthropology. Five years out of a Master’s, these grads can expect that to jump up to $60-70k.



With a Bachelor of Science, it really depends what you study. Salaries are low coming out of Chemistry and Biology degrees – around $32,000 per year – but are higher for graduates of Mathematics, Physics, Earth Science and Computer Science – around $41,000. There is also a lot of variation after five years, with Chemistry graduates earning the least ($49,000), Biology faring slightly better ($53,000), Maths, Earth Science and Physics better again ($56,000), and Computer Science topping the lot ($68,000 with a great 80% employment rate).


A Piece of Advice...

Some of these figures might seem a little low, and as I mentioned above, that’s because they’re median figures and they capture a low end of people who don’t necessarily use their degrees straight away. There are plenty of jobs around of different kinds that offer decent remuneration.

Getting an offer for one of these jobs in a competitive field means standing out from the crowd – having additional experience, from internships, university opportunities or volunteer positions - can be a make or break.

Plus, once you have a foot in the door, it’s a lot easier to get the next job. If you take a job at first which doesn’t pay a lot or isn’t what you hoped for, you can always keep looking for another. It’s not unheard of to go from $35,000 to $55,000 in your first few positions, so keep your eyes and ears open.

One good piece of advice here, if your degree is in a less specific subject like a Bachelor of Arts, Science or Commerce, is to be open to applying for jobs that weren’t exactly what you had in mind. Except for vocationally based degrees, most professionals make careers these days that go through a lot of different areas and specialisations.

If money is very important to you, it can pay to choose a high paying profession. That doesn’t mean that any other qualification won’t lead to riches either – your degree is only the starting point of a professional career that can go anywhere. Where it leads is up to you ultimately, so don’t start thinking your degree is never going to get you the money you deserve – that depends on what job you’re doing. Gaining expertise over the course of a career, as well as developing further education and skills, makes you worth more and more the further you go.

*All statistics in this article have been taken from the Student Pulse Data by Talent Solutions, and Career Government data.


By Jack Buckley, Wellington, New Zealand. 

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