Oxbridge law courses ranked among top 10 salary-boosting degrees

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Economics at Cambridge comes top

Oxbridge law degrees deliver a salary boost greater than almost any other degree in any subject in the entire country, researchers say.

The top ten degrees ranked by how much extra recipients earn compared with the average grad includes Cambridge law at number five and Oxford law at number nine.

The finding comes in a paper published by experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the UK’s top think-tank for all things money-related.

As Legal Cheek has previously reported, the government has pretty detailed info on how much people earn on average after getting a given degree at a given uni. The league table for law, for example, shows Oxford grads way out in front at £72,600 five years on, followed by Cambridge (£59,900), UCL and Bristol (both £50,000).

This research uses the same data, but crunches the numbers to come up with slightly more sophisticated findings than our earnings league table.

For example, the boffins have been able to calculate the extra earnings power of, say, law at Oxford compared with doing an OK degree at a decent uni. The degree selected as bang average for the purposes of this comparison is history at Sheffield Hallam.

Top of this league table is economics at Cambridge, with a 127% earnings premium compared to history at Hallam. Law at Cambridge comes in fifth at 108% — so more than double the average — while law at Oxford comes in ninth at 92% higher. That’s out of almost 2,000 subject-uni combinations.

Table via Institute for Fiscal Studies

The worst performing degree is philosophy at SOAS, which lands graduates an average salary 53% lower than the baseline.

This ranking also controls for things like how well people did in school and where they grew up. In other words, the fact that smart posh people have a better chance of getting into Cambridge law in the first place is taken into account in trying to assess the boost to earnings generated by the degree itself.

In general, the most selective a law course is, the greater the earnings boost. How hard the degree is to get into explains most of the difference in earnings potential between the different law schools.

But people pick their course on lots of other factors: league tables and student satisfaction, for example. If you chose your law degree based on those, what difference would it make to your earning potential?

Sod all, the IFS says. All that really matters is how selective the course is; the rest is just noise. Intriguingly, even getting a first doesn’t move the dial much.

Or as the paper puts it: “Other measures of degree quality including publicly available subject-specific university rankings, completion rates and degree performance are all correlated with returns, but this almost completely disappears once we control for selectivity.”

Given this finding, the researchers reckon that “students are making choices that can have enormous implications for their future outcomes with poor information on which to base those choices”. So if what you care about in a law degree is earnings potential, ditch the uni rankings and set your sights on the course that demands the highest grades for entry.

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I remember my Cambridge law interview. Met a chap in my group of interviewees who went to one of the public schools a few hours from my house. As we walked through the halls of the college toward the canteen, he greeted about 5 or 6 of the current students (he knew from school or other clubs), chatted about the first interview, asked for advice, laughed about the whole experience. We proceed into the canteen and he sits down with another group of undergraduates and has another laugh with them.

It was at that point that I knew, as someone who had never spoken to anyone from Oxbridge and had received no interview practice from my school whatsoever, the chances of receiving an offer were virtually nil.

Great uni, no doubt, but can’t say I appreciate this side to it. And yes, Oxbridge will do whatever it can to level the playing field and make the interviews as fair as they can be. However, there is no way to account for these influences. You cannot overstate the value of practice interviews from teachers (or even Oxbridge coaches at some schools) who themselves studied at Oxbridge, and the confidence and comfort that comes from being friends with a handful of the current undergraduates (in one college!).

Those bright students from schools that don’t have these resources, the schools which focus on getting the students in a class a C grade, not polishing the talented few for a place at Oxbridge, don’t feel down about not winning a place. At that young age there is little you can do to prepare yourself – especially for a competitive course like law. The sort of thinking and attitude you have to display is very, very difficult to develop in an environment like that, and it’s no reflection on your intelligence or ability. And do not be fooled by stats on ‘state school’ intake – the majority of those state schools are top grammars, most of students are from a similar background to any private school, and studying there offers no disadvantage at all.

A point not entirely related to the article, but this website has a tendency to say that if you didn’t go to Oxbridge you’re essentially a loser with no prospects. I think this is very hard on those from such a background. Although, should I expect anything else from LegalCheek?


Oxbridge Girl

I read a very obscure subject at Oxbridge that no-one at my school was able to give me a practice interview for. I was the first woman from both sides of my family to go to university and had a grandmother who couldn’t read and who wore a burhka (no, really).

How did I get in to Oxbridge? I wanted to do the course more than I wanted to use it to make money or have a ‘Harry Potter’ university experience. I taught myself a new language, read some of the first year set texts and showed them I would put the effort in if they picked me. How did I know what the first year reading was? On the faculty’s freely accessible website.

A handful of London educational consultancies offer free or very low cost Oxbridge interview practice to state school students. Google them.

I recall making a bit of money on a weekend doing 7-10 short practice interviews with prospective Oxbridge students some years ago. Maybe one or two of those students would tell me a bit more than “I love the pretty buildings!” when I asked them why they were applying for their Oxbridge course.

They have free access to the internet, they can see the course requirements and have access to free revision videos, but all they cared about was the pretty buildings.

That isn’t the government’s or these universities’ fault.



That’s great for you, and well done. However, it’s still much more difficult for students from such backgrounds. There will be exceptions, I’m talking about the general state of things.
I’ve also noticed that London schools, in particular, are making some progress with Oxbridge, e.g. Brampton Manor, and there are lots of other examples. And that’s great that a handful of consultancies offer free interview practice for students from London. Perhaps this is why the statistics are so skewed in another way, and why Oxbridge in particular takes huge swathes of students from the South, where there tend to be more opportunities available for students who are prepared to work incredibly hard.

Now, I’m from Burnley. Perhaps students from communities like that can use Google, but I can assure you it doesn’t help much.


Oxbridge Girl

Ironically, I think it’s easier to get in now with no family money. Kids nowadays don’t even need to spend money to get access to relevant texts on an Oxbridge course, as there are websites where you can download whole books and journal articles in PDF format. I recently got rid of all my paper photocopies from library books on my course and downloaded everything digitally.

There is literally nothing stopping a kid from Burnley or anywhere else with little money from getting free copies of university set texts on the internet.

The faculties freely put online what is covered in each year of the course and put reading lists on their websites. There is no mystery or anything about Oxbridge courses that is deliberately being kept away from state school applicants.

It isn’t Oxbridge’s fault that people feel it’s ‘not for them’ or feel insecure about whether they would fit in. Oxbridge is not responsible for people’s personal aspirations. At the age of 17, I think the candidates they are looking for are people ready to take some personal responsibility for the direction of their lives, in addition to personal responsibility for good study habits.

Having been, I genuinely believe if you are bright enough and show you can cope with the work, the tutors couldn’t care less where you are from.


King of Cope

Whatever helps you sleep at night. Anyone can get in if they put in the work. Most people just aren’t willing to do so.



As part of a school social mobility thing I was once shown round an Oxford college by one of their bigwigs. It all looked pretty stuffy and imposing, no big deal, but what really turned me off is when she took me to see the choir that sing weird creepy old songs every Thursday. Loads of posh old people were stood around drinking sherry and I got the impression you had to be a certain kind of person to want that environment.



Sounds like bollocks to me. How could they sing and drink sherry at the same time? You are a chippy fantasist. Grow up.



Can you read?



Yes. The person said that people were singing whilst drinking sherry. Impossible.


The tutors at Oxbridge make every allowance for the fact that children from state schools will lack the polish and confidence of those from private schools. If a state school candidate does not get into Oxbridge, it is because he or she is not bright enough.



Just got a good 30 dislikes in the space of 5 minutes – got to love LegalCheek, nowhere else like it on the internet



Good little whine. The best get in wherever they come from. The bottom half of the 2.1 blob at Oxbridge are not particularly bright and are in a par with with the next tier down of the RG.



Aug 19 2021 1:01pm: nice try, but no. Getting into Oxbridge means that you are brighter than anyone who went to other universities.



Nonsense but you know that, flamer. Trust me, I went there. The top 10%, maybe 20%, are pretty smart. The rest were surprisingly pedestrian. The pedestrian ones tend to be the ones that crow on about going there forever afterwards.



What I know, and you know too, is that getting into Oxbridge means that you are brighter than anyone who went anywhere else.

My view

First commenter here is 100% spot on. I had a very similar experience as a state school kid applying for Oxbridge (and the first in my family to go to university).

I was easily top of my class in every subject throughout school (except physical education). Consequently I was not a priority for any of my teachers, who were confident that I’d get 5 Cs / good A Levels – i.e. the only metrics that state schools care about.

At that age, as a relatively normal and sociable 17-18 year old, my main concerns were doing what I needed in order to get top grades and going out with friends as much as possible. It never occurred to me to do any work or reading outside my A level modules (‘to put in the work’ as mentioned above) – I was academic and bright, but school was a chore and the thought had never even crossed my mind. You don’t know what you don’t know. In comprehensive schools you are taught to the modules and to get the best grades you can. With limited resources, there’s no thought at all to university – there’s just unhelpful comments like “you’re smart, of course you’ll go to university. Don’t worry about it.”.

I was told to apply to Oxbridge (with no help or guidance whatsoever) as I was especially academic. My Oxbridge interview was no hope from the first minute, when I was asked what reading I had done in the subject beyond my A level modules. Buoyed up by my intelligence and the Oxford / Cambridge websites stating things to the effect of “if it’s in you, we’ll find it”, I had done nothing whatsoever of course. The people in charge of my education never mentioned that I should. Needless to say, the interview was a car crash.

I went to one of the top London unis instead (the application process involved two set written essays – a great leveller as you know exactly what’s required). I got a first class degree. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I could have gone to Oxbridge had I had a half-decent schooling. However I don’t really care – putting my achievements in context, I know that I’m the measure of most people at Oxbridge.

The Oxford / Cambridge messaging above is parroted by people above who are utterly blind to the privilege and preparation that shaped them throughout a decent schooling experience – the countless tips, nudges, little boosts.

The second commenter who was first woman in their family to go to university – did any of the men in your family go to university? Did any of them go to Oxbridge? Did they occupy prestigious / important positions in the working world? Were they supportive and encouraging of your university application? Did they proofread your personal statement for you and discuss what the interview might be like? Did they help you practise? Did any of them suggest that you do the set reading on the website? If you can’t answer ‘no’ to most of the questions above, I urge you not to be so utterly & irredeemably blind to your own privilege.




Bit of an inferiority complex there, bud. Anyone who is truly happy about where they ended up would not be this angry. If you’re not making 150k on qualification, you aren’t as bright as you think you are.


My view (reprise)

I’m not angry. But I am very frustrated that many people who lord it over others as they went to Oxbridge (or work at top firms, as you’ve brought in) appear to be so blind to their own privileges. I’m sure these people work hard and are very intelligent, but achievements must be set in context. They typically come from a deep support base and in the vast majority of cases would not have achieved what they did had they been born instead into the ~85% of the country less fortunate than themselves. For such people to tell themselves otherwise is self-deluded ignorance of the realities of how the majority in this country are brought up and educated. Worse, denigrating others for not going to such universities is downright shameful.

Just get some self-awareness, be humble, and appreciate that others do not have the same opportunities in life as you – that is a simple and objective truth. Help others where you can rather than sneering at them for being born into less privileged circumstances than you. (I’m far from a paragon of virtue, but at least I’m aware of my own privileges (there are many) and I do what I can to mentor those coming up below me.)

Re. the £150k on qualification, no I don’t earn that much – and there’s an obvious discussion to be had on the structural issues in the professional working world too. But I’m happy with my lot. On qualifying at 26 I make more than double the salary that either of my parents ever earned in their careers, and I feel very well-off indeed.



This is refreshing. In the end, most people here are just mad that other people from universities other than Oxbridge are just as good as they are.



CJ writing for LC is like a posh Cambridge grad trying to write with the Sun’s tone. I feel bad for him.


American college rankings

Isn’t there a strong correlation between rankings and selectivity? Why is the article saying to ignore rankings and focus on selectivity?



There’s a strong correlation between rankings and how much money a University has in the coffers.


Grow up

The stuffiness of the posts on here are hilarious. Always funny when you see people running their mouths about universities, and they end up working in some mid market law firm in the city with a 70k NQ salary. Oh, but every Oxbridge grad is a genius?

RG grad and a good Tc > Oxbridge grad and meh tc

Couldn’t care less where I studied when qualification salary is 6 figures. When your university is the best thing you have to say about yourself, you’ve really gone wrong somewhere



There’s new LEO data out. CJ’s numbers are not the most recent available.



The state of the comments on this article. Think I’ve finally outgrown the LegalCheek posturing and inane rantings about salaries and Oxbridge…
it finally makes sense – everyone here is a student with no idea what they’re talking about.
I’m out, good bye



I know and work with a few Oxbridge grads – they’re all fairly normal. If you didn’t know they went to Oxbridge, you wouldn’t be able to tell.
I don’t understand the fascination with Oxbridge on here. The way commenters behave is genuinely really bizarre, as if the grads from there are these superhuman law machines who crush all competition and are above any criticism. The universities produce some very bright graduates, as do other universities.


Oh dear

It’s funny because saying something like ‘I’m more intelligent than you because I studied in this building whilst you studied in that building’ is a really stupid thing to say



Sure, if it was just the building. But you are also taught in a different manner, with higher achieving students around you pushing you to achieve more to keep up, better networks, branding effects etc.



Sometimes I have a look on Linkedin at where the committee members of some of Oxford’s societies came from… It’s almost laughable the percentage that are from the same schools. You can then see other students in the ‘people you may know’ section. Surprise! They’re all from the same top privates and grammar schools. I can count on one hand the times I’ve actually seen someone from a modet background at Oxbridge. Oh, but it’s only the most bright who get in! Of course! Why, again, are all the bright people in an entire country from the same schools and backgrounds? Get over yourself



Oxbridge grads earn lots of money shocka.


M Jeb

It’s a shame that the report doesn’t include a breakdown of other universities’ ‘value add’. Would be interested in finding out the 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. Also, which universities add the lowest ‘value’ for law specifically?



Genuine question: How are Cambridge law grads averaging less than 60k after 5 years? I get that they have to do the LPC and 2 years of training but are there seriously jobs that pay under 60k at 2PQE?



I smell a stinky troll. Get back under your bridge, troll.



Just to throw in some facts, Cambridge estimates that 71 to 72% of its new undergraduates this autumn will come from state schools, and it was a shade under 71% last year. Admittedly, the 6 or 7% of students who are privately educated are overrepresented, but they are a minority. Cambridge has about 17,000 applications for 3,500 places each year, so unfortunately about 4 in 5 will be disappointed.

Congratulations to those who got in, commiserations to those who didn’t. As the data shows, there are plenty of good alternatives. Academic credentials may help to get you through the door, but I know more good and successful lawyers at leading law firms who studied elsewhere.


BA (Cantab.)

almost 23,000 applications for those 3,500 places now.



Easier than getting thru the 11+ then ….


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