An engineering degree is worthwhile

Is it worth studying?

Up to a million more in your account: studying pays off. After school, young German people are drawn to the lecture hall - after all, the greatest career opportunities and the highest salaries are said to be waiting afterwards. But does it really work out? Or is it not easier to make ends meet if you do an apprenticeship and start your job as early as possible? We clarify.

Very few graduates have to explain how wonderful the years of learning can be. In addition to student parties, a lot of time with friends and long vacations, the university time also means an empty wallet for most students. While many apprentices bring their first paychecks home shortly after graduating from school, quite a few aspiring academics make a living with canned ravioli in the communal kitchen until their thirties. Yes, as a young person you can quickly slide into the bad with a degree.

But even if it hurts: From a financial point of view, the whole thing is worthwhile - at least most of the time. This can only be seen in the significantly higher starting salaries that most university graduates receive in their first job - and which the Ifo Institute once compared with the lifelong income of apprentices. And that is not only due to the significantly higher starting salaries that many university graduates earn.

More job opportunities

After university, the first thing to do is to look for a job. And even here, young adults who have completed a degree enjoy many advantages: In many cases, a completed bachelor's degree, often also a master's, is a prerequisite. This not only affects the medical or legal profession, but also many office jobs. Academics are considered to be more qualified in many industries - which of course does not always have to be the case.

Of course, there are also unemployed academics who have to send hundreds of applications after completing their studies in order to find a job in the dream industry. A trained butcher may have it easier - nevertheless, he is denied many other jobs that require a degree.

Significantly more salary

“Education has a future” is the name of a study published three years ago by the Ifo Institute for the Economics of Education, which compared different educational qualifications from a purely monetary point of view. Using a sample of more than 1 million people, the researchers compared the income and costs of different educational pathways. And the degree does not promise too much: an academic earns almost € 400,000 more net in his life than someone who has completed an apprenticeship:

Depending on the professional field, the difference can be even greater:

In the field of dentistry, for example, the difference is particularly large: Dentists who have studied there earn almost € 800,000 more in their entire lives than their trained colleagues. Broken down by gender, the difference (at least on the male side) is even more pronounced: the dentist has a lifetime income of almost € 1 million, the dentist an average of € 610,000. The salary gap between the sexes is likely to be related to several factors, explain the editors of the study: With fewer women in management positions (and thus lower salaries), but also with longer part-time jobs among female colleagues.

Studying is not always worthwhile

Sometimes, however, the university degree is actually not necessary in order to earn better afterwards. In the social professions, for example, the difference in wages between studied and trained employees is negligible: the average lifetime income of academics is “only” € 40,000 higher than that of trained specialists. Calculated over 40 years of work, that's just € 83 more per month.

For orientation: the data are mean values ​​- and the bachelor's degree is not always a guarantee that in the end you will earn more than the trained clerk. Even without professional training, salaries in some industries can be surprisingly high: the unskilled assembly worker can get an annual salary of € 40,000, a call center agent even € 45,000 - plus commission.

And yet: On average, the university graduate with his generous extra salary made up for the “losses” from his studies after just a few years in the job. Even if government loans or even private loans were taken out beforehand. Incidentally, this is how people with (paid) vocational training earn better or at least as well as university graduates on average up to the age of 35 - until the tide turns.

Fewer unemployed among academics

As I said: not every student will find a job immediately after university or inevitably have better job opportunities than someone without a university degree. For several years now, the industry has been desperately looking for newcomers, especially in the field of craft professions.

And yet: Anyone who opts for an academic education will then also find a job, as the Ifo research team has found out. The unemployment rate among university graduates is just 2.5% - so there is almost full employment. For comparison: in 2019, just under 5% of the German population were unemployed or looking for a job. By contrast, people with vocational training are much more likely to be unemployed (7%). In the case of people without a vocational qualification, an average of more than 19% are unemployed.

On the other hand, trainees who have completed their apprenticeship with a master craftsman or technician degree are almost as popular as university graduates. The unemployment rate here is also around 3%.

In the east the demand is even higher

Unemployment is even lower in federal states where there is already a shortage of skilled workers. In the new federal states, for example, the employment rate is significantly higher, while in southern Germany, in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in particular, finding a job is somewhat more difficult.

Conclusion: Studying is worthwhile - and money is not everything

A famous quote from Muhammad Ali goes like this: “Suffer now and live the rest of your life like a champion”. Even if the former boxing world champion probably did not have the German education system in mind, his words fit quite well here: If you reduce your own standard of living for a few years, do without expensive holidays and restaurant evenings and instead cook pasta with the roommates, to Being able to afford to study has better chances on the job market in the long term. On average, as a university graduate, you can expect a higher starting salary and are much less likely to be unemployed.

This calculation doesn't always have to work out. Because just as there are students who study for the sake of studying although their talents are actually completely different, there are also countless private universities whose overpriced semester fees one could confidently save. And then of course there are also people who have good ideas or a lot of luck and ambition or everything together - and who work their way up to self-made entrepreneurs without certified training.

A rough plan makes sense

Success in the job always depends on how much passion is involved. Anyone who realizes after school that they would much rather build houses or open their own restaurant should do just that.

It is important to make at least a rough plan: What do I want to do later? What are my strengths? How popular is this and what opportunities do I have for advancement? But this question is also essential: Is a high salary more important to me than the content of my work? Or maybe I can have both: financial security and job satisfaction?