International Survey Shows Prospective Postgrads Aiming High

International Survey Shows Prospective Postgrads Aiming High

Laura Bridgestock

Updated February 2, 2024 Updated February 02

As employability becomes an increasingly prominent factor in student enrolments, the latest installation of the QS World Grad School Tour Applicant Survey shows prospective postgraduates aiming high – in terms of both career outcomes and increased earnings.

Created in association with Cambridge English Language Assessment, the report is based on survey responses from more than 7,150 prospective international students worldwide.

The results show prospective postgraduates aiming for the highest roles across a range of industries, with high expectations about the impact a postgraduate qualification with have on their earnings, and clear ideas about what they’re looking for in an employer.

Postgraduates expect to double their earnings

On average, survey respondents currently in employment said they expected to more than double their current salary in their first job after completing a master’s or PhD. The anticipated increase was particularly high among those in Europe, with Western Europeans expecting to earn 213% more, and Eastern Europeans 214% more – anticipating average earnings of $78,807 and $67,065 respectively. The highest salary levels were, unsurprisingly, anticipated by respondents in the US and Canada, who reported aiming at an average of $102,366 after completing their planned qualification. Those in Africa and the Middle East held the lowest expectation, anticipating an average of $60,254.

Expected salary increase

Sights set on C-suite roles and entrepreneurship

High expectations about salary increases are matched by applicants’ ambitions for their ongoing career development. Looking a decade ahead, just over a third (34%) said they saw themselves as the CEO or director of a large company, with a further 20% aiming to be running their own business. Other popular career aims included becoming a senior academic (12%) and working as a self-employed consultant (7%).

Motivations when choosing an employer

Career progress and job satisfaction top priorities

As these high aspirations would suggest, applicants’ main priorities when choosing an employer after graduation are closely tied to career progression. Just under 20% said career progression was their primary motivation when identifying potential employers, with 14.5% naming job satisfaction as the key factor. Also high on the list were international opportunities (7.4%), job role/responsibilities (7%) and long-term career prospects (6.4%), with salary and benefits (5.7%) in sixth place, just above leadership development (5.5%).

For more detailed analysis, including comparisons of applicants’ ambitions and expectations based on gender, location, subject and study level, the full report is available to read online. This is the second of two parts, following on from a study of international students’ motivations and priorities when choosing a study destination and institution.

In association with

Cambridge English

This article was originally published in December 2015 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

The former editor of, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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