Even the much-maligned arts degree is worth big money, and some university study could earn you millions more over a lifetime, a new study has found.
New data from Universities New Zealand has found the typical university graduate earns $1.6 million more over their working lifetime than someone who didn't study.
And in specialised fields, such as engineering, a degree is worth about $3m more, or $4m more for medical students.
Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan said the study -- based on 2013 Census data -- showed how inaccurate many of the myths about study were.
"I'm always surprised at how many people think that it's not worth getting a university education because there's better job security in the trades. Or, that the average arts graduate ends up working as a barista or in the local McDonald's," he said.
"At a headline level when the numbers are crunched for all 2.15 million people that were in the workforce at the time of the Census, the clear message is that a degree is a very good investment."
Even the much-maligned arts student had a better chance at jobs, with unemployment of about 3 percent, compared to 8 percent with plumbers or carpenters.
"Even when you account for years of lost earnings while studying and student loans, arts graduates typically have lifetime earnings that are double that of those with a trades qualification," Mr Whelan said.
He said about 90 percent of arts graduates ended up in degree-relevant roles.
The study found the more educated people were, the more they earned, with those with a doctorate making 22 percent more than those with masters or honours levels degrees.
Those with any degree were earning more than 40 percent on average than someone with just a high school education.
Creative or performing arts, religious studies and philosophy were the worst degrees to study if job security was top priority, Mr Whelan said.
But the Tertiary Education Union said the study only told people what they already knew -- some jobs paid more -- and focused too much on education's economic value over the importance of learning itself.
"Medicine might be the highest paying profession in New Zealand but that is the wrong reason for anyone to become a doctor. We want our future doctors to be passionate about helping people in need, not helping empty people's wallets," he said.
She said the results also found some areas, such as teaching aiding, were financially worse options than not studying and said it showed courses for those subjects needed to be cheaper and wages higher.