It’s a long-held cliche that parents want their children to study medicine, law, or engineering in college – or, more realistically, anything but art. They hope that these professions will make their child enough money to stay afloat amidst the painful college loan payments they face during their first few years of independence. The question is, are they right to worry?
According to a study conducted by the Hamilton Project, student debt doesn’t vary significantly across majors; a student with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry will likely leave school carrying roughly the same amount of debt as a Communications student. The weight of that obligation is far from insignificant; StudentLoanHero reports that the average college graduate of the class of 2016 held just over $37,000 in debt.
But for recent grads, the overarching burden of debt isn’t a pressing issue – the monthly payments are. Student loan payments are a given; they take a chunk out of an entry-level worker’s income each month. Depending on the graduate’s field of study, allocating those funds on top of bills and living costs can pose a difficulty. After all, a recently graduated art student working as a freelance graphic designer isn’t making what a salaried engineer is during their first year out of college.
However, that pay discrepancy might not be so vast in five or ten years. The Hamilton Project study additionally found that students who graduate with majors that often provide low entry-level earnings often see fast-paced salary growth in their first few years on the job. The study noted that many of these graduates saw as much as 100% earning increases during their first five working years. In contrast, those who graduated with majors that typically lead to higher-paying jobs only saw salary increases of 30% or less over their first five years.
To summarize: Students with low-earning majors shouldn’t stress over their long-term debt, given that their salaries are likely to increase significantly over their first few years of work. However, those students should be concerned about their short-term capability to repay. Unfortunately, student loan repayment plans are not as fluid as salary increases, and some students may find themselves paying out as much as 24% of their earnings each month during their first year of repayment.
The following five majors face the lowest initial pay and the most repayment difficulty after graduation*
Psychology and Social Work
Bachelor’s Degree: $31,000 per year
Bachelor’s Degree with 5-10 years of experience: $56,000
Graduate Degree with 5-10 years of experience: $65,000
Bachelor’s Degree: $31,000
Bachelor’s Degree with 5-10 years of experience: $53,000
Graduate Degree with : $62,000
Bachelor’s Degree: $32,000
Bachelor’s Degree with 5-10 years of experience: $65,000
Graduate Degree 5-10 years of experience: $104,000
Bachelor’s Degree: $32,000
Bachelor’s Degree with 5-10 years of experience: $52,000
Graduate Degree 5-10 years of experience: $73,000
Bachelor’s Degree: $33,000
Bachelor’s Degree with 5-10 years of experience: $47,000
Graduate Degree 5-10 years of experience: $62,000
Communications and Journalism:
Bachelor’s Degree: $34,000
Bachelor’s Degree with 5-10 years of experience: $63,000
Graduate Degree 5-10 years of experience: $75,000
*Numbers taken from a Center on the Workforce and Education Study, which was conducted with the support of Georgetown University in 2015.