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Should you care what income your major earns?

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The most heartbreaking email I ever received was a master’s graduate who had $250,000 in student loan debt between herself and her parents. She pursued a counseling degree where her starting salary after college would be less than $50,000. She bought a new car after graduation and got an apartment by herself. 


I advised her to get a cheaper apartment with a roommate and get a part-time job in addition to her regular one. I also told her she needed to have a solid talk with her parents about the payments they have to make on private student loans


She didn’t realize when she borrowed the education loans, she wouldn’t have the money to repay them after graduation.


Was her mistake in getting a counseling degree or in her school and borrowing choices? Let’s take a closer look, so we can see where she went wrong and whether income really matters in school choice.


She went to two private schools without getting much money in scholarships. She could have easily compared schools to see which one offered her a better financial aid package (we offer this inside Edmit. You can also download our easy-to-use spreadsheet here.)


Next, did the private schools help her get employment she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise? I have friends who went to NYU for theatre. They borrowed under $100,000 and the networking in the program was well worth it. They didn’t always get the highest paying jobs, but they always had work and didn’t regret the decision.


On the other hand, the counseling student could have gone elsewhere and still gotten a $50,000 counseling job in the same places. It wasn’t that unique of a degree program.


Should she have transferred colleges if she had figured out that her degree wouldn’t end up worth it for the price? If we think about the average cost in her 5 year program being $50,000, cutting just one year by $20,000 would have made a big difference. Once she realized the counseling degree wasn’t going to earn as much, this may have been a good option. She could have also gone to the career office to see if there was an employer that might pay for part of her schooling. The financial aid office may have offered her more aid.


Her other option for her federal student loans was to get part of her loans paid off by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. But it doesn’t help with her private student loans. 


Note: Parent PLUS loans aren’t forgiven based on student income and qualifications for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Thus, parents should be careful what they borrow. In the case of the student mentioned, they thought she would be able to payback the loans after graduation. She couldn’t.


Finally, should she have changed majors? This is the toughest question. Students should consider income but they should also consider happiness in their career choice. I knew too many people who started off with engineering degrees because of high earning potential only to change majors. You always have to start with the students interests. The only way a major should be changed is if courses or career experience cause a reconsideration of choices.


Bottom line: As early as possible, families should get together with a realistic plan for how to pay for college and reevaluating choices when needed. A thorough well studied college and career plan will lead to the best results. 


5 Takeaways

  • Your student shouldn’t borrow $250,000 for a degree where income is typically one fifth of that amount annually.
  • Parents signing up for PLUS and private loans need to understand their responsibilities for paying the loans back. If it’s in your name, you’re responsible for the money.If you co-sign the loan, the lender considers you responsible until your student can qualify for the terms of co-signer release.
  • Your student has quite a few choices for schools and majors. Have a discussion about what is the best fit for both. Encourage career exploration activities along the way.
  • Decide when an expensive school is necessary for the student’s career path.

Edmit's advice helps you to be better off after graduation.

  • Merit and financial aid estimates based on your student profile
  • Earnings estimates and financial scores for your college and major
  • Recommendations to save thousands on college

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