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College Debt: Which Degrees Are Worth It, Which Aren’t

Civil Engineering in One of the Best Degrees for Repaying Student Loans
Civil Engineering in One of the Best Degrees for Repaying Student Loans

American college students are creating personal debt at an alarming rate.

  • The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau reports there is $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt
  • According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in 2012 the average student loan balance for all age groups is $24,301. About one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000; 10% of borrowers owe more than $54,000; 3% owe more than $100,000; and less than 1%, or 167,000 people, owe more than $200,000
  • According to The Project on Student Debt, as of October 2012, the average amount of student loan debt for the Class of 2011 was $26,600, a 5 percent increase from approximately $25,350 in 2010

So, given these challenging figures which college degrees can help you pay off this debt and which won’t?

The popular financial website, performed a study to determine which college majors will pay back the average student loan debt the fastest & slowest, given the assumptions that students allocate 10% of their salary to paying off the debt and that the debt is financed at 6% annual interest.

The study yielded the following results:


Advertising - With a median salary of $107,950, college grads going into advertising and marketing can pay off their loans in about six years, according to Bankrate. While that may not be the paycheck grads can get straight out of school, marketing majors can start working right after they’re done earning their undergraduate degrees, allowing them to start paying down debt right away and giving them a greater chance to grow their incomes.

Economist - They make a business out of analyzing and predicting the direction of the bigger financial picture, but with a median pay of $91,860, economists also tend to fare well financially themselves, paying off their loans in about seven years, Bankrate estimates.

Civil Engineer - With a median salary of $79,340, civil engineers can pay off their loans in roughly eight and a half years. Because a master’s is not always required for people entering the profession, engineers can use the below average college costs to their advantage.


Veterinarian - Their patients may not be human, but veterinarians still need eight years of schooling before they can begin treating pets and other animals. The median salary for the position is $84,460, but because of those higher college costs, some veterinarians could be paying loans for 28 years before they’re debt free. At least they shouldn’t have a hard time finding work: employment of veterinarians is expected to grow by 36% by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, faster than most other jobs.

Reporter - Journalists can start digging up stories as soon as they’re out of school, but digging themselves out of debt could take longer to accomplish. With a median salary of $37,090, or a third of the average pay enjoyed by their counterparts in marketing, reporters could be paying student loans for 32 years before they’re done, the site estimates.

Marriage and family therapist - With the median salary at $46,670 and a minimum six years of school required before aspiring counselors can start working, some therapists could be in for 35 years of student loan payments, according to Bankrate. Still, employment of marriage and family therapists is expected to grow 41% by 2020 thanks to higher demand as more insurance companies cover counseling and other mental health services, making it one of the fastest growing professions, according to the Department of Labor.