Earning a college degree requires an investment of time and money. So it's important to get a good return on that investment, especially if you're taking on student loan debt when paying for college.
Repaying student loans may be easier if you're entering a high-paying profession upon graduation. Comparing the average salaries of college degree majors can help you decide which course of study may be most profitable.
If you want to take out a private loan, you can always use the multi-lender marketplace Credible. To get a private student loan, you simply have to fill out one form to compare rates and access options from several lenders.
Best high-paying jobs by degree
If student loan debt features in your plan for paying for college, it's helpful to know how different majors and degrees stack up, in terms of future earnings and the average debt you may accumulate.
Here's an overview of how different degrees measure up.
Earning a two-year associate's degree could pay off, particularly if you're interested in working in the health professions field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these professions pay the highest median wage for people with associates' degrees:
- Air traffic controllers: $124,540
- Radiation therapists: $80,570
- Nuclear technicians: $80,370
- Funeral service managers: $78,040
- Nuclear medicine technologists: $75,660
- Dental hygienists: $74,070
- Diagnostic medical sonographers: $71,410
In terms of student loan debt, 42% of students who graduate with associates' degrees owe education loans, according to Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI). The average loan debt owed is $19,900.
If you've already graduated and you're still drowning in student loan debt, consider refinancing your student loan (particularly if you have a private student loan) to lower your monthly payments and save money over time.
Bachelor's degree holders see a significant step up in earnings, according to BLS data. Some of the highest-paying career fields include STEM fields and information technology.
Here's how annual median wages compare for different types of degrees and fields of study:
- Chief executives: $183,270
- Computer and information systems managers: $139,220
- Architectural and engineering managers: $137,720
- Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers: $137,330
- Petroleum engineers: $132,280
- Marketing managers: $132,230
- Financial managers: $125,080
According to the PNPI, the average bachelor's degree holder owes $28,900 in student loan debt.
Are you looking to refinance your student loans? Use Credible for all of your comparison shopping needs — plus, you can get started on the process from the comfort of your own home.
At the master's degree level, a college graduate may earn the most when working in healthcare or computer sciences. Here are the master's degree fields that earn the highest median wage, according to the BLS.
- Nurse anesthetists: $165,120
- Political scientists: $115,110
- Computer and information research scientists: $114,520
- Physician assistants: $104,860
- Nurse practitioners: $103,880
- Mathematicians: $103,010
- Economists: $102,490
Some master's degree programs can be more expensive than others. According to Credible's research, the average student debt for an MBA degree is $66,300. The average debt for a master of arts degree is $72,800. Using an online student loan calculator can help with estimating your costs and student loan payments if you decide to borrow to pay for a graduate degree.
A doctoral degree or professional degree may be a necessity if you're interested in attending medical school or pursuing a career in legal studies. Earning a doctoral degree could result in a higher loan balance after you graduate but it could also yield significantly higher lifetime earnings.
Here is a comparison of median annual wages for top professional and doctoral degree careers.
- Anesthesiologists: $265,990
- Surgeons: $251,890
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeons: $242,720
- Obstetricians and gynecologists: $235,240
- Orthodontists: $229,380
- Psychiatrists: $216,090
- Family and general practitioners: $208,560
According to Credible, the average college loan debt for a law degree is $145,500. The average medical school debt is $246,000.
How can I get a student loan?
There are two types of student loans you can use to pay for college:
- Federal student loans
- Private student loans.
Qualifying for federal student loans starts with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The information you provide on this form is used to determine what kind of financial aid you qualify for, including federal education loans and grants.
If you're interested in private student loans because you've hit your federal loan limits you can apply for those with individual lenders. Learn about private student loan options from Credible and compare loan rates across different private student loan lenders.
Student loan debt repayment planning
Federal and private student loans can help pay for college but consider the long-term cost.
Specifically, consider what your final loan balance might be as a college graduate and how that compares to the starting salary you expect to have. If you have federal loans, an income-driven repayment plan can help make student loan payments more manageable.
Refinancing can also help make student debt more affordable. If you're interested in refinancing, visit Credible to compare student loan rates from different lenders. You can view fixed and variable loan rates in one place, without affecting your credit score.