Igraduated from law school with $55,000 in school loans. It took me nearly 20 years to pay off that debt. And here’s the really crazy part of it all–many in my class had far more in loans, some exceeding $100,000. And this was in the early 1990′s!
While my law degree has been very valuable, this experience has caused me to look at a college education very differently than I did years ago.
The other day my daughter informed me that she planned to attend The Ohio State University. Now I’m a diehard Buckeye. I grew up in Columbus and both of my parents graduated from OSU. I have fond memories of my dad taking me to see the likes of Cornelius Greene and Archie Griffin play in The Horseshoe. But we don’t live in Ohio anymore, and my daughter won’t be going to OSU. Why?
The cost of out of state tuition, room and board at OSU is $34,974. As much as I love OSU, it ain’t worth that kind of money.
And that raises an important question–how much, if any, should you borrow to attend college? With a son about to graduate high school and a daughter in 11th grade, my wife and I will be answering this very question soon.
So today I want to cover two related issues. First, a rule of thumb on how much you should borrow for college. And second, a quick look at how much certain degrees are actually worth.
The Borrowing Rule of Thumb
Here it is. According to GradLoans.com, the most you should borrow for college should not exceed the amount of your first year of income after graduation. So how did they come up with this benchmark?
Most federal loans give you a standard 10 years to repay the loan. By limiting your borrowing to no more than one year’s salary, you are dedicating no more than 10% of your income to school loans. This rule of thumb means that you should consider the type of degree you will obtain.
I’m always amazed when I hear of somebody who spent $200,000 at a private college to get a degree in art history. I’m sure it was a great experience, but let’s get real. On the other hand, if there is no doubt in your mind that you are going to be a nuclear physicist (just saying) then you can clearly increase your borrowing total.
And that brings us to the highest paying and lowest paying degrees.
Some Degrees and Schools Just Aren’t Worth The Money
If you already know you are going to bite the bullet and look into student loans, you will need to give serious consideration to the amount of the loan as it relates to the value of the education. Some areas of study will not net you a high paying career. Be sure to do some research into different occupations and what they pay.
When choosing a field with potentially high earning income, you don’t want just any school. Let’s say you know you want to be an engineer. Look at the schools that are highly rated in that field. Don’t go to a school that doesn’t have a respected engineering department.
On the flip side, if you have always wanted to work in child welfare or social work, then know that many of these jobs are with non-profit agencies and typically don’t pay high salaries. For many, the reward here is not the income potential, but rather the value of what you are doing. This being said, you should consider a good state school rather than a private school with a crazy high tuition which will pile up your debt. Staying in-state will always give you the biggest value.
Here are the Top Worst-Paying College Degrees in 2011 according to PayScale:
- Child & Family Studies: Average starting salary $29,600
- Elementary Education: Average starting salary $32,400
- Social Work: Average starting salary $32,200
On the flip side, here are the Highest Paid Bachelors Degree for 2011:
- Petroleum Engineering: Average starting salary $80,849
- Chemical Engineering: Average starting salary $65,618
- Computer Engineering: Average starting salary $64,499
If you are unsure what you want to do “when you grow up,” attending a community college is a good option and will likely give you some direction. Often attending for two years and transferring to a four year college will allow you to complete your required courses at a lower cost per credit hour. Just be sure the program is accredited and that your credits will transfer.
And if you want to know what your desired job might pay, check out PayScale.
Published or updated April 22, 2013.