These days, it's common practice to take out student loans to pay for college. But the major you're planning to pursue should influence the amount of debt you take on. Specifically, if your major isn't likely to lead to a well-paying job, then you may want to think twice before loading up on loans.
Your major and debt load should match
The great thing about going to college is getting to dabble in different academic areas until you land on the right path of study. But if you manage to nail down your major before you get there, it could help you make smarter decisions with regard to how much student debt you rack up.
The reason? There are certain majors that typically lead to higher salaries than others, and if you're going to take on a pile of debt, it helps to have a major that will lead to a career that enables you to pay it off.
Research your options
Imagine you're looking to major in art, history, or philosophy. Those fields might interest you, and you shouldn't necessarily hold back on studying them. But, bear in mind that you will probably make less money with those majors than with engineering, finance, or accounting. As such, it pays to consider the income-earning potential of the job your major will or won't open the door to. Try to make sure that your level of student debt aligns with those numbers.
For example, say you pursue a major in music with the intent of teaching it post-graduation. Salary.com reports that the average annual salary for a public school music teacher in New York is about $70,000. On the other hand, if you study accounting and then go on to work in that field, a mid-level accountant in New York earns an average of $103,000 a year. As such, it makes sense to take on less debt if you're studying music as opposed to accounting since your career could wind up paying substantially less.
Of course, the above comparison is only one example, and if you input different industries or locations, you might come up with different numbers with narrower gaps. The point, however, is to research salary data for possible roles you might get with your major, and use that to help guide your borrowing decisions -- ideally before you take on student debt. For example, if you're unlikely to make a lot of money for a number of years post-college, but you're intent on a certain major, you may be motivated to choose a less expensive college. A combination of community and in-state public college might make more sense than four years at an out-of-state school, or a private one.
Another good resource you might consult when making these decisions is the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. There, you can understand the general requirements for different jobs and match different majors with different roles to better research salary.
The last thing you want to do is take out student loans for college that you subsequently struggle to pay off. If you'd rather avoid that scenario, keep your major and earnings potential in mind before signing a loan agreement and locking yourself into payments that are way beyond your pay scale.