Major Pains

Do you remember being asked the age-old question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” You were probably five years old the first time you were prompted, and undoubtedly hell-bent on becoming a unicorn surfer pilot.

Years later you learned that life is not quite so black and white… or glittery. You probably began to feel some pressure to make a career choice toward the end of high school, as college acceptance letters arrived and you realized you’d been admitted to your choice-of-college’s business school — did you still want to major in business? Perhaps you saw yourself as more of an engineer-type… this week.

It’s certainly not expected of you, or anyone, to have a career path mapped out by age 17. However, being unsure — or even very sure — of your major should play a big role in how you finance your education, as your future salary will dictate how much you can pay toward your loans each month.

For starters, as a rule, student loan monthly payments should not exceed 10% of your monthly income. In order to determine this, then, you’ll need to know the average entry-level salary for the field in which you plan on working.

Using a $35,000 salary as an example, your monthly loan payments should not exceed around $218 — or about 10% of your monthly pay. Then, using a web-based student loan calculator (like the one offered on, you’re able to deduce that your total balance by graduation, including interest, should not be more than just about $25,000.(Just a little backwards math. Hope I didn’t impress you too much.)

Coincidentally, $25,000 is today’s average student loan debt load.

Would considering this information affect where you attend college, or what your major is? It certainly should! $25,000 in loans, including interest, may allow you to attend an in-state public school, as opposed to a large, private university far from home. While you should always attempt to limit your borrowed amount anyway, it’s still best to cap yourself at a specific loan amount based on some research and real figures. With a great enough financial aid package, however, perhaps that large university isn’t a pipedream: each person’s financial aid circumstance is different, but it’s still important to keep in mind your future ability to pay back your student loans.

Your income will theoretically increase in time — that’s the idea, anyway — but you do have to begin paying your student loans back just 6 months after graduation. It’s safe to assume that you’d still be in an entry-level position at that point. You also don’t have to work within the field of your major, there’s no law that says you must; it’s actually not uncommon to work in a completely different field. But you should still be very aware of salaries for any field in which you may want to work.

Your major might also affect your student loan situation as you may have certain scholarships or grants on a conditional basis, condition being that as long as you have above a certain GPA, you qualify for the money. A major in which you may not be overly successful may cause you to lose financial assistance.

Another thing to keep in mind when choosing your major: further education. For example, psychology undergraduates — with the hopes of becoming psychologists — generally need to obtain a masters degree, which means another several years of tuition. The same goes for future doctors, lawyers, and anyone looking to obtain a master’s degree. Additional years of tuition also mean additional years of financing your education.

If you feel you may already be in over your head, don’t panic. Try to maximize your aid in every way possible. Work while taking classes so as to contribute to both tuition and loan repayment (store some away, if you can!) If the above are not viable options, you may consider transferring to a less expensive school.

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