The Real Reason College Grads Are Swamped With Debt

by Ron Haynes

My oldest daughter just started college this year. She got a fantastic score on her ACT, received several awesome scholarships, and has decided to double major in Journalism and Advertising/Public Relations with a minor in Business Marketing. She should do well if she sticks to her goals, studies hard, networks, interns somewhere significant, and doesn’t lose her scholarship. Ultimately she wants to go to law school and get a job with a major media marketing company or become a lawyer since she can argue and debate so well.

My youngest daughter starts college next May. She will graduate high school with a “medical completer’s” certificate, has worked with local doctors and hospitals doing volunteer work and shadowing, is highly interested in medicine, and is bound and determined to become a doctor, possibly a pediatric gastroenterologist. She is working on multiple scholarship applications as I write and I’m confident she will get many of them.

My son is too young to know exactly what he wants to do, but he has also expressed interest in medicine. Keeping him interested in ONE thing will be my biggest challenge!

What’s great about these goals is that (as far as the girls are concerned), are very specific and they are working toward their chosen occupations consistently and with passion. And these kids know that they need to choose college majors and occupations that will reward them professionally and financially.

But based on some literature my youngest daughter received, I instantly spotted the reason many college grads are working in jobs that only require a high school degree.

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Here are the top 10 majors chosen by over 640,000 students who voted in an online poll (yes I know that’s not “scientific”):

  1. Social Work
  2. Human Resource Administration
  3. Criminal Justice
  4. Political Science
  5. Hospitality Management
  6. Management/Business Administration
  7. Accounting
  8. Electronic Commerce
  9. Entrepreneurship
  10. Human Development

Here are the most “employable” majors (some have ZERO percent unemployment):

  1. Actuarial Science
  2. Pharmacology
  3. Education Administration
  4. School Student Counseling
  5. Geological Engineering
  6. Astrophysics
  7. Teacher Education
  8. Agricultural Economics
  9. Medical Technology
  10. Atmospheric Science

And here are the highest paying jobs:

  1. Doctors and Surgeons
  2. Orthodontists and Dentists
  3. Chief Executive Officers
  4. Petroleum Engineers
  5. Lawyers
  6. Architectual and Engineering Majors
  7. Natural Science Managers
  8. Marketing Managers
  9. Computer and Informations Systems Managers
  10. Industrial and Organizational Psychologists

Does anyone else see the disconnect?

What struck me was the number of technical and engineering positions that a) have LOW unemployment and b) pay well vs the majors chosen by college graduates. While many of the majors chosen (accounting, entrepreneurship, electronic commerce, business) have the potential to make a lot of money, the other majors chosen by college grads don’t line up very well with getting a job, much less with getting a well paying job.

My take: we need to train kids to love math and science, something that has been lost in the last 40-50 years while we’ve taught them political correctness and to only do something they enjoy. There are times we have to do things we DON’T necessarily enjoy but that MUST be done.

The real reason college grads are swamped with debt? It’s because they’ve chosen career paths and college majors that are not in high demand, majors that don’t pay well.

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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I like the idea of teaching kids to love math and science, but I have to say this article would be better titled “The Real Reason College Grads Don’t Get High Paying Jobs”. Choosing the kinds of majors they do has nothing to do with being swamped with debt — borrowing money does.


I would posit that unless you get a full scholarship or have parents who are financially able to foot the bill, the major you choose has a massive influence on both how much debt you incur as well as your ability to pay it off in the future. How many accounting majors do you know who cannot find a job in their field and are overloaded with tens or even hundreds of thousands in debt? How many English majors? Women’s studies majors? How about International Business majors?

It’s common knowledge that medical school requires incredible amounts of student borrowing, resulting in graduates with incredible amounts of debt. But how many medical doctors are still paying their student loans when they’re 45 years old? (There may be a few who choose that route simply for the tax deduction).

I have cautioned my children (and others) that while they should choose a major that they’re interested in, don’t choose one that will saddle them with a sheepskin that’s worthless in the job market.

And of course, the other factor is where you choose to go to college. :)

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