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A college education can be a very valuable thing, but how do you know if it will be worth the price?  How much money will you make and how long will it take to pay off your debt?

Fictional story:

Jamie had big dreams of saving the world.  She wanted to help poor families so she decided to pursue a social services degree.  She always dreamed of going to Harvard and she was lucky enough to get in!  She didn’t have any money or scholarships but luckily she was able to get student loans.

You should definitely pursue your big hairy dreams.  However, at the same time you need to be realistic in your college major choices.  If you want to be a social worker, you’re doing a great thing and without you our world would be much worse off.

However, if you plan on attending Harvard and financing it with student loans then you might need to check your priorities!  On top of that, many social workers need masters degrees which add even more expenses.

Imagine you took a somewhat cheaper path towards this career and ended up with $120,000 in student loans.  According to the BLS, your expected salary as a “Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor” will start out at $29,860.  You would have a hard time paying off your student loans in this lifetime if you lived only on that salary.

What degrees are more justified by higher salaries?

An engineer’s projected starting salary is around $61,000. Financial analysts are closer to $56,000. It would be much easier to pay off a $120,000 loan making that kind of money.

What are your options if you want to be a social worker and that is your life’s calling?  You need to get creative about your education to ensure you don’t come out with loads of debt.  For example, your plan could be to spend two years at a community college near your home where you can attend while living with your parents.

You could then transfer to a four year university to finish off your last two years. It would be very helpful if you worked during this time and applied for every scholarship you could find.

The last thing you want to do is get so far in debt that you can’t pursue anything else in life besides the job you’re currently stuck with.  It’s very common for our generation to switch jobs and the only way to remain flexible is by living debt free.

Do you feel like you picked the right degree? If not, what would you change?