20 College Majors That Give You the Best Chance to Pay Off Your Student Loans

Student loans are a necessary evil, but there are some degrees that may take the sting out of paying off your student loan debt.
Last updated June 20, 2022 | By Ariel Gardner | Edited By Rebecca McCracken
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College is supposed to be a stepping stone toward a better financial future, but that future can be hard to realize when you start your career with crippling student debt. According to EducationData, the average student borrower faces a debt balance of $39,351.

However, according to a recent study by Bankrate, there are some majors that might give you a better start with higher-than-average income and low unemployment rates — especially in STEM fields.

If 10% of your gross income should go toward paying back your student loans, then having a degree that pays more from the get-go could make that easier. And what’s leftover after your loan payment is cash you could put toward paying off credit card debt or retirement savings.

Here are the top 20 majors that could make your student debt worthwhile.

Major: Architectural Engineering

I Believe I Can Fly/Adobe Engineers pointing to building on blueprint

Median Income: $90,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,000

Gross Income Remaining: $81,000

Architectural engineering is a niche degree program offered at only a handful of schools. Graduates from these programs are in high demand and practically guaranteed jobs, with a median unemployment rate of only 1.3%.

Major: Construction Services

krisana/Adobe Architect engineer working concept and construction tools or safety equipment on table. By

Median Income: $80,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $8,000

Gross Income Remaining: $71,000

A degree in construction services could help you pay off your debt because few of these graduates — only 12% — go on to pursue an advanced degree.

Major: Computer Engineering

golubovy/Adobe Engineer plugging CPU microprocessor to motherboard socket

Median Income: $101,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $10,100

Gross Income Remaining: $90,900

It’s no surprise that computer engineering makes this list. It’s a broad and highly in-demand STEM field that positions you to earn six figures a year.

Major: Aerospace Engineering

highwaystarz/Adobe Female Aero Engineer Working On Helicopter In Hangar

Median Income: $100,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $10,000

Gross Income Remaining: $90,000

Aerospace engineers design missiles, aircraft, satellites, and even spacecraft. They might have the coolest jobs on this list, but over 50% of these graduates pursue advanced degrees which may add to your student loan debt.

Major: Transportation Sciences and Technologies

Craig/Adobe Female Pilot Standing in front of her Aircraft

Median Income: $86,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $8,600

Gross Income Remaining: $77,400

Graduates with this degree work a wide range of jobs, from pilots to sales managers.

Major: Electrical Engineering

navintar/Adobe Professional electrician in electric automation cabinet

Median Income: $107,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $10,700

Gross Income Remaining: $96,300

You shouldn’t choose your major based on earning potential alone, but graduates with a degree in electrical engineering end up with the highest median income on this list.

Major: Materials Engineering and Materials Science

Parilov/Adobe Young student woman working at computer on an electronic microscope

Median Income: $97,500

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,750

Gross Income Remaining: $87,750

Materials engineering has been described as “modern-day alchemy,” and it’s a great degree program if you’re fascinated with physics and chemistry.

Major: Civil Engineering

Gorodenkoff/Adobe Two Specialists Inspect Commercial, Industrial Building Construction Site

Median Income: $90,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,000

Gross Income Remaining: $81,000

Not only can a civil engineering degree net a median income of $90,0000 annually, but graduates are responsible for designing and creating the infrastructure that keeps this country running.

Major: Mechanical Engineering

DC Studio/Adobe  Black employee pointing on monitor to mechanical metallic parts of motor prototype

Median Income: $96,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,600

Gross Income Remaining: $86,400

Mechanical engineering graduates work with machines every day. They might be building pieces of space shuttles or designing medical devices.

Major: Chemical Engineering

Kadmy/Adobe pharmaceutical industry worker

Median Income: $100,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $10,000

Gross Income Remaining: $90,000

Here’s another STEM degree with the potential for a six-figure salary. Chemical engineers work in fields like pollution control, environmental protection, recycling, alternative energy, and medical science.

Major: Engineering Mechanics, Physics, and Science

luchschenF/Adobe Scientific microscope in a nanotechnology laboratory

Median Income: $93,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,300

Gross Income Remaining: $83,700

With an incredibly low unemployment rate of 1.3%, these graduates are extremely well paid and work as physical scientists, management analysts, and engineering managers.

Major: Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration

shoenberg3/Adobe Asian Scientist Pipetting at a Biomedical Laboratory

Median Income: $101,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $10,100

Gross Income Remaining: $90,900

More than half of graduates with a degree in Pharmacy or Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration complete an advanced degree. Only getting a bachelor’s degree sets you up for entry-level positions, while advanced degrees can lead to teaching and research positions.

Major: Industrial Production Technologies

panuwat/Adobe Hands holding tablet on blurred automation machine as background

Median Income: $80,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $8,000

Gross Income Remaining: $72,000

Despite a slightly lower median income than other fields on this list, graduates with a degree in industrial production technologies have an extremely low unemployment rate of 1.9%, and only 20% have an advanced degree.

Major: Health and Medical Preparatory Programs

vientocuatroestudio/Adobe Vets with a cat in the x-ray room

Median Income: $98,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,800

Gross Income Remaining: $88,200

This degree feeds into professional programs like dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, and nursing. So it shouldn’t surprise you that 80% complete an advanced degree.

Major: Electrical Engineering Technology

Me studio/Adobe Professional engineering worker doing factory electrical maintenance

Median Income: $86,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $8,600

Gross Income Remaining: $77,400

Less than a third of graduates with a degree in electrical engineering technology pursue advanced degrees, and they still earn a median salary of $86,000. That’s great for paying your student loans.

Major: Metallurgical Engineering

auremar/Adobe portrait of two metal factory workers

Median Income: $100,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $10,000

Gross Income Remaining: $90,000

Students pursuing this major end up in careers that work closely with superconductors, advanced coatings, cars, aircraft, and surgical implements. But it’s also another STEM field where around 50% of graduates pursue advanced degrees.

Major: Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

TMLsPhotoG/Adobe Engineer working at industrial machinery in factory

Median Income: $90,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,000

Gross Income Remaining: $81,000

If you have a degree in industrial and manufacturing engineering, the most popular job opportunities are industrial engineers, general and operations managers, and management analysts.

Major: Materials Science

auremar/Adobe young man metallurgist at work

Median Income: $94,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,400

Gross Income Remaining: $84,600

To help them earn this median salary, an estimated 65% of materials science majors graduate with an advanced degree. Some go on to pursue careers as patent lawyers, which requires a law degree, but many choose advanced degrees because it opens the door to higher-paying positions in the future.

Major: Miscellaneous Engineering

shaiith/Adobe Classes on the milling cutters, bearings and mechanical diagrams

Median Income: $90,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $9,000

Gross Income Remaining: $81,000

This is a catch-all term for other engineering majors not classified by the National Center of Education Statistics, but the general earnings are on par with what other engineers earn annually.

Major: Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering

Prapat/Adobe Asian engineer working on laptop in fishing vessel engine room

Median Income: $100,000

Yearly Student Loan Repayment of 10%: $10,000

Gross Income Remaining: $90,000

Graduates in this field go on to design, develop, and evaluate the operations of marine vessels and ship machinery. It has one of the highest median incomes on this list, and 40% of graduates pursue advanced degrees.

Bottom line

joyfotoliakid/Adobe Programmer working in software company office

Getting a degree in a STEM field isn’t a golden ticket out of student loan debt, but it can put you on the path toward paying off your debt and making brilliant money moves. And if you’re already struggling with student loans, don’t forget that refinancing your student loans is an option that could help you work toward financial freedom.

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Author Details

Ariel Gardner Ariel is a St. Louis-based personal finance writer who specializes in side hustles, paying down debt, and saving/budgeting. Her work for clients has been seen in Forbes and CNBC. When she's not working, Ariel enjoys knitting while watching bad TV, podcasts, hiking, or vacationing with her family.