Why this question is important: It provides students with a way to link college major and debt levels to lifestyle post-graduation. “Hardest time” is defined as percentage of income dedicated to student loan repayment one and six-years post-graduation. So, assuming you take out the average amount of student debt, what majors will require you to dedicate the highest percentage of your income to paying down this debt?
Unlike earnings, student debt at graduation does not tend to vary much by major. For example, of the 17 majors listed in the NPSAS, the median debt at graduation for those carrying a student loan ranged from a low of $21,000 (General Studies) to a high of $31,500 (Computer Sciences and Information). For 13 of the 17 majors, typical debt was between $24,000 and $27,000. The share of graduates carrying any debt at all did not vary much by major either, with almost all majors listed graduating between 65 percent and 80 percent of their students with debt.
The combination of similar debt payments across majors and varying earnings in the initial years, as shown above, means that the debt burden as a share of earnings will vary substantially across majors. Within most majors, the debt burden will be high in the first few years following graduation, but will ease over time. Among graduates with typical earnings and typical debt levels, those from 66 out of 81 majors will owe more than 10 percent of first-year earnings to debt repayment. However, this count falls relatively quickly, and by the third year, only 42 majors pay more than 10 percent of their income to repayment, and by the sixth year, only 7 majors do.
Figures 3 and 4 show the share of earnings needed for loan repayment in the first and sixth years of the career for each major, using the same assumptions as those in figure 2 (typical debt of $26,500), but with median earnings specific to each major.
Here are the two graphs that answer the question: