Ranked: Median Student Debt For A U.S. College Degree

By U Cast Studios
October 12, 2023

Ranked: Median Student Debt For A U.S. College Degree
Image Courtesy Of Visual Capitalist
median student debt

According to the Federal Reserve, student loans added up to $1.6 trillion in Q2 2023, making them the third largest category of U.S. household debt behind auto loans ($1.8 trillion) and mortgages ($12 trillion).

This article was written by Marcus Lu and originally published by Visual Capitalist.

The current student debt figure represents a 40% increase from a decade ago, resulting in greater pressure for the federal government to do more to help debtors. For example, on Oct 4. 2023, the Biden administration announced an additional $9 billion in student debt cancellations, bringing the total relief amount to $127 billion.

With student debt becoming a broader social issue, we’ve visualized data from the Education Data Initiative to show you the median debt per major for a bachelor’s degree in the country.

Dataset and Highlights

The following table includes all of the data we used to create this graphic. Note that we’re showing median student debt, which differs from the mean average.

To understand how this works, imagine a list of every student’s debt for a given major. The median represents the middle value, meaning half of students owe less than that amount, while the other half owes more.

From this dataset we can see that median debt for most Bachelor’s degrees is in the mid $20,000s range. Two outliers at the upper end are Behavioral Sciences ($42,800) and Religious Education ($32,000), while at the lower end we can see Comparative Education ($13,000) and Cognitive Science ($18,100).

Comparative education is a social science that involves the study of education systems, processes, and outcomes across different countries or cultures.

Looking at this data from a broader perspective, we can also see some trends emerge based on field of study. For starters, most Arts and Humanities degrees fall in the upper half of the ranking, while the bottom quarter of the ranking appears to be largely made up of Social Sciences, Sciences, and various business studies.

What About a Master’s Degree?

Education Data Initiative also includes median debt data for master’s degrees.

While obtaining a master’s typically results in a greater amount of student debt, it can actually depend on your major. For instance, the median debt for a master’s in Computer Science is $35,300, which is $7,500 lower than a bachelor’s in Behavioral Science.

The biggest outlier from this list is Graduate Dentistry and Oral Sciences, with a median debt of $158,155. While this may sound like a lot, it should be compared to the average salary of a U.S. dentist, which according to Indeed is $225,400 per year.

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