Does having a student loan impact career choice?

I’ve always been interested in why people choose the careers they do. I’ve fantasized about knocking on doors in fancy neighborhoods or in vacation towns and asking what people do for a living. Sort of like the “Millionaire Next Door” (which is one of my fave books). When I graduated college, I had student loans. My mom was laid off after 9/11 (as were many people) and some of my student loans were even pulled. When I graduated, I had until September when the phone started ringing from Sallie Mae asking me how I’d like to set up payment for the coming years. I remember looking at the list of professions where our alumni had landed and seeing that IT made the most money at the time. “That’s what I’m going to do then”. Except that I didn’t really want to be behind a computer my whole life and I wasn’t particularly great with anything having to do with computers.

After college, I remember reading about this study from Princeton University that investigated if students who were given free tuition for all four years chose majors  because of their interests or because they needed the money. The bottom line was that debt led graduates to choose higher paying jobs. Did they like the higher paying jobs? Who knows. The thinking is that if you have more to pay back you make a decision on your career based on that. So you may be less likely to be a teacher or an artist depending on how much cash you have to pay back.

College is just crazy expensive, but it doesn’t always have to be. I’ve heard people say that having school loans makes the student have “skin in the game”. The problem is many don’t realize how much skin they actually have in the game until they graduate. On the other hand, I knew people who worked in a mall for years after graduating because they didn’t have loans like my friends and I did. They didn’t have the same pressures.

Having loans was tough and losing my job for a few months while I was repaying them was enough more tough. Parents can’t always force their kids to go into a practical career. I think it’s worth it to have a discussion before college about what kids want to do (or what they think they want to do) and then talk about the costs of the schools they want to go to, the schools they get into and where the alumni is today. I wouldn’t be able to rationale spending a lot of money on tuition where the return (monetary) was not enough to someday cover my expenses and give me the quality of life I wanted. I’ve seen schools that sell the dream only for the reality to be that the majority of their students in the program are still waitressing or bartending years later when they paid the big bucks for a performing arts degree.

Personally, I don’t think that student loans shaped what I wanted my career to be. I didn’t really understand how much I had taken out at the time and how that would translate into monthly payments later. In the end, having something to pay back made me get a job faster than I probably would have liked. I don’t have regrets about the school that I went to or the career that I chose. I was able to pay my loans back before they were due and learn from the experience. I’ve also been able to help others as they’ve made their college choices.

What impacted your career choice after college?

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