The mountainous price tag to attend colleges and universities in this country has definitely been in the limelight during the pandemic. With many people facing job loss and financial insecurity, the idea of having six figures in student loan debt can be paralyzing. In the meantime, current students are still stuck with hefty tuition bills despite the fact that most classes will be virtual for the foreseeable future.
Debt can certainly lead to regret, particularly in stressful financial circumstances, which is why we decided to survey our audience to gauge how they are feeling right now. We asked more than 3,000 readers to answer the question, “Do you regret your career choice because of your student debt?”
The survey is representative of high-debt young professionals. Overall, about 70% had more than $100,000 of student loan debt and made over $50,000 per year in income. About 62% were female, and 84% were in their 20s or 30s.
For a job to make this list, we had to receive at least 30 responses in that career category. In all, respondents represented 389 different professions. Out of all the respondents,:
- 43% said they wished they had chosen a different career because of their student loan burden.
- 57% said they were happy with their career decision.
Having already covered the top 10 jobs with the most student loan regret — the No. 1 profession with student loan regret was occupational therapist, with 67% of occupational therapists reporting they have career regret because of their student loans — here are the top 10 jobs with the least career regret because of student loan debt:
Jobs with the LEAST Student Debt Regret
Percent of nurses who said they had career regret because of their student loans: 39%.
To be a nurse, a person can practice with just an undergraduate degree, leading to minimal student debt if they’re careful. Particularly on the West Coast, where the nursing unions are stronger, nurses can make salaries in the high five or low six figures. And, needless to say, there is a strong demand for nurses right now. In fact, some nurses are even volunteering to travel to COVID-19 hotspots to help with the pandemic fight. Overall we found that the respondents who are nurses really felt like their job is making a big difference right now.
“Nursing is a great career, so many different things you can do. Good pay and always someone hiring so you will always have work.”
“Sometimes I regret the student loans associated with my graduate education because I am not currently utilizing this degree. However, nursing is extremely flexible in regards to specialization and scheduling, plus there are many opportunities for career growth and increased income potential.”
Percent of dentists who said they had career regret from student loans: 39%.
Although debt from dental school is among the highest of any profession, dentists have a much higher income ceiling. They also have the ability to be their own boss if they decide to open up their own practice. Practice ownership can be a benefit, especially because you can pay off your student loans based on your income.
At first, dentists were hit very hard by the pandemic. In a survey we conducted in April, 56% of dentists — by far the highest amount of all professions polled — reported a complete loss of income. Now that dentists’ offices are opening again with added safety measures, this income drop seems to be leveling out.
“Dental private practice ownership is still a very effective way to earn income and ultimately be debt free. I would not feel like this about corporate dentistry or as a long term associate.”
“So much upside. I see how much I produce as a resident. As long as you are not content being average I don’t think student loans will be a problem.”
Percent of IT professionals who said they had career regret from student loans: 37%.
What’s great about going into IT is you can quickly make a solid income without having to take on any graduate degree debt. That, plus, it’s an extremely adaptable work-from-home career. Remote work is not unusual in this field, so if anything, IT professionals have had much less disruption in their day-to-day lives during the pandemic.
“My career choice allowed me to join the workforce and start making money immediately without going into debt for college. Because I had no debt, it made it easier to help my wife who is a counselor start to manage her 150k worth of debt.”
“I get to do what I enjoy, and have been given many perks and benefits both on and off the job because of my field.”
Percent of psychologists who said they had career regret from student loans: 36%.
The typical level of graduate degree debt for psychology is high, but students generally know this going into the field. That is, it’s almost impossible to get a job in the psychology field with an undergraduate degree alone. Similar to IT professionals, psychologists can adapt to remote working pretty easily, shifting to virtual appointments with their patients. And similar to nurses, psychologists are finding a lot of meaning in their jobs right now. As people struggle with the isolation and frustrations this pandemic has caused, many are turning to professional therapy for help.
“I like the perspective of thinking of my student loans as a tax. I have to ask myself would I still do and enjoy my job if I made that much less money (my income minus student loan payment). I think the only thing anyone can ever ask out of their job is that they make a decent living and enjoy it. And I do on both accounts.”
“I like helping students and their families. Being a school psychologist for 16 years has fulfilled this and I always feel I’m helping so many people with my career. I’m satisfied with my chosen career path regardless of the student debt.”
6. Government Employee
Percent of government employees who said they had career regret from student loans: 36%.
If you’re a government employee you can most likely apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and your student loan debt is lower than most other careers that require advanced credentials. It’s no surprise government employees scored on the lower end of the career regret scale.
“I’m happy in a federal government position because there are set opportunities for scaled advancement and I qualify easily for PSLF. “
“My job provides many with great flexibility. As a govt scientist I have the opportunity to do what I love and have the job security.”
5. Dentist Specialist
Percent of dentist specialists who said they had career regret from student loans: 35%.
Dentist specialists, such as orthodontics or endodontists, are among the highest income ceilings of all professions that need to borrow for student loans. Some specialists can make as much as half a million dollars per year as practice owners in areas where their services are needed. So, even if their student loan debt is high, they feel confident about the position they are in to pay it off.
“Low stress, I set my schedule (4 days a week), finish at 5pm and am able to leave work at work and enjoy family time every night and am home for dinner every night. Able to be flexible to take trips with family and can afford to go on said trips without worrying about how we are going to pay for it. Work with great people and people are happy to see us because we help them get that smile they always wanted.”
“I have a student loan balance of ~$500,000, which is far beyond what I ever could have imagined prior to entering the field of dentistry. However, I am confident that orthodontics will provide the opportunity to pay off the student loans while maintaining a comfortable work/life balance.”
Percent of engineers who said they had career regret from student loans: 29%.
Becoming an engineer is a quick path to a mid- to upper- five-figure income, with the potential to even make six figures without any graduate degree debt. Engineers are often in a good place when it comes to job and financial security, which is great to have right now.
“I did not have to take out any student loans, but I chose a career that I could do with an undergrad degree and make good income right away.”
“My engineering degree will pay for itself — it will just take time.”
Percent of physicians who said they had career regret from student loans: 26%.
Physicians have two solid approaches for dealing with medical school debt. You can either focus on launching your own private practice, making enough of an income to pay off your loans while still affording a nice lifestyle or you can go the nonprofit route and pursue the PSLF pathway. Either way, you have a great job, a much higher income than most, and viable options to manage your loans without waiting around for 20 years until they’re forgiven.
“I knew the amount of loans becoming a physician would require. I also knew that the income at the end would be enough to make debt repayment manageable. I love the career I am in and haven’t let the sacrifices required deter me.”
“Most physicians thankfully still make a decent amount of money and are eligible for PSLF. We generally have jobs with good job security even in a recession or pandemic.”
2. Physician Assistant
Percent of physician assistants who said they had career regret from student loans: 23%.
Physician assistants enjoy many of the same perks and rewards as physicians when it comes to liking their jobs. What’s even better is that PAs can earn money much sooner in their careers than physicians can because they’re not bogged down by four years in medical school and then residency. Plus, they tend to have a much better work-life balance.
“I love being able to help people and have flexibility as a PA. I’m able to work in any specialty almost anywhere in the U.S.”
“Choosing to be a PA is currently still a very good decision. Very low unemployment, increasing salaries, increasing job scope, flexibility of specialty and high responsibility. If you pick your career path wisely, especially by targeting PSLF, you can pay off your loans in short order, even pay less than your principal over the 10 years, and do so while providing community service.”
1. Financial Advisor / Planner
Percent of financial advisors/planners who said they had career regret from student loans: 10%.
I’m not entirely surprised that financial advisors and planners come in at No. 1 for least career regret related to student loans. This profession does not require any borrowing beyond your undergraduate degree, and you can make a high income without advanced credentials.
“I like what I do and know there is a higher earning potential with additional training and experience.”
“I feel like financial planning provides so many ways to make money and help people in the process. I enjoy the flexibility of my job, which allows me to spend time with my family. My husband is a doctor and does not have that type of flexibility with his job.”
Key takeaways from the survey on student debt regret
In reviewing the responses from respondents within these 10 professions, there were a few key similarities across the professions: For one, many of these professions allow for making a solid income right upon graduating, without even requiring an advanced degree.
I noticed that people wanted these jobs specifically because many do not have a hard income ceiling. And if there is one, then there’s a clear path to loan forgiveness. All in all it appears the best marks went to professions with a quicker path to earning a good income versus the fields that require many years of additional training to earn a higher income.