College Students Nearly 50% More Likely to Choose a Major Based on Passion Than Earning Potential

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New Student Loan Hero survey finds more college students pursue majors based on passion than ROI, despite growing student loan debt.

Student Loan Hero

Student Loan Hero

Those who choose their major and school based on passion over ROI are risking a large amount of debt without the future salary to back it up.

With another school year underway and growing concern over the $1.3 trillion owed in loans by U.S. college students, a new survey from Student Loan Hero finds most students are more interested in finding meaningful work than making a large salary.

Sixty-two percent of survey respondents, which consisted of current undergraduates enrolled at least half-time, claimed they considered potential salary choosing their majors. However, considerably more (88%) stated passion mattered to some degree when choosing majors.


On the other hand, 17% of respondents disagreed that salary mattered at all when choosing a major. These results are in line with recent research that indicates millennials are not only more interested in finding meaning in their work and improved quality of life, but are willing to take a pay cut to achieve it. (1)

On the positive side, Student Loan Hero’s survey found that many students consider cost when choosing a college, with 80% of respondents reporting that cost of attendance was a deciding factor.

“Even though students are becoming more cost-conscious about their choices, the unfortunate reality is that the price tag on a college education has gotten out of control,” said Andrew Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero. “Our survey indicated about half of college students need to take out student loans this year – those who choose their major and school based on passion over ROI are risking a large amount of debt without the future salary to back it up.”

Additional Survey Highlights

According to the data, 25% of students expected to spend between $10,000 and $20,000 on out-of-pocket educational expenses during the 2016-2017 school year, including student loans. About 7% of college students did not know how much they would spend this year.

“It’s concerning that some students don’t know where their money is going,” said Josuweit. “Even if the 7% seems small, the reality is that is still a large number of students.”

Additionally, survey respondents admitted to using student loan funds to cover non-educational expenses:

41% of respondents used their student loans to pay other monthly bills.
13% of respondents used student loan money to eat at restaurants.
15% of respondents used their student loans to buy clothing.
19% of respondents used their money to pay for cars and insurance.
3% of respondents used their money to go on vacation.
2.5% of respondents used their money for alcohol or drugs.

Additionally, though students aren’t as interested in salary as compared to passion, it appears some are conscious of the high earning potential in STEM majors; about 53% of respondents claimed to have chosen majors in STEM fields. Other data about choosing a college degree include:

11.2% of respondents chose a business degree.
10.2% of respondents chose health and medicine fields.
9.8% of respondents chose arts and humanities.
6.9% of respondents chose social sciences.
2.3% of respondents hadn’t chosen a college degree or were unsure of what degree to choose.

Survey Methodology

Survey was conducted via Google Consumer Surveys on behalf of Student Loan Hero from September 8 - 10, 2016, with a nationally representative sample of 1,019 students living in the United States. “Are you currently an undergraduate college student enrolled at least half time?” was used as a screening question (with a target answer of “yes”).

About Student Loan Hero

Student Loan Hero combines easy-to-use tools with financial education to help the millions of Americans living with student loan debt manage and pay off their loans. Student Loan Hero has helped more than 80,000 borrowers manage and eliminate over $1.7 billion in student loan debt since 2012 and assists over one million people in becoming more financially healthy every year.

Student Loan Hero offers both current and former students free loan calculators, as well as unbiased, personalized advice and repayment plans through an easy-to-use online dashboard.
Founded in 2012 by CEO Andrew Josuweit, who himself had over $100,000 in student loans, Student Loan Hero operates on the belief that all loan help and recommendations should come with honesty and no hidden agenda.

Student Loan Hero has offices in New York, Austin and Portland. For more information, visit

(1) Fidelity Investments, “Better Quality Of Work Life Is Worth A $7,600 Pay Cut For Millennials,” April 7, 2016.

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Jaclyn Lambert, Senior Campaign Executive

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