Many students are drowning in student loan debt and struggling to repay it. In fact, the average student borrower graduates with $28,400 in student loan debt. But that’s only part of the problem. Exacerbating the student debt crisis is the fact that many millennials are currently unemployed or underemployed.

While there is no way to predict what the state of the economy will be when you graduate, there are ways to increase your chances of getting a job upon graduation and to protect yourself against taking out too much student loan debt. It’s critical that students take the time to find out which careers are likely to be in demand when they graduate and what their average starting salary would be. Taking the time to research career options and make the right choices about college and borrowing could potential decrease the number of future graduates who struggle with unemployment and repaying their student loans.

Career Choices Are Often Made with Little Information

Many students make decisions about what to study and what career to pursue without fully understanding the current demand or knowing the average early career earnings of that profession. While it's important to work in a field that you love, the problem that many students encounter is that they choose career paths where there aren’t a lot of jobs or that don't pay enough to justify the amount of student debt that they took on in order to complete their degree. That makes repaying their student loans incredibly difficult.

If you’re concerned about repaying your student loans, it’s important to choose a career that will allow you to easily do that. That means you should prioritize career paths where you will be highly likely to get a job upon graduation and which will pay enough to allow you to repay your loans.

Just because you find out that the field you want to work in doesn’t have a lot of jobs available, doesn’t mean you have to give up on your career dreams. It just means that you need to be more proactive about getting work experience while still in college in order to be more likely to get hired upon graduation.

Also, if you wanted to pursue a career where you might have a harder time finding employment or which has a lower salary, it would make sense to choose a school that is less expensive or offers you more financial or merit aid in order to reduce the amount of student debt you will need to take on. You could also do a minor in a field that is more marketable so that you have a backup plan in case you’re not able to get a job in your field of choice.

Number of Borrowers with More Than $100k in Student Debt has Quadrupled in Past Decade

High Schools and Colleges Are Failing Students

High schools are letting students down by not properly informing them of all the variables involved in their career choices. Going to college isn't just a career or academic choice - it's a huge financial commitment. It's critical that students choose a career and a degree that will be marketable when they graduate. Because high schools often focus exclusively on helping students find career options that fit their personalities, many students are asked to make career choices without the data necessary to understand the financial implications of their choice.

That leads students to take on more debt than they can potentially repay to get degrees that might not help them get jobs when they graduate. High schools should be much more proactive in educating students about their career choices and the financial implications of taking out student loans. One of the worst case scenarios is leaving college early without a degree; research shows that these student loan borrowers are most likely to default on their loans. 

Colleges also aren’t doing enough. They should make sure that students get experience in their future professions while they’re in school. Experience doesn’t just look good on students’ resumes, but it gives students a better understanding of whether of not they like working in the field that they've chosen. Some students decide to go into a profession without truly understanding the nature of that profession and what it's like to work that job. They then find out after they graduate that they don't enjoy working in the field, but they have a significant amount of student loans that they now have to repay. Some end up returning to college and retraining - which forces them to incur more student loan debt. Others decide to just keep working in a profession that they hate because they are overwhelmed by their debt.

Better Decisions Makes Repayment Easier

Ultimately, it's critical that students make college and borrowing decisions that are in line with their potential careers. That means choosing careers that are more in demand and pay better, or being proactive about getting experience and graduating with fewer student loans if you choose a more competitive field.

Obviously, a future doctor can take on more student loans and repay them more easily than a future music teacher. But a music teacher doesn’t need to take on as much debt as a doctor. They can pay for a cheaper college and still get a great job when they graduate where they will make the same amount as a music teacher who went to a more expensive school.

Making informed decisions about student loans, especially private student loans, and smart career choices, will ensure that borrowers don’t struggle repaying their loans.