From Culinary Arts To Cognitive Science: The Median Student Debt For Every US Bachelor’s Degree

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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).

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, Visual Capitalist’s Marcus Lu has 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.

Major Field of Study 2022 Median Debt
(USD thousands)
Behavioral Sciences Social Sciences $42.8
Religious Education Arts and Humanities $32.0
Culinary Arts and
Related Services
Arts and Humanities $28.6
Human Services Social Sciences $28.6
Education Other $28.0
Clinical, Counseling, and
Applied Psychology
Health and Medicine $27.4
Literature Arts and Humanities $27.0
Natural Sciences Sciences $26.9
Physical Sciences Sciences $26.6
Music Arts and Humanities $26.6
Architecture Arts and Humanities $26.5
Arts, Entertainment, and
Media Management
Arts and Humanities $26.5
Visual and Performing Arts Arts and Humanities $26.5
Health Professions and
Related Clinical Sciences
Health and Medicine $26.0
Communication, Journalism, and
Related Programs
Other $25.9
Drama/ Theater Arts
and Stagecraft
Arts and Humanities $25.8
Astronomy and Astrophysics Sciences $25.6
Engineering, General Engineering $25.5
Multi-/Interdisciplinary Studies Other $25.4
Aerospace, Aeronautical,
and Astronautical Engineering
Engineering $25.2
Biological and Physical Sciences Sciences $25.2
Foods, Nutrition, and
Related Services
Health and Medicine $25.2
Biochemical Engineering Engineering $25.1
Information Science/Studies Sciences $25.1
Film/Video and
Photographic Arts
Arts and Humanities $25.0
Social Work Health and Medicine $24.9
Zoology/Animal Biology Sciences $24.7
Civil Engineering Engineering $24.6
City/Urban, Community,
and Regional Planning
Social Sciences $24.5
Criminal Justice and Corrections Social Sciences $24.5
Mechanical Engineering Engineering $24.5
Radio, Television, and
Digital Communication
Other $24.4
Business Administration, Management,
and Operations
Other $24.4
Health and
Physical Education/ Fitness
Health and Medicine $24.2
Accounting Other $24.1
Computer & Information Sciences Sciences $24.0
Public Relations, Advertising,
and Applied Communication
Other $23.9
Chemical Engineering Engineering $23.8
Biology Sciences $23.7
Journalism Other $23.4
Criminology Social Sciences $23.4
Liberal Arts and Sciences,
General Studies and Humanities
Social Sciences $23.3
Botany/Plant Biology Sciences $23.3
Psychology Social Sciences $23.3
Public Health Health and Medicine $23.1
Archeology Social Sciences $23.0
Communication and
Media Studies
Other $22.8
Social Sciences Social Sciences $22.8
Chemistry Sciences $22.8
Hospitality Administration/Management Health and Medicine $22.8
Physics Sciences $22.8
History Social Sciences $22.8
Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration,
Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing
Health and Medicine $22.6
English Language and Literature Arts and Humanities $22.5
Sociology Social Sciences $22.3
Computer Science Sciences $22.3
Marine Sciences Sciences $22.2
Political Science and Government Social Sciences $22.0
Science, Technology, and
Society
Sciences $21.8
Mathematics Sciences $21.8
Geography and Cartography Social Sciences $21.7
Anthropology Social Sciences $21.7
Animal Sciences Sciences $21.6
Environmental Design Social Sciences $21.2
Agricultural Sciences $20.8
Economics Other $20.7
Statistics Other $20.6
Public Administration Social Sciences $20.6
Philosophy Social Sciences $20.6
International/Global Studies Other $19.9
Business Operations Support and
Assistant Services
Other $19.1
Cognitive Science Sciences $18.1
International and
Comparative Education
Other $13.0

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.

Major Field of Study 2022 Median Debt
(USD thousands)
Advanced/Graduate Dentistry
and Oral Sciences
Health and Medicine $158,155
Visual and Performing Arts Arts and Humanities $63,830
Radio, Television, and
Digital Communication
Other $55,554
Social Sciences Social Sciences $54,554
Philosophy Social Sciences $54,260
Journalism Other $53,213
Statistics Other $53,174
Clinical, Counseling, and
Applied Psychology
Health and Medicine $51,888
Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration,
Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing
Health and Medicine $51,420
Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies Other $48,693
Public Relations, Advertising, and
Applied Communication
Other $48,366
Sociology Social Sciences $46,871
Health Professions and
Related Clinical Sciences
Health and Medicine $44,598
English Language and Literature Arts and Humanities $44,301
Political Science and Government Social Sciences $43,853
Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies
and Humanities
Social Sciences $43,408
Finance and
Financial Management Services
Other $43,408
Psychology Social Sciences $43,408
Business Administration, Management,
and Operations
Other $43,251
Economics Other $43,053
Literature Arts and Humanities $42,826
Computer Engineering Engineering $42,647
Public Administration Social Sciences $42,154
Arts, Entertainment,
and Media Management
Arts and Humanities $41,238
History Social Sciences $40,948
Computer & Information Sciences Sciences $40,579
Anthropology Social Sciences $40,428
Biology Sciences $40,265
Architecture Arts and Humanities $39,788
Communication and Media Studies Other $39,270
International/Global Studies Other $37,180
Zoology/Animal Biology Sciences $37,056
Hospitality Administration/Management Other $36,203
Marketing Other $35,738
Criminology Social Sciences $35,318
Computer Science Sciences $35,301
Engineering Engineering $33,235
Health and Physical Education/Fitness Health and Medicine $32,372
Agriculture Sciences $30,676
Geography and Cartography Social Sciences $30,657
Education Other $29,434
Chemistry Sciences $28,912
Accounting Other $28,212
Mechanical Engineering Engineering $26,775
Civil Engineering Engineering $26,180
International Agriculture Sciences $23,275

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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