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

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Oct 12, 2023 - 03:05 AM

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.

MajorField of Study2022 Median Debt
(USD thousands)
Behavioral SciencesSocial Sciences$42.8
Religious EducationArts and Humanities$32.0
Culinary Arts and
Related Services
Arts and Humanities$28.6
Human ServicesSocial Sciences$28.6
Clinical, Counseling, and
Applied Psychology
Health and Medicine$27.4
LiteratureArts and Humanities$27.0
Natural SciencesSciences$26.9
Physical SciencesSciences$26.6
MusicArts and Humanities$26.6
ArchitectureArts and Humanities$26.5
Arts, Entertainment, and
Media Management
Arts and Humanities$26.5
Visual and Performing ArtsArts and Humanities$26.5
Health Professions and
Related Clinical Sciences
Health and Medicine$26.0
Communication, Journalism, and
Related Programs
Drama/ Theater Arts
and Stagecraft
Arts and Humanities$25.8
Astronomy and AstrophysicsSciences$25.6
Engineering, GeneralEngineering$25.5
Multi-/Interdisciplinary StudiesOther$25.4
Aerospace, Aeronautical,
and Astronautical Engineering
Biological and Physical SciencesSciences$25.2
Foods, Nutrition, and
Related Services
Health and Medicine$25.2
Biochemical EngineeringEngineering$25.1
Information Science/StudiesSciences$25.1
Film/Video and
Photographic Arts
Arts and Humanities$25.0
Social WorkHealth and Medicine$24.9
Zoology/Animal BiologySciences$24.7
Civil EngineeringEngineering$24.6
City/Urban, Community,
and Regional Planning
Social Sciences$24.5
Criminal Justice and CorrectionsSocial Sciences$24.5
Mechanical EngineeringEngineering$24.5
Radio, Television, and
Digital Communication
Business Administration, Management,
and Operations
Health and
Physical Education/ Fitness
Health and Medicine$24.2
Computer & Information SciencesSciences$24.0
Public Relations, Advertising,
and Applied Communication
Chemical EngineeringEngineering$23.8
CriminologySocial Sciences$23.4
Liberal Arts and Sciences,
General Studies and Humanities
Social Sciences$23.3
Botany/Plant BiologySciences$23.3
PsychologySocial Sciences$23.3
Public HealthHealth and Medicine$23.1
ArcheologySocial Sciences$23.0
Communication and
Media Studies
Social SciencesSocial Sciences$22.8
Hospitality Administration/ManagementHealth and Medicine$22.8
HistorySocial Sciences$22.8
Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration,
Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing
Health and Medicine$22.6
English Language and LiteratureArts and Humanities$22.5
SociologySocial Sciences$22.3
Computer ScienceSciences$22.3
Marine SciencesSciences$22.2
Political Science and GovernmentSocial Sciences$22.0
Science, Technology, and
Geography and CartographySocial Sciences$21.7
AnthropologySocial Sciences$21.7
Animal SciencesSciences$21.6
Environmental DesignSocial Sciences$21.2
Public AdministrationSocial Sciences$20.6
PhilosophySocial Sciences$20.6
International/Global StudiesOther$19.9
Business Operations Support and
Assistant Services
Cognitive ScienceSciences$18.1
International and
Comparative Education

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.

MajorField of Study2022 Median Debt
(USD thousands)
Advanced/Graduate Dentistry
and Oral Sciences
Health and Medicine$158,155
Visual and Performing ArtsArts and Humanities$63,830
Radio, Television, and
Digital Communication
Social SciencesSocial Sciences$54,554
PhilosophySocial Sciences$54,260
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 StudiesOther$48,693
Public Relations, Advertising, and
Applied Communication
SociologySocial Sciences$46,871
Health Professions and
Related Clinical Sciences
Health and Medicine$44,598
English Language and LiteratureArts and Humanities$44,301
Political Science and GovernmentSocial Sciences$43,853
Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies
and Humanities
Social Sciences$43,408
Finance and
Financial Management Services
PsychologySocial Sciences$43,408
Business Administration, Management,
and Operations
LiteratureArts and Humanities$42,826
Computer EngineeringEngineering$42,647
Public AdministrationSocial Sciences$42,154
Arts, Entertainment,
and Media Management
Arts and Humanities$41,238
HistorySocial Sciences$40,948
Computer & Information SciencesSciences$40,579
AnthropologySocial Sciences$40,428
ArchitectureArts and Humanities$39,788
Communication and Media StudiesOther$39,270
International/Global StudiesOther$37,180
Zoology/Animal BiologySciences$37,056
Hospitality Administration/ManagementOther$36,203
CriminologySocial Sciences$35,318
Computer ScienceSciences$35,301
Health and Physical Education/FitnessHealth and Medicine$32,372
Geography and CartographySocial Sciences$30,657
Mechanical EngineeringEngineering$26,775
Civil EngineeringEngineering$26,180
International AgricultureSciences$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.