Beating Parents In The Degree Debate

SoFi co-founders Dan Macklin (L) and James Finnigan - Ethan Baron photo

SoFi co-founders Dan Macklin (L) and James Finnigan – Ethan Baron photo

It’s one of modern life’s most unwelcome travesties: there you are, graduating from high school, old enough to vote, to fight in wars, and maybe even to iron your own clothes, yet you still have to consult Mommy and Daddy about your education and career plans. Possibly, your parents will be paying for part or all of your college costs, and must approve your choices if they’re to loosen the family purse strings. And probably your role as daughter or son forces you to forsake absolute self-determination, just because parents are typically an influential part of a child’s decision-making ecosystem even after a young person has fled the nest.

And when it comes to a decision about an undergraduate major, parental hands can be heavy: it’s at that stage of education that dad and mom are most likely to be contributing money toward, and it comes at a time when a young person is still learning to make important decisions and parental guidance can be especially valuable. The stakes are ever higher. The Wall Street Journal reported in May that U.S. college class of 2015 graduates were leaving school with the highest student debt ever – $35,000, up 75% from $20,000 a decade ago. Every day, this reality no doubt sparks comments from parents across the country that go something like this: “You think going $35,000 in debt to study the history of spoken-word poetry is a good idea? Did we raise an insensate fungus?”

For a student who wants to follow their own dreams and ambitions, what’s the answer to the parent problem?

Data.

STUDENTS’ DREAMS AND PARENTS’ NIGHTMARES

Why? Your parents, unless they’re sociopathic or otherwise severely disturbed, want the best for you. And, of course, because they spent years changing your diapers, wiping food off your face with spit, and generally controlling every aspect of your existence, your parents think they know better than you do what your best choices will be. Your dreams and aspirations, if they don’t align with the hopes your parents have for you, will be seen as cute at best, and as a recipe for a life of homelessness and food stamps at worst.

You need hard numbers to beat your parents down. And fortunately, some compelling figures have just been produced by disruptive education lender SoFi, showing that no matter what you study as an undergrad, you can add a significant boost to your lifetime earnings if you go to graduate school afterward.

Tell your parents you want to study fine arts in college and there’s a reasonably good chance they’ll picture you behind a Starbucks counter till you’re 70 – you might as well glue their checkbook shut. Ditto for social sciences, even if your parents know how personally rewarding you find the study of gender differentiation in children’s toys.

GRADUATE DEGREE MAKES MOST COLLEGE DEGREES PALATABLE

But now, thanks to SoFi’s data, based on responses from 200,000 of its loan applicants, you can propose to your parents an undergrad major in virtually any field of study, and have the numbers to reassure them that ultimately, you’ll reap sufficient financial rewards to stay off the streets. There’s just one hitch: the argument only works if you’re planning on going to grad school after college.

Most graduate degrees, it turns out, will turbocharge earnings no matter what your undergraduate background. Naturally, the impact is greatest when you add a graduate degree in business, medicine, dentistry, law, or engineering to your undergrad degree. But even graduating from grad school with a master’s in social science increases lifetime earnings to a significant extent, adding 15% onto the earnings from an undergrad humanities degree, for example.

“The main finding here is that grad school is worth it, irrespective of what that grad school is,” says SoFi co-founder Dan Macklin.