How to Manage Student Debt by Pursuing Your Passion

The Student Debt Mindset: Manage Student Debt by Pursuing Your Passion

Student loan debt is higher than ever before. In the U.S. alone, 44 million borrowers collectively owe over $1.5 trillion in student debt.[i]  To put that in perspective, that’s about $521 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt[ii]. In 2018, students graduated with an average of $29,800 in student debt.ii


Individuals just beginning their academic journeys see these statistics and quickly shift their thoughts from, “What type of career will I enjoy” to “What career will help me pay off my student debt”.


In other words, individuals consider foregoing future job satisfaction in favor of return on investment. While, initially, that strategy may seem to make financial sense, it does not often lead to long-term success and happiness.


Do You Feel Engaged at Work?

In fact, a recent Gallup Poll identified that just 34% of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs, meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.[iii] This points to a largely unengaged workforce across the nation.


Do You Regret Your Academic Choices?

Even further, we know that over half of U.S. adults would change one of their education decisions (e.g., degree type, institution, or field of study).[iv]Across all education levels, major/field of study was identified as the most common regret.


Altogether, this paints a grim picture: U.S. adults are taking on massive amounts of student debt to pursue careers they are not enthusiastic about and ultimately end up regretting their educational choices.

$29,800 is a hefty price tag for future regret.

A Better Approach

Individuals begin considering the next steps of their educational and career paths during their junior and senior years of high school. These early decisions set the stage for their future happiness at work. Therefore, we can better guide students to make informed decisions during this critical time which will impact satisfaction with one’s education and career later down the road.


When considering next steps after high school graduation, individuals need to:

  1. Critically consider what their career goals and passions are. (Are those goals based on purpose and calling, or purely based on salary?)
  2. Choose an educational path that will prepare them for their chosen career of interest
  3. Consider the amount of debt they are likely to incur as a result of pursuing that educational path


Step 1: Discover your Passions

Your purpose refers to your intention to accomplish something that matters deeply to you and that benefits the world.

  • A purpose combines what you find ultimately important, what you are passionate about, what motivates you, and what kind of impact you most want to have in the world.


A calling can be described as a pathway for expressing your purpose in ways that make the world better.

  • For example, a bookkeeper or accountant might have a calling to “help create order in the midst of chaos,” a nurse might have a calling to “provide relief and healing to people who are hurting,” and a builder might have a calling to “create quality structures that help people live healthy lives and carry out their business in the world.”
  • (An individual can have multiple callings!)


Research shows that individuals who experience their work as a calling experience greater career commitment, work meaning, and job satisfaction.[v]


Therefore, by considering purpose early on, individuals can identify vocational paths that will enable them to live out that calling, leading to future happiness and job satisfaction.


Career assessments, like those offered by PathwayU, are designed to guide individuals in identifying the vocational paths that match their unique characteristics and passions. More specifically, PathwayU helps individuals discern what careers will lead to future satisfaction, allow them to live their callings and experience meaning and purpose in their work.


Step 2: Choose Your Educational Path

After identifying vocational paths of interests, individuals must carefully consider what educational paths makes the most sense to achieve their career goals (because in order to pursue your passions, you must be qualified to do so).


Some careers may require a two-year vocational degree, others a traditional four-year degree, and others may require doctoral degrees. The earlier that individuals become aware of the education requirements for their intended career paths, the earlier they can budget and plan for their next steps without over- or under-educating.


Online resources, like PathwayU, identify links between careers and fields of study meaning vocational exploration and educational planning can happen in tandem. One payoff of using career exploration platforms is that the choice of a course of a field of study is no longer random or impulsive but carefully mapped to an individual’s ultimate goals using predictive algorithms and assessment. This enables users to make wise education decisions.


Step 3: Justifying Your Investment

For most college graduates, there is a “sweet spot” where the things they are passionate about and promising career fields intersect; it is possible to pursue a sustainable passion.


Within the PathwayU platform, we identify the occupational outlook for each career provided by the Department of Labor. This helps to identify occupations that are expected to grow rapidly in the next several years, that have a large number of job openings, or that are “new and emerging” enabling individuals to identify whether a career is likely to be sustainable in the future.


Research shows that among interests, personality, and cognitive ability, the strongest predictor of income by far is interest congruence. [vi] So, not only can you pursue a career that aligns with your interests, but doing so can impact how much you make in the future which supports a compelling case for individuals to pursue their passions.


To prevent the aforementioned pervasive academic regret currently experienced by U.S. adults, individuals should be confident that the investment in their education aligns with their ultimate career goals before they start borrowing funds. If aligned early on, this can ensure students don’t use up financial aid in pursuit of educational paths that are not a great fit.  Knowing your fit to your intended career and educational trajectory builds confidence in your path and the financial investment you make to reach those goals.


Bringing It All Together

Purpose-based predictive career assessments like those provided by PathwayU guide individuals to identify vocational paths that align with their interests and which will lead to happiness and satisfaction in their work.  This may alleviate future academic and career regret, ensuring individuals invest wisely in educational paths that will support their career passions and lead to future success.


Ready to figure out the future you won’t regret?





[v] Duffy, Ryan & Bott, Elizabeth & A Allan, Blake & Torrey, Carrie & Dik, Bryan. (2011). Perceiving a Calling, Living a Calling, and Job Satisfaction: Testing a Moderated, Multiple Mediator Model. Journal of counseling psychology. 59. 50-9. 10.1037/a0026129.

[vi] Rounds, J., & Su, R. (2014). The nature and power of interests. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 98-103.