Although the benefits of college seem obvious and have been well-documented (higher average salary and reported happiness being the main factors), higher education has become unaffordable for so many people. Because of the student loan crisis, many are now questioning whether the reportedly higher salary earned by college grads is worth the ensuing debt.

We surveyed 1,000 Americans with a university or post-graduate degree, aged 25 and up, to gain a clearer understanding of their current financial situation. The results:

  • 1 in 4 are making under $30K/year, while 14% earn below the poverty threshold
  • Close to half regularly feel uncertain about their ability to pay rent and report living paycheck to paycheck
  • 40% are “highly concerned” about student loan payments restarting

25% of College Grads Earn Less Than $30K/Year

Although the average starting salary for the class of 2020 was $50,000 per year, one in four survey respondents say they make less than $30,000 per year. This amount changes predictably when looking at the different college majors of respondents.

The largest percentage (38%) of business, engineering, biomedical sciences, and computer science majors make upwards of $90K per year, while only 17% of social science, communication/journalism, education, and arts majors make the same amount.

14% of College Grads Currently Make Below the Federal Poverty Threshold

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one person under the age of 65 with no children meets the poverty threshold when making less than $14,097 per year. Of the total 1,000 respondents we surveyed, approximately one in seven reports making under $15,000 per year in personal income. When looking at respondents with one or more dependents, 12%, or about one in eight, still report making less than $15K per year in personal income.

48% of College Grads Live Paycheck to Paycheck

Although one of the assumed benefits of going to college is at least some degree of financial stability, 21% of respondents say they live paycheck to paycheck most of the time, while an additional 27% say they live paycheck to paycheck all of the time.

Additionally, 29% of respondents say they feel uncertain that they will have the money to pay their rent or mortgage every month, and many have also put off major life milestones because they don’t have the money to afford them.

Majority of College Grads Do Not Work in Their Field of Study

In addition to dealing with financial insecurity, only 46% of college grads surveyed say they currently work in their field of study. 29% report working in a different field, while 16% of those under age 54 (and therefore not likely retired) say they are currently unemployed.

Respondents were very divided when it came to their prospects of finding a well-paying job in their field of study, ostensibly the goal of any college graduate. 22% say they are very hopeful they’ll attain a well-paying job in their field, 31% are somewhat hopeful, 26% are not very hopeful, and 21% are not at all hopeful.

69% of College Grads Are Concerned About Student Loan Payments Restarting

As might be expected, 29% of respondents say they are somewhat concerned about student loan payments restarting, while an overwhelming 40% say they are highly concerned. This makes sense when you consider that 28% of graduates also say that student loan payments have a major impact on their finances.

34% of respondents also say their financial situation is worse now than it was prior to the pandemic, and adding student loan payments to the mix would only increase their financial difficulties.

While a notable percentage of respondents do report working at a well–paying job in their field and enjoying financial stability, this is very dependent on their major. According to these results, earning a four-year or even post-graduate degree does not guarantee financial success, with respondents reporting stress from student loans, living paycheck to paycheck, and putting off major life milestones.


This survey was commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish between March 22 and March 23, 2022. In total, 1,000 participants in the U.S. were surveyed. All participants had to pass through demographic filters to ensure they were over the age of 25 and had obtained a four-year or post-graduate degree.