What Are Those Pricey Degrees Really Worth?

We asked four recent grads about the blood, sweat, and cold hard cash it took to earn their ticket to the real world.

pricey degrees

Emily Houldcroft

UMass Boston Class of 2016
Annual Salary $66,000
Student-Loan Debt $59,000

After completing her degree in exercise and health sciences, the fortysomething Quincy resident was able to leave her previous job as a group fitness instructor at the local YMCA and open her own personal-fitness training business, more than doubling her earnings in the process. “Going back and getting that education took me to the next level,” she says, adding that it was worth taking on school debt to catch the attention of a local fitness studio owner, who offered to share his space for her new venture.

Jackie Kelleher

Boston College Class of 2016
Annual Base Salary $75,000
Student-Loan Debt About $40,000

Kelleher started her search for the perfect manage-ment consulting job long before she graduated college. So when the Boston resident earned her degree in economics last year, she was ready to hit the ground running as a consulting analyst in the Boston office of Accenture. Her student loans, meanwhile, currently hover around $40,000—but, she says, “I’ve been able to pay down around $7,000 already because I found a great job. And I also live with my parents. That really helps, but I kind of wanted to anyway.”

Jennifer Porn

UMass Amherst Class of 2016
Annual Salary $65,000
Student-Loan Debt $26,000

“I knew I was going to be a business major and go into accounting before I chose a college,” recalls the central Massachusetts native. And after hearing stories of other graduates of private-school business programs wind up with crushing student loan debt, she decided to attend a public school to keep her overall costs manageable. That’s not the only way that thinking years ahead has kept her stress levels down. “I interned with an accounting firm over the winter of my junior year,” she says. “And by the time I started my senior year, they had offered me a job for after graduation. So I spent my whole final year not worrying about it.”

Mia Steck

Dartmouth College Class of 2017
Annual Salary About $70,000
Student-Loan Debt $0

Steck spent almost six months interviewing for general consulting positions with pharma and biotech companies. It’s finally paid off: This fall, the economics and earth science major will begin her job with a consulting firm in New York City. The Wellesley native’s starting salary is bolstered by the fact that she has no student loans, thanks to her parents. “I definitely felt a lot of pressure as time went on during the search process, but now I’m really optimistic,” she says. “And on the bright side, not getting a job right away meant that I got to spend the summer working as a sailing instructor on Nantucket.”