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How Much Does it Cost to Achieve Your Childhood Dream Job?

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Ask a group of children what they want to be when they grow up and you will get a list of dream occupations that run the gamut from police officer to singer, veterinarian to pilot, doctor to ninja.

To a child, these careers seem fun, exciting, and easily within reach. But how attainable are they really? What degree do you have to get to become an astronaut or lion tamer? Part of the innocence of childhood dreams is not having to worry about student loan debt or starting salary expectations.

We polled a group of children on their career aspirations, then took a look at what it will take to make those dreams come true.


Lavender, age 5

Lavender will need graduate and dental doctoral degrees in addition to her bachelor’s degree. Many dental schools offer combined advanced degree programs, which take six or seven years to complete.

Average student loan debt: $285,184

Average starting salary: $117,511


Olivia, age 5

Olivia will need a medical degree to practice this specific type of medicine that focuses on the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. In addition to her medical degree, she will need specialized training through residencies and fellowships. 

Average student loan debt: $196,520 for medical school

Average salary: $348,000

Coast Guard Member

Wyatt, age 3

While there is no degree required to enlist in the Coast Guard, Wyatt will need a high school diploma. There are also several opportunities in the Coast Guard that will require additional education, including pilot programs and officer school.

The Coast Guard, like all branches of the military, offers a student loan repayment program.

Average starting salary: $20,000 

Police Officer

Andrew, age 12

A high school diploma is traditionally the minimum requirement to become a police officer, but many departments do require at least some college or an associate’s degree. Andrew will need a bachelor’s degree, or even a master’s, for higher-ranking or specialized law enforcement positions.

Average student loan debt: $11,246 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Average starting salary: $43,967

Fashion Designer

Tori, age 6

Tori has several degree paths to choose from, including bachelor’s degrees in fashion design and fashion merchandising. But it’s a tough field and she will need not just the diploma, but the experience to make it big on the runway.

Average student loan debt: $6,789 per year at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City

Average starting salary: $42,797


Jamie, age 13

Jamie will need to get a bachelor’s degree and possibly a master’s degree to make her dream come true. Most licensing bodies require the degrees come from a school accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board.

Average student loan debt: $40,000, according to a poll by the American Institute of Architecture Students

Average starting salary: $54,728

Dolphin Trainer

Naya, age 5

While dolphin training isn’t a specific degree program, Naya will need a bachelor’s degree in one of several animal-related majors, including marine biology, zoology or animal sciences. Swimming is also a basic requirement! 

Student loan debt: While there are no average debt figures for biologists, a recent biology graduate told the Chicago Sun-Times she has about $100,000 in debt

Average marine biologist starting salary: $50,041

Computer Programmer

Austin, age 12

The good news for Austin is that with a world relying on computers, his dream job seems pretty secure for the future. And good computer science programs are in every corner of the U.S. He will likely need a bachelor’s degree for most jobs, but the higher he wants to go, he may need to look into graduate or specialized programs.

Average student loan debt: $35,000

Average starting salary: $51,129


Kinzie, age 7

Kinzie doesn’t need any degrees to make her dream come true. Just a good ear and tone. And probably years of lessons. But many professional singers are backed up with a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s from a top voice program. 

Average student loan debt: $6,904 per year at Berklee College of Music

Average starting salary: $41,106


Morgan, age 11

Morgan will need, at a minimum, a bachelor of science degree, possibly in meteorology or atmospheric sciences. Depending on what type of meteorology she wants to go into, she’ll likely also need a master’s degree or even a doctorate. She’ll also need to start brushing up on her math skills because this career choice requires a lot of advanced math knowledge.

Average student loan debt (combined undergraduate and Master of Science degree): $50,400

Average starting salary: $40,582


Luke, age 6

Depending on what type of pilot Luke wants to become—commercial, private, stunt, to name a few—he will need a bachelor’s degree to start, either in aeronautics and aviation or a related field such as aeronautics engineering. He will also need a certain amount of flight hours as part of his training and certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Average student loan debt: It varies, but many pilots report debt well over $100,000

Average starting salary: $69,776


Molly, age 7

Sure the patients are adorable (and often fluffy) but becoming a veterinarian is not easy. The hours are long and vets require multiple degrees, from a bachelor’s degree all the way up through earning their doctor of veterinary medicine degree. Just like with a doctor who treats humans, veterinarians also require multiple clinic hours and certifications. 

Average student loan debt: $167,534, per the American Veterinary Medical Association

Average starting salary: $71,314

No matter what your child wants to be when they grow up, make sure they know to study hard, budget smart, and keep at it!

*Average starting salaries sourced from PayScale.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.