college debt to earnings ratio map

Lucidchart Explains: College Debt to Earnings Ratio Map

Lucid Content

Reading time: about 3 min

It’s no great revelation to most of us that student loan debt is crippling graduates. Student loan debt ranks second only to mortgage debt in consumer debt, and graduates are collectively shouldering a $1.5 trillion burden. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever that students become better informed about the cost of their education and the likelihood that the debt incurred will be worth the probable salary earned after graduation.

Lucidchart wanted to help students and parents easily visualize the debt-to-earnings ratios of top colleges in the United States. Using its dynamic visual workspace technology, Lucidchart compared the top 100 ranked schools on the US News & World Report Best Colleges list with data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard to better understand the amount of federal loan debt students are burdened with after graduation versus the average earnings of graduates. Debt is calculated as the median debt students had upon entering repayment and earnings are calculated as the median earnings 10 years after starting school. 

Click through the heat map of the top 100 schools. The larger and redder the dot, the higher the debt-to-earnings ratio. The map also shows a list view of the schools where you can sort by the US News ranking, median debt, median earnings and the highest and lowest debt-to-earnings ratios. 

Some findings are surprising at first glance: Harvard students, for instance, only have an average of $7,000 in debt, while the average earnings of graduates is $89,700 per year. On the other hand, students holding acceptance letters to schools like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Pepperdine University, Carnegie Mellon, or other colleges with the highest median debt may have more to think about: a $62,100 per year salary after attending Syracuse University sounds great, but not when it’s accompanied by a $27,000 debt.

Student loan debt is confusing, easy to incur and difficult to pay off. Lucidchart hopes this map will help students and parents better see and understand this complex information so they are armed with the data they need to make the best decisions for their individual needs. 

Take a closer look at this diagram

How we did it, step by step

Using Lucidchart to create this dynamic map was easy and took just a few simple steps.

We first pulled the data for the top 100 colleges from the publicly available U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard. We then organized the data we needed (college names, city, population, debt-to-earnings ratio, etc.) into a separate Google Sheets spreadsheet, which you can find here.

Making the map

Using the map shape library in Lucidchart, we created a map of the United States and then used data linking to bring the data from Google Sheets into the Lucidchart document. Next, we created circles to represent each school and conditional formatting to visually represent their debt-to-earnings ratio. Then, we took the data linking a step further and created the information boxes with smart fields to show the additional details and context for each school and used actions to show and hide these boxes depending on which school the viewer is interacting with.

Sorting the data

When sorting the data, we filtered down our data to the top (or bottom) ten schools along a few different metrics, and imported them via Lucidchart’s smart containers. These smart containers allow users to group data and easily switch between different views and categories to get a better understanding of relationships. In this case, smart containers provided a better understanding of how a school’s ranking relates to its median debt and earnings.

About Lucidchart

Lucidchart, a cloud-based intelligent diagramming application, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This intuitive, cloud-based solution empowers teams to collaborate in real-time to build flowcharts, mockups, UML diagrams, customer journey maps, and more. Lucidchart propels teams forward to build the future faster. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit

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