Does the number 23,000 sound familiar? If you're a college graduate (or about to be), it should, because over 60% of college graduates walk away with a $23,000 outstanding student loan on average. (Consolidating your student loans offers convenience, but there are drawbacks. To learn more, see Should You Consolidate Your Student Loans?)

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And that number is, unfortunately, increasing. According to National Center for Education Statistics, the average student loan for a bachelor's degree recipient in the 1992-93 school year was approximately $12,000. According to the Project on Student Debt, the 2008 numbers are even worse, bringing us to our current average, a debt of $23,200 upon graduation. If the trend continues, we're looking at an average debt of $30,000 in the near future. Ouch.

So what's a student to do? The good news is that there are still jobs to be had, and a few in particular are noteworthy for those with debt; these positions have high employment rates, several of them are actually increasing in demand and - here's the really good news - they come with a nice, fat median salary.

  1. Systems Engineer - Median Salary: $69,200
    Systems engineers combine scientific understanding with creative problem-solving. They are responsible for building various systems (computing, mechanical and otherwise) that are efficient and manageable.
    Though there are specific degrees tagged "Systems Engineering Degree," that is not your only route to these pay-off-the-loan riches. If your degree is in engineering, this is a viable field for you, as there is a need for systems engineers in various engineering specialties.

  2. Petroleum Engineer - Median Salary: $121,600
    As the demand for petroleum and natural gas continues, petroleum engineers are in demand too; they help locate new sources, analyze the best way to get the resources out, and often oversee the implementation of their plans in new locations.

  3. Nurse Practitioner - Median Salary: $84,100
    A nurse practitioner often takes on more duties than a nurse, assisting a physician by seeing patients and dealing with minor complaints, then passing on information to the physician. Many nurses are reaching retirement age and not as many younger nurses are entering the field, all while demand for nurses continues to increase steadily. It's a good time to be a nurse. (Money isn't the only form of compensation. Check out 10 Rewarding Career Choices.)

  4. Sales Director - Median Salary: $88,000
    As a sales director, you'll not only work directly with clients but you will also oversee members of your sales force. Sales directors work on developing promotions, training sales members, and maintaining important client relationships. This is a perfect job for a business or marketing major.

  5. Physical Therapist - Median Salary: $64,400
    If you are the combination of an interest in medicine with a hands-on personality, physical therapist is a great fit. A physical therapist might be on staff with a sports team or a hospital, either dealing with athletic injuries or helping accident victims recover lost physical skills.

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  1. Intelligence Analyst - Median Salary: $68,300
    An intelligence analyst has to have the skills to sort through vast amounts of data, pull out the important factors and find the connections. Jobs for intelligence analysts can be both government and in the private sector.

  2. Network Security Consultant - Median Salary: $79,100
    As more and more businesses transfer file storage, communication and operations to computer-based solutions, computer security is increasingly important. Someone who can come in on a consultant basis, identify security breaches and provide efficient and effective solutions is someone businesses need.

  3. Professor of Postsecondary/Higher Education - Median Salary: $58,800
    If you love learning and you have a gift for transferring what you learn to others, then stay in school; just stay as a professor rather than a student. Though a higher degree (master's or doctoral) is often required, the higher return will allow you to pay back the loans. (Do you know the best places to live if you are a teacher? Find out in Best States For Teachers.)

  4. Certified Public Accountant - Median Salary: $62,100
    Maybe it's the financial woes of late, making it obvious that even the biggest companies don't always have their financial ducks in a row. Maybe it's just the caution elicited by a tight economy. Either way, certified public accountants are needed, both in private practice and in the employ of firms and corporations.

  5. Attorney - Median Salary: $101,000
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 13% increase in employment of lawyers between 2008 and 2018; this employment increase is due to "increasing demand for legal services in such areas as healthcare, intellectual property, bankruptcy, corporate and security litigation, antitrust law and environmental law". As the internet continues to change the business environment, government regulations tighten on financial and environmental aspects of business, and more people respond to lay-offs by starting their own business, legal help will be a needed resource.

The Bottom Line
If you're just starting out on your college career, talk to your advisor about the right educational track for pursuing one of these careers. It's tough starting out in a tight economy, but you can look ahead, make smart choices, and be well on your way out of debt with a career that will be rewarding both financially and personally.

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: The New iPod And The Roller Coaster Market.

All salary data is from The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

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