Start thinking now about how your degree will translate into a career. February 21, 2012 Editor's Note: Kip Tips columnist Cameron Huddleston is on maternity leave. We have invited some of our favorite personal-finance bloggers to contribute guest posts in her absence. By Reyna GobelIt's never too early in life to start budgeting, especially if you've got student-loan debts about to come due once you graduate. And although you can't determine exactly how much money you'll make when you graduate, you should be able to establish a ballpark estimate with these tips from Edwin Koc, the director of Strategic and Foundation Research at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE): 1. Start with salary surveys for new graduates. Many universities subscribe to NACE's database of salaries for recent grads or maintain their own data on their own alumni. Such surveys are a good gauge of what graduates in a multitude of majors are earning in their first jobs. NACE surveys are conducted four times per year. The September survey is the most helpful for determining future income because it's based on job offers up to four months after graduation. Advertisement If you're still a few years from graduation, ask your school's career center to see surveys from previous years to see income trends. 2. Consider location, industry, and years of experience. Average starting salaries vary by city and years of experience. Starting salaries will likely be higher for those with internships or other related job experience than for someone with a degree and no work experience. Utilize NACE's Job Seekers Salary Calculator to calculate average salary by location, years of experience and occupation. 3. Review placement rates. Your school's career center may maintain placement-rate data, which tracks graduates' employment rates for your school. If the placement data is available, determine how likely it is you will get a job after graduation -- and how soon. Advertisement Now that you've got a better sense of your potential income, you can better assess the value of your tuition payments and your own efforts to make the most of the degree. Will a graduate degree in your field pay off? Should you be networking more, meeting with your career center, and seeking internships? Career planning can mean the difference between whether you live in your first apartment after graduation or your parent's basement. Reyna Gobel is a freelance journalist who specializes in financial fitness. She is also the author of Graduation Debt: How To Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life.