A report compiled by the University’s Office of Institutional Research last June showed that the number of Yalies who had gone into “business and finance” — a category that includes jobs such as banking, real estate, accounting and areas of consulting — had decreased significantly over the past decade.
The decline has been mirrored across Ivy League schools since 2006: at Princeton, according to an annual report issued by Princeton’s Office of Career Services, 35.9 percent of the class of 2010 entered finance after graduation, down from 46 percent in 2006. Similarly, at Harvard, while more graduates enter finance than any other field, a survey administered in May 2011 showed that only 17 percent of the graduating class held a job in finance, after a peak of 28 percent in 2008.
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Still, the declining numbers do not necessarily point to a change in students’ career ambitions. Yale professors and students interviewed said that despite international financial instability and a rising anti-banking climate that boiled over in the form of Occupy Wall Street, they still observe great interest in the field.
In this year’s finance recruiting season, Yalies submitted 2,781 internship applications, said Allyson Moore, associate dean of Yale College and director of Undergraduate Career Services. Even though this number represents a drop from last year’s 3,148 applications, she said the recruiting process remains as competitive as ever.
“Given my presence in the recruiting process currently, I wouldn’t have been able to discern that fewer and fewer Yale students decide to go into finance/consulting post-graduation,” Cecillia Xie ’13, a Trumbull junior interested in consulting, said. “Perhaps it’s because I’m in the middle of it all, but I still get the impression that a large percentage of Yale students attempt to work in those two fields.”
ON THE DECLINE?
According to the University’s report on “Life After Yale College” that summarized post-graduation plans for the senior class, the percentage of students employed in business and finance had declined to a low of 14 percent, after a peak in 2000 when 31 percent of the Yale senior class went to work in those sectors after graduation.
While only 93 graduates of the class of 2010 held jobs in areas of business and finance, Yale professors still questioned whether this drop in numbers truly constitutes a trend.
“Last year’s rate [of Yale graduates holding finance jobs] is the lowest it has ever been reported since the early 1990s,” said professor Anthony Smith, director of undergraduate studies for the Economics Department. “However, I’m not convinced this is really a trend. Just talking to students, I still detect substantial interest in finance and consulting.”
Smith said that variations in numbers from year to year are likely to occur, adding that he “wouldn’t read too much into these data.” For instance, he said, the percentage of Yale graduates in finance and business dropped to 20 percent in 2002, likely because of the economic downturn, but rose again to 26 percent in 2004 when the economy recovered.
Smith added that the report compiled by OIR does not include information about every Yale College graduate. Of the 1,280 questionnaires sent to members of the Yale class of 2010, only 869 were returned.
Statistics professor Jonathan Reuning-Scherer agreed that he would also be reluctant to regard the drop in hiring as a trend. He said that, although the numbers of Yale graduates working in business and finance for 2010 are lower than in previous years, the three previous years for which data are available — 2004, 2006 and 2008 — all have similar values around 25 percent.
To declare the decrease a “trend,” he added, one would have to wait a few more years or notice a one- or two-year dip: “Only time will tell,” he said.
Moore said the number of applications to business and finance jobs in 2011 was 650 higher than the 2010 figure, indicating a “cyclical” nature of student interest.
“We have seen continued interest from Yale students in finance jobs,” said Jennifer Worthington, who works in human resources for the investment bank Barclays Capital, in an email. “Since 2010, we have had an increase in the number of interns and graduates joining Barclays Capital from Yale.”
Smith said that, as the DUS for the Economics Department, he has interacted with several undergraduates who plan to work in finance and consulting and added that Yalies’ interest in the areas of business and consulting is also confirmed by their academic preferences, as demonstrated by the popularity of economics and financial theory courses.
FINANCE IN THE ‘MILLENIAL’ GENERATION
While it remains to be seen whether the drop in hiring will become a trend, public discourse has been shaken by the anti-corporation movement sparked by Occupy Wall Street last fall. This October, Occupy New Haven — the city’s branch of a nationwide protest regarding income inequality — took root on the New Haven Green, and a month later Yale students organized a protest at a Morgan Stanley information session at The Study hotel..
Smith said he did not believe Occupy was related to the reported changes. But Marina Keegan ’12, former president of the Yale College Democrats and an organizer of the Occupy Morgan Stanley protest, said she believes that the decrease in the number of finance internship applications this year is partially due to the critical questions about income inequality raised by the national Occupy Wall Street movement.
“There’s definitely been more conversation around this issue on campus and nationally, so it’s exciting to see that there are almost 400 less applications this year,” Keegan said.
Moore, the UCS director, said that there might be several causes for the drop in the percentage of Yale College graduates entering finance, listing generational values as one.
“Many of these students are ‘millennials,’ who, as a generational cohort, tend to believe in the socially redeeming value of work and, as such, may be more civic-minded than prior generations,” Moore said.
A junior in Ezra Stiles planning to go into finance after graduation attributed the declining number of students entering finance to an increasingly negative perception of those who work within financial system.
“The vast majority of people think that those holding jobs in finance take advantage of the rest of America,” said the junior, who declined to give his name, citing concerns about endangering his employment prospects. “Whether this is true or not, it’s up for debate though.”
Still, Keegan said that although the current generation may value creative and civic-minded activities more than previous generations, financial companies are not blind to this switch.
“Even if there’s this change, banks understand that and play into it to recruit students, which I think is scary,” she said.
A junior in Morse College pursuing a career in sales and trading said that he believes the financial system has been “indiscriminately” and “unfairly” demonized, though he added that there might be a silver lining.
“[T]his drop in hiring might be a positive thing,” he said, requesting anonymity to protect his employment prospects. “The people dissuaded by the pseudo-ethical popular rhetoric about Wall Street were probably only in it for the money rather than a genuine interest in the job.”