“Unless you landed a job with a salary so high you couldn’t possibly spend it all, you need to begin thinking about developing a reasonable monthly budget.”
“Life After Yale” booklet, page 1, 2011 ed.
Keep reading or skip right ahead to the “Million-Dollar Retirement Advice for the Future Millionaire” chapter.
Published annually by Undergraduate Career Services, the “Life After Yale” manual teems with morsels of insight from filing your taxes to preparing salmon with dill cream sauce. This primer for all things practical includes every piece of information recent graduates need to know (in 102 pages, no less!).
The well-intended “survival guide” or “gift” (words on the cover, not mine) shares general advice with graduating seniors busting out into the real world. Just by scanning the first few pages, though, you notice the guidance begins with the premise that the graduates doing the surviving will be headed for an apartment in a big city looking for work, or with a job already in tow.
[Note: This assumption is reasonable. According to the Office for Institutional Research’s most recent study of alumni activities one year after graduation, in which overall response rate ranged from 68 percent to 82 percent, 75 percent of members from the class of 2010 are employed.]
Don’t get too excited about income tax breaks just yet! Start from the beginning — flip back a couple of sections, to the part on how to dress to impress. Let’s say it is a balmy November afternoon in a Caribbean city: What should you wear to the office? If you’re Gerald McElroy ’09, you wander the streets of Santo Domingo in a Superman costume … so, business casual?
A red cape, fake pectorals and a stunning set of synthetic abs in lieu of a tie and blazer — this is McElroy’s dress code for the day. Collecting donations from drivers and pedestrians for a local non-governmental organization became one of his many activities as a Fulbright scholar in the Dominican Republic after graduating from Yale. He currently acts as development director for the Yale-founded student organization turned 501(c)3 nonprofit, Yspaniola.
McElroy’s choice to chase after his own international projects led him to some of the most uncertain waters an alumnus can tread after college. Many seniors surely suit up every year to partake in the well-oiled recruiting machines of Wall Street and Teach For America. On the other hand, it’s impossible to know the number of Yalies who go down non-traditional avenues following their senior year. “Non-traditional,” of course, within the Yale context — meaning, any option outside of graduate school, the finance and consulting sectors, or even teaching. Be it the arts, journalism or social work, unconventional careers can take plenty of forms for a whole demographic of post-Yale Bulldogs.
Taking the plunge into foreign territory after shedding your cap and gown involves a myriad of considerations: social groups, vocational interests, chance encounters, fellowship applications followed by a coveted “Yes” or a “Sorry, we can’t fund your proposal.” The paths to finance, consulting, or graduate school are quite clear in comparison.
“I know lots of seniors, myself included, who are planning and thinking about doing very non-traditional things abroad,” says Catherine Osborn ’12, a Latin American Studies major hoping to work in development and urban policy in Brazil. “But we’re very hesitant to announce them to the winds because who knows? We might not get funding and have to change our plans.”
Yalies who opt to go abroad after graduation do so after accepting and understanding the risks inherent in their personal choices. What remains a little tricky is pinpointing the common denominator anchoring their experiences, what ultimate set of values determines their decision to pursue (or not to pursue) the alternative.
Many postgraduate fellowships awarded each year offer students the opportunity to flexibly mold their post-Yale experiences according to their needs and long-term plans. While the Center for International and Professional Experience houses its own Office of Fellowship Programs (OFP), other available channels of funding include residential colleges, the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
More than 100 postgraduate fellowships were either won through OFP or reported to their office in the 2010-11 academic year, said Kelly McLaughlin, director of fellowship programs and outcomes assessment.
“Veering off of well-known paths requires students to be prepared to deal not only with more uncertainty and challenges but also potentially, often happily, to find a much better fit for their interests and talents in the long run,” he added.
While most of these challenges take place once a student arrives at the postgraduate destination, the phase leading up to the actual experience can be nearly as stressful for applicants.
Yet Osborn said that candidates have a great deal of control over the process because the applications include written essays and proposals that they can refine, and interviews for which they can prepare. She has applied for the Fox International Fellowship through the MacMillan Center and the OFP’s Parker Huang travel fellowship, among others.
The risk in planning a postgraduation project that relies on fellowship funding from Yale “is more in the fact that all the deadlines are later,” she said. “So you might be ineligible for other potential jobs.” The success of postgraduate fellowship applications usually depends on how students can wrestle with several aspects of the process and other available opportunities.
During his freshman year at Yale, McElroy learned of Yspaniola, then just an undergraduate student group founded earlier in that year that was co-organizing a trip to the Dominican Republic that “changed [his] life.”
The rest is not history, as to this day McElroy remains heavily engaged with Yspaniola. Even before college, he had grown interested in languages (he speaks fluent French, Spanish and Haitian Creole) and Latin America, and he mostly surrounded himself with Yalies who had kindred interests.
“I felt comfortable in pursuing what might be perceived as non-traditional to some,” McElroy said. “During my time at Yale I met many other idealistic individuals like myself who shared the belief that we can go forth and make a positive impact in the world.”
After spending his first year out of Yale working for a law firm in Paris, France, he has made a second home of the Dominican Republic for the past two years through his Fulbright research on microfinance and his involvement in Yspaniola.
Yspaniola encourages sustainable advancement and empowerment in marginalized communities of Dominicans and Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Headquartered in the northern region, in the cities of Santiago and Esperanza, the bulk of their work gravitates around the nearby Batey Libertad and Batey Boca de Mao.
Bateys are rural communities in the Dominican Republic that originally expanded through the sugarcane industry in the first half of the 20th century as plantations increasingly employed unregulated Haitian migrant labor. At present, providing these communities with basic public services is an onerous task mired in red tape.
McElroy described how Yspaniola has evolved from its Yale roots, sponsoring several service-learning trips from the U.S., while also developing a women’s leadership institute, a microenterprise project and a tutoring program. Initiatives start on the ground and come about organically, he added, the product of collaboration between Dominicans and Haitians living in the batey.
A university scholarship fund, one of Yspaniola’s main projects, was established by Jonathan DiMaio ’09 on a Yale Parker Huang Fellowship after graduation (he is now the organization’s executive director). Two scholars from the batey receive generous stipends, academic support and leadership training each year to study in nearby Santiago, with the expectation that they will return and serve as local leaders.
“We recognize that the people from the community know what’s best for them,” said Julie Gladnick, Yspaniola’s local program director, as we take a stroll in Batey Libertad. Poverty, much like the dust on the ground, covers every inch of the area. As I look around I feel like a stranger in my own country, and I’m a bit mortified.
The 6:45 a.m. bus ride from Santo Domingo to Esperanza proved uneventful. I sat in the back row, knowing that no one ever dares to use the claustrophobic bus bathroom. I closed the shades and shut my eyes. I wouldn’t be missing much by ignoring the scenery rolling outside my window: mountains beyond mountains, the occasional mattress strapped on the back of a shabby motorcycle.
I arrived. Gladnick introduced me in Creole to every community member we ran into, as “un ami de Ge Ge,” McElroy’s friend. Everybody there knows him. She elucidated everything I asked her: the residents’ personal histories, the racial relations inside the batey.
The littlest toddlers poked fun at me: “Américain, américain!” I found it endearing — worse things have been said about my sickly pale appearance. I kept meeting new faces, seeing naked babies sitting on the dirt. I accompanied a kind woman with joint pains to the local hospital. Everybody was warm, devoid of the bitterness I expected, an environment so deprived yet so welcoming. I began to comprehend what may drive Yalies back to Batey Libertad, or for that matter, any comparable place in need.
Once he receives his Yale diploma, Thomas Smyth ’12 and two other partners will board a one-way flight to Zambia, another nation where innovative work could make a difference.
During Smyth’s summer in Zambia under the Leitner Fellowship before his senior year, he identified a huge demand for small energy sources in rural areas off the grid, even with the near ubiquity of cell phones. From this trip, he came up with Zamsolar, a new company aimed at distributing solar products in under-electrified communities. Despite the venture’s social and environmental mission, he said, making Zamsolar a for-profit enterprise will help it get its products out to more citizens.
As with any startup, Zamsolar’s founders will be expected to put sweat, equity and capital into their operations. Smyth will earn enough to cover daily living expenses, he explained, while every other dollar from his investors will go toward the business.
The obvious risks intrinsic to this undertaking did not deter him, he said, in part due to the smorgasbord of academic and networking services provided at Yale.
“It would be much scarier for me if I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I was doing,” added Smyth.
In fact, Smyth claims that our generation has a fundamentally different attitude with regard to risk than generations before us. His senior essay, entitled “The Riskless Generation,” expounds on our anti-risk outlook and how to get us out of that mindset.
“We are more risk-averse in terms of everything,” he said. “People are closing off doors that could lead them to incredible opportunities.”
Alternately, Osborn thinks that saying we’re a generation without a universal cause may be more accurate, in the sense that that we don’t get as outraged around a given issue as our predecessors once did. As such, fields or occupations will seem risky or safe based on one’s peer group and personal financial situation. Setting out on a less traditional career path, she added, commonly involves guidance from close peers or role models who have been successful in the first steps of a similar decision.
Fascinated and a bit envious, I scan an email from Pete Martin ’10 in Bogotá, Colombia, one of Osborn’s former colleagues at the Yale Globalist. As I read his account of tackling uncertainty head on in the South American city, I think to myself: “At last, I have found the prototype of the risk-seeking student, the antidote to our generation’s malaise.”
Alas, Martin might not concur.
“I was very scared of trying to be a real adult with a ‘real’ job in the U.S.,” he wrote. “To me, moving abroad seemed easier and less scary in a lot of ways.”
Martin, a political science major at Yale and a former opinion editor for the News, decided to move to Bogotá after searching (“not too hard,” he admitted) for employment in the United States and receiving no job offers.
With adequate Spanish-speaking abilities under his belt but no fellowships or grants filling his pockets, his first gigs in Colombia consisted of teaching English. All the same, Martin would not have relied on Yale’s career resources to prepare him for the rapid clientele growth he saw.
“I’m sure UCS would have been clueless about how to help me find a job in Latin America,” he maintained.
A couple of months later, Martin also took on freelance editing and writing jobs, and even lent his voice for audio recordings in English textbooks. Low living costs combined with the high demand for English language skills in Bogotá, he said, have allowed Martin to erect a comfortable lifestyle for himself, affording him the ability to travel around the region, become fluent in Spanish, and save some of his income.
In spite of conventional assumptions, Martin’s gamble seems to have paid off.
“With the hindsight of my professional success here,” he said, “I’m confident that my professional prospects were better in Bogotá from September 2010 to now than they would have been in New York, where I would have lived if I hadn’t moved abroad.”
It is unclear what the 21 percent of the Class of 2010 graduates who didn’t respond to the post-graduation employment surveys are up to these days.
Maybe they keep themselves so busy working that they have no time to answer questionnaires or even their mothers. Or are they the unemployed, still scouring the job market? Are they unpaid interns? Or are they some of the risk-takers Smyth suggests our generation lacks?
The Office of Institutional Research study doesn’t answer this, but Smyth might still have a point (again, we must take into account the varying response rates throughout the years and the timing of each survey). Whereas the study shows that the percentage of employment following graduation has steadily gone up from 16 percent since the class of 1960, the percentage of “others and indefinites” has decreased since that same year, starting from 13 percent, peaking at 41 percent for the class of 1973, and currently standing at 4 percent.
The sheer number of graduates flocking more and more toward safe and gainful employment, at least in the past 10 years, could be logically pegged to the turbulent economic backdrop of our times.
“There is some evidence consistent with those who graduate in recessions being more risk-averse,” observed Lisa Khan, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Management known for her research regarding the effects of recessions on college graduates’ decision-making and salaries. “However, a number of other factors could also explain that behavior.”
Graduates could also be avoiding entrance into a toxic economy. Application numbers for fellowships nationwide have risen noticeably in the wake of the recent financial crisis, fellowship director McLaughlin said. Yale has been no exception, with a steady increase in applications for both national and Yale fellowships.
For those who instead choose to enter firms during a recession, Kahn has found they are less likely to leave, relative to their peers at these firms. These workers are unsure of the probability of finding another job, she suggested, even if it doesn’t provide conclusive proof of increased risk aversion.
She continued: “I have seen some work showing that those who graduate in recessions are less likely to start their own companies at early stages in their careers — again, possibly suggesting increased risk aversion.”
That being the case, Smyth’s endeavors stand as a distinct rarity among the already rare. A political science major with no previous start-up experience is setting out into another country to build a business from the ground up, our current global recession notwithstanding. Fortunately, he said, the fledgling Zamsolar enjoys the nurturing assistance of mentors and investors.
“We couldn’t make this project work without people in the finance industry,” Smyth acknowledged. “My business would not be possible without access to capital.”
But if Smyth’s idealism is any indication, this risky new venture runs not only on capital but on the hope of bringing about tangible contributions to Africa and beyond. Accordingly, he says he has “no idea” what he will do after Zamsolar. He intends to stay in the continent until he “makes it work.”
Tully McLoughlin ’11 breathes in and then pauses. He appears to know all the answers.
“I think there’s a small percentage of those who graduate college that know exactly what they’re doing, and take a small step in pursuing what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I don’t fall into that camp,” he continued.
McLoughlin is currently in Accra, Ghana, partly to be out in the world, partly to test his capabilities. Through Yale’s year-long Cohen Public Service Fellowship, McLoughlin works as a project officer for Farm Radio International, a nonprofit focused on improving food security and agricultural techniques for African small farmers. As part of his proposal, he also planned to put up a youth radio talent competition for senior high school students regarding agricultural topics.
He is now halfway through his year abroad. It was important for him as a Yale senior to escape the sense of applying for something by default, he said. The first two years after college, he asserted, are still an appropriate time for people to continue figuring out their next step.
“There’s a lot to be gained from the undefinable challenges of living and working in a foreign country,” McLoughlin said. “But it’s also the reason why it’s so hard to persuade people to do it, especially to people graduating from college now who are looking to seek their teeth into and know what they are facing.”
For McLoughlin, when it comes to life abroad and in Africa, not everything is in the job description.
“Going from a structured college life, filled with pre-cooked meals, registrars, advisers and organized extracurricular activities to a foreign country without anyone really looking out for you or giving you feedback was a little bit scary,” said Zachary Fuhrer ’11, who is in Brazil on the Gordon Grand Research Fellowship researching the politics of prostitution in the United States and Brazil from a human rights and public health perspective.
Fuhrer, a former arts and living editor for the News, studied abroad in Northeastern Brazil during his junior year, took five semesters of Portuguese classes at Yale and wrote a senior thesis that required him to read 19th century Brazilian texts. In his quest to feed his growing interest for the South American nation, he primed himself for his postgraduate experience.
He decided to go abroad, he explained, “because spending my first year out chasing a developing interest in Brazilian public health policy seemed far more challenging and fulfilling than an entry-level desk job geared toward recent graduates.”
The offices of Morgan Stanley near Times Square don’t look evil or decidedly miserable. As a recent Yale alum — a bouncy Humanities major turned stockbroker — led our group up elevators and stairs into a conference room furnished with sandwiches, fruit and beverages, it was easy to forget how I got there. That feeling didn’t last long. It was quite explicit: all the Yale freshmen and sophomores in the room were there due to their Latino or African-American heritage. This was our tailored day trip, not just any kind of recruitment session. The Kool-Aid, however, tasted no different than the that doled out at my prior visit to Goldman Sachs.
Major investment banks and consulting firms have the time and the resources to fine-tune their recruitment strategies down to an absolute science, with lucrative offers, countless panels, and meetings that cater to minority students.
“The difficult thing is when you compare living and working abroad to moving to New York City,” McLoughlin said. “The New York path is much clearer, it’s a simpler sell. Finance firms make it seem like a no-brainer.”
Not only is it an easier sell, but a much more evident option. UCS Director Allyson Moore recognized in an interview that financial services and management consulting firms claim the upper hand when it comes to having a more visible campus presence than most employers in other industries.
Moore has partnered with Dwight Hall and other student groups, she said, to brainstorm additional ways to heighten student awareness and increase the visibility of less moneyed fields such as the non-profit and public sectors. UCS and Dwight Hall have agreed to co-sponsor a nonprofit career fair during the next academic year.
The largest employer of Yale graduates for the past few years happens to be a nonprofit, Teach For America: 24 percent of the class of 2010 survey respondents listed in the OIR study went into education, the highest percentage of all categories. If there is any resemblance between the appeal of a TFA position and a Wall Street job, McLoughlin said, it is their streamlined process of employment. Any Ivy League student can recognize and adapt to the methodology of applications + interviews = competition, and who doesn’t like to win competitions?
The debate around job recruiting, though, often overlooks students’ financial circumstances, career motivations and even the likelihood of having a genuine interest in finance or consulting.
Case in point: seeing how a whirlwind of factors drove one Yale senior away from the development sector and into a desk at the prestigious management consulting firm Bain & Company after college. This senior, who will be referred to as Lindsay in this article, asked to remain anonymous out of respect for her family’s economic situation.
Lindsay had already spent two summers working for Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a nonprofit founded by Yale economics professor Dean Karlan that measures the impact of international development programs. She expected to work for the organization after graduation.
Her thinking eventually began to shift for a few pragmatic reasons. Although she is morally and personally committed to development as her ultimate career path, she opted for a consulting job that could provide her with specialized know-how for future work in her field of choice. Moreover, the realistic pressures of paying off her student loans weighed on her shoulders.
Her plan is to work for Bain for two or three years, she said, and learn about the managing and scaling of different projects. Later on, she will apply this set of skills toward development initiatives, where her true passions lie.
“You’re always thinking of risk when you’re thinking of unconventional paths: Will it be the best thing that will further my professional goals?,” Lindsay mentioned. “Maybe the objective of my work [at Bain] is not going to be personally exciting, but the mechanisms of that work are what I’m interested in.”
Lindsay said she gets a fair amount of flak from some of her friends working at nonprofits for going to “the dark side.”
“Dark side.” A Yale colloquialism reserved only for jobs in finance, consulting, banking and business. That’s a big side. But at some juncture, the “dark side” joke ends and its underlying criticism unravels.
“The world needs your commitment to public service,” University President Richard Levin told graduates at the 2006 Baccalaureate Address. “We at Yale expect it.”
For some Yalies, this commitment does not necessarily mean going into finance. On Nov. 15, around 50 students picketed a Morgan Stanley information session outside of the Study Hotel on Chapel Street, where it was being held. Right across the street, an “alternative info session” took place.
The goal of Occupy Morgan Stanley, according to an email announcement sent the day before, was to “make students think more critically about what they’re going to be doing next year in a broader context.”
Volunteers carrying posters and rallying calls filled the sidewalk as their fellow Elis walked past them and went inside the hotel. By questioning — or “demonizing,” depending on whom you ask — the recruiting event, the demonstration became Yale’s translation of the global Occupy movement.
“Twenty-five percent is too much talent spent!,” the protesters chanted.
That percentage is a bit inflated. The 25 percent figure refers to the respondents of a survey on employment sent to recent alumni, Moore said, not the total number of graduates of a given class. For the class of 2010 data, for example, only about 869 of the approximately 1,280 graduates, around 68 percent of the class, replied to the survey.
But focusing on the facts and numbers would be missing the larger picture. Whether a future banker or an aspiring artist, most Yalies interviewed actually admit to appreciating a campus atmosphere where the ideas and decisions of their peers do not stand unchallenged.
“I think it’s always great to have a conversation about it and not take anything for granted, be aware of all opportunities,” said Smyth, also an attendant and observer (not a protester) at Occupy Morgan Stanley. “We should pay more attention to institutions and less to individual choices. It doesn’t make sense to criticize a student for a career choice.”
If anything, questioning students’ vocational paths shines a light on a perceived moral component of a Yale education, one that Osborn thinks could be emphasized more in the public forum.
“What will you do with your privilege?” asked one of the signs in the protest.
Yalies cite the networks, the acquired skills and the vast resources from a wide range of fields, not to mention the recognition carried by the “Yale” name. Is this what enables President Levin to expect public service from graduates?
Just by virtue of being a Yale student, Osborn noted, undergraduates benefit from a broad spectrum of possibilities. What is important and tougher to quantify, she said, is how Yalies take advantage of the resources and options available to them in order to improve the lives of others in the future.
“Not everyone who does finance is a sellout, just like not everyone who goes into development is a saint,” said McElroy.
Conversely, in alignment with Smyth’s and Martin’s expressed views, the responsibility to foster public service might not hold any unique bearing on Yalies, but on the general population.
Over kosher shawarma at a Diamond District Israeli restaurant, Fuhrer had lunch with Nick Arons, a New York-based lawyer and a former Fulbright scholar in Northeastern Brazil. During their conversation, Fuhrer said, Arons gave him a piece of advice he still keeps with him.
“He said, ‘Nothing matters until you’re 30’,” Fuhrer recalled in our interview. “This was not meant to discredit any of the work you do in college and your immediate post-grad life, but to encourage a spirit of risk-taking, as in ‘You’re young. You have plenty of time to sit at a desk in Brooks Brothers slacks and wax poetic about your bright college years over summer trips to Martha’s Vineyard.’”
Fuhrer’s statement suggests a step-at-a-time mentality, which is adopted by most recent graduates abroad. For McElroy, he now aspires to get a master’s degree in development. Afterwards, he hopes to work in the field as a development practitioner in Latin America and could eventually go into development consulting, while continuing to serve on the executive board of Yspaniola.
While McElroy’s past choices have naturally led him to this next stride, Fuhrer does not consider his current work as a stepping stone for an upcoming phase in his life. Fuhrer said worrying too much about his next steps would get in the way of his research.
Back at Yale, how normal a non-traditional path looks to students depends on their overall undergraduate life, the friends with whom they socialize and the extracurriculars they cherish. Seniors tend to overemphasize what their peers are doing right after graduation, ignoring the possibility of diverging career choices down the line.
“It is hard to pass moral judgment on other Yalies based on their first year jobs after graduation,” Osborn said, given the amount of possible approaches to serve the public good.
Osborn learned this past week that she received the Huang fellowship. She can temporarily accept the award, pending notification from the Fox fellowship in April, and then decide between them if she also receives the latter.
At this stage in the academic year, several current seniors may lack concrete plans and recent alumni have spent enough months out of Yale to put their experiences in perspective. Since their first postgraduate moves are not likely to dictate the course of their entire career, the only thing that stays certain in all of their futures is their desire to get somewhere. Wherever “somewhere” happens to be, they seem to agree, there is no dearth of time.
“I do love the [African] continent and there is so much more to explore,” McLoughlin said, optimistically. “For now, in my 20s at least, this is the time to have adventures.”