As graduation looms, the class of 2013 must make difficult choices. Asset management or derivative design? Financial analyst or management associate? Most critically of all: investment banking or consulting?
Perhaps there is life after Yale that involves neither of those two professions. But one would not know it from Friday’s career fair, where the vast majority of company interviewers represented financial institutions or consulting firms. Students seeking other options were largely out of luck.
For me, the fair was an eye-opening experience. I had never fully understood why so many graduates joined the financial sector. After all, how many freshmen enter Yale thinking that, in four years, they will end up on Wall Street? Yet I have seen many students, most with no interest in stock markets or management, abandon their passions for careers in consulting or banking. Many say they will trade currencies only for a few years before applying to graduate school, but my observations suggest that those plans often don’t materialize.
The career fair is not the sole cause of this phenomenon, but it is emblematic of a campus culture that pushes students towards those fields. The bulk of Undergraduate Career Service’s advice focuses on hedge fund interviews; the global affairs major requires students to play the role of consultants in their senior project. English majors are often reminded by administrators and by Masters’ Teas that they too can pursue a corporate career, as if that were the only path that does not demand a specific skill set.
With this monoculture, who can blame students who come to believe consulting and finance are the only postgraduation options? Why conduct an extensive job search when financial firms come to us offering sushi, sake and a simple application process? Events like the career fair give this process Yale’s imprimatur.
Such a focus seems odd for a university that prides itself on its commitment to public service. Yet the career fair had precious few nonprofits or governmental agencies represented. Certainly, those organizations are less likely to be able to afford extensive (and expensive) recruiting strategies. But if Yale takes its civic responsibility seriously, it should do more to counterbalance that hurdle. Otherwise, too many students will continue to believe that lucrative financial jobs are the only worthy career path.
Public service is not the only option sorely lacking from the fair. Journalism and public health were professions conspicuously missing from the event, as were all careers having anything to do with the fine arts. Surprisingly at a university that seeks to better develop its science and engineering offerings, technology firms were largely absent as well, although investment banks seemed eager to recruit that sort of talent.
This financial fervor is bad for Yale. It repels prospective students who seek a less career-oriented, more liberal arts-focused environment. It must disappoint faculty, who see their favorite students abandon their fields in favor of consulting posts. Graduate investment bankers may be good for Yale’s endowment, but a lack of alumni career diversity surely weakens the University’s brand.
Nor is this trend good for America. The whole nation loses when many of its smartest graduates spend their 20s playing the zero-sum game of finance, pioneering increasingly risky strategies to outperform each others’ firms. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have called for our greater civic commitment from our generation. We cannot fulfill that obligation by sitting in cubicles formatting clients’ quarterly reports.
Some students will always feel called to finance or consulting. So be it. Such careers could be socially useful, in moderation. But no senior should ever feel like those professions are the only option for graduate life. Success at Yale should not be measured by first-year salaries or by the relative lavishness of on-campus recruiting potlatches.
Yale’s policies currently reinforce this damaging culture. Instead, they should combat it. Administrators should take care not to portray these careers as the natural next step after a Yale education. Perhaps more radical solutions could be considered: The University could offer more funding to subsidize public service jobs, or pay for underrepresented career options’ presence on campus.
More simply, Career Services should reach out to other sectors so as to ensure its career fair reflects an accurate view of postgraduate life. Inviting representatives of a less skewed set of companies would be a good first step. Otherwise, the career fair will continue to paint a skewed, damaging picture of life after Yale.
Joshua Revesz is a senior in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.