In my phone’s voice memos, there’s a recording titled “Follow your dreams.”
It’s a 25 second recording from an episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” in which Marshall, a law school student who’s always wanted to work for the National Resources Defense Council, decides to go into corporate law for a couple of years. Before he knows it, he gets sucked into corporate culture and is offered a long-term job. In the clip, his fiancee Lily confronts him about it. It goes (exactly) like this:
Lily: “Okay, that was gross. When were you going to tell me that you changed your entire career path?”
Marshall: “Nothing has changed, okay? I still want to help the environment; I just thought that maybe I could make some money for a few years! We could buy an apartment, send our kids to good schools, you could quit your job and focus on your painting. I know that you say you don’t need it, but I love you, and I want to give it to you anyway.”
The fact that this piece of dialogue hit home enough for me to pause my episode and record it for posterity says something about Yalies and their desire for security. As does the fact that, according to the Office of Career Strategy, around 30 percent of the class of 2017 went into consulting or finance after graduation, which is a whopping proportion of anything.
As Laurie Santos would say, “Imma pause and let that sink in for a bit.” That’s one in three Yalies, which means out of my six suitemates, two of us already have our destinies set in stone.
There are many nuances to this issue: low-income students who want financial stability for their families, students wanting to pay off loans or be able to pay for graduate school, etc. The people who I’m talking about in this article are those for whom going into consulting or finance isn’t essential — people who are doing it purely to maintain or boost the comfortable life with which they grew up.
I can already feel the defensive remarks coming my way, that “I truly love consulting or finance” or “I’m doing social or environmental consulting which is good for the world.” And I get it. There are without a doubt people at Yale who are passionate about consulting and finance, and enjoy it wholeheartedly. I just fail to believe that a third of Yalies all have that same passion.
That idea implies an obvious truth: There are people entering into these fields who aren’t passionate about the work they’re doing, or straight up dislike it. I know first years who aren’t even completely sure what consulting and finance are, but are considering it as a viable post-graduate option nonetheless.
My point isn’t just to highlight a problem that we’re all aware of. I’m hoping to convince those who are on the brink to choose otherwise, and remind people that being a part of the mass migration of Ivy League graduates into consulting and finance has a wider impact than just on their own lives.
Let’s start with the first issue. When there’s a high financial incentive at hand and short-term security at arm’s length, why choose otherwise? If you’re considering entering consulting or finance right after graduation, take some time to consider what you’re giving up. You’re bartering away the most precious years of your life, years rife with opportunity and forgiveness for failure. When you’re young, you have the luxury of exploration and the ability to bounce back. Instead of being forced to seek stability once you have the responsibility of a mortgage and a family, you have the chance to seek good instability. Time isn’t money — it’s worth more than money.
Another thought to consider is that (almost) all of us will graduate with a Yale degree. Many of us wanted to come here because of the value that degree inherently holds, one that we’ve forgotten. I’m not saying that a Yale degree guarantees you employment by any means, but it does offer a social safety net that allows you the chance to explore, fail and still recover. Treasure how much that’s worth.
The second issue worth considering is what impact your decision has on the wider world, which is an issue that Yale students are called to consider. Consulting and finance both have a significant impact on income inequality in the United States. Consider the expansion of the finance sector from the 1970s to 2007, which has imposed negative externalities on the wider economy due to overpayment for financial intermediation services that could’ve been done more efficiently otherwise. Rent-seeking industries (like finance) have pulled up wages for top earners in other sectors, largely because other sectors (like hard sciences and medicine) need to increase top salaries to attract talent, such as elite university students who might otherwise go into finance. It’s a simplistic explanation, but one worth doing more research on, especially if you’re going into consulting to “do good for the world.”
I’m still on season one of “How I Met Your Mother,” but here’s to hoping that Marshall takes a leap of faith and gives his dream a chance, even if it isn’t the most lucrative option on the table. If he doesn’t, he won’t be much better than Barney.
Katherine Hu is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .