What do our best colleges, Barack Obama, and the AAA have in common?

We all want you to get out of advertising.

More or less. This recent NY Times piece, “Big Paycheck or Service? Students Are Put to Test” talks a lot about the financial sector, but the spirit is the same. Just substitute Madison Avenue when they mention Wall Street. Check out the link to see the photos…

Big Paycheck or Service? Students Are Put to Test

Published: June 23, 2008

A prominent education professor at Harvard has begun leading “reflection” seminars at three highly selective colleges, which he hopes will push undergraduates to think more deeply about the connection between their educations and aspirations.

The professor, Howard Gardner, hopes the seminars will encourage more students to consider public service and other careers beyond the consulting and financial jobs that he says are almost the automatic next step for so many graduates of top colleges.

“Is this what a Harvard education is for?” asked Professor Gardner, who is teaching the seminars at Harvard, Amherst and Colby with colleagues. “Are Ivy League schools simply becoming selecting mechanisms for Wall Street?”

Although others have expressed similar concerns in recent years, his views have gained support on the Harvard campus with students, faculty and even the new president, Drew Gilpin Faust, who made the topic the cornerstone of her address to seniors during commencement week. Dr. Faust noted that in the past year, whenever she has met with students, their first question has always been the same: “Why are so many of us going to Wall Street?”

On other campuses as well, officials are questioning with new vigor whether too many top students who might otherwise turn their talents to a broader array of fields are being lured by high-paying corporate jobs, and whether colleges should do more to encourage students to consider other careers, especially public service.

As Adam M. Guren, a new Harvard graduate who will be pursuing his doctorate in economics, put it, “A lot of students have been asking the question: ‘We came to Harvard as freshmen to change the world, and we’re leaving to become investment bankers — why is this?’ ”

In her speech, Dr. Faust highlighted the results of a spring survey by The Crimson, the student newspaper, which found that about 20 percent of this year’s graduates were heading into financial services and management consulting, down from about 22 percent last year.

She acknowledged the appeal of the jobs — the money, the promise of stimulating work, the security for students of knowing they will be working alongside their friends, a commitment of only two or three years. She urged the students to search for measures of personal success beyond financial security, despite “the all but irresistible recruiting juggernaut.”

In his commencement speech last month at Wesleyan University, Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, voiced a similar theme when he sounded an impassioned call to public service, and warned that the pursuit of narrow self-interest — “the big house and the nice suits and the other things that our money culture says you should buy … betrays a poverty of ambition.”

Universities are so concerned about this issue that some — Amherst, Tufts, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, for example — have expanded public service fellowships and internships. “We’re in the business of graduating people who will make the world better in some way,” said Anthony Marx, Amherst’s president. “That’s what justifies the expense of the education.”

This year, Tufts announced that it would pay off college loans for graduates who chose public service jobs. And officials at Harvard, Penn, Amherst and a number of other colleges say one reason they have begun emphasizing grants instead of loans in financial aid is so students do not feel pressured by their debts to pursue lucrative careers.

In an interview this spring, Dr. Faust held up as a model Teach for America, the nonprofit program that has recruited large numbers of students at top colleges to teach in low-income schools for two years. With 9 percent of Harvard’s senior class applying to Teach for America this year, 37 students made the cut.

One of the seniors that Dr. Faust met with in the winter was Dhaval Chadha, who wanted her support for a “diversity in careers” forum he was organizing. Mr. Chadha, 21, who grew up in India, will spend the next year on a fellowship in Brazil, working with an antipoverty group in preparation for what he says will be his career in public service.

“I don’t think a lot of people at Harvard know what a hedge fund or a consulting firm is when they start,” he said. But then, he explained, juniors and seniors being recruited come back from expensive dinners out and “start throwing salaries around,” and students begin to understand that “there’s already a kind of prestige attached to working for those people.”

“It’s like applying to college all over again,” he added. “ ‘I applied to 8 to 10 Ivy League colleges, and I got in here. I applied to these 40 companies, and I got into these ones.’ It’s exactly the thing that appeals to the Harvard competitive spirit.”

Evgenia Peeva, who will be working for McKinsey, said: “You have to be part of the competition. You have to prove to yourself and everyone else that you can do it.”

Bryan Barnhill, a Harvard senior from a public high school in Detroit, took a semester off and will graduate next year. “Some people say it’s a selfish thing to do,” he said, referring to the lucrative jobs. “They say you should be using your talent for something beneficial for your community. Terms like ‘corporate whore’ would be tossed around.”

Competition for corporate jobs is fierce. But applying, usually online through Harvard’s Office of Career Services, is easy.

“I don’t think I would have applied if it wasn’t almost an automatic option,” said Neil Sawhney, 21, a recent graduate who turned down a management consulting job for a paralegal job, and plans to go to law school. “It’s hard to overstate how much everyone is doing it.”

But for many Harvard seniors, corporate work represents security. “It’s scary not knowing what you’re going to do,” said Chen Xie, who is joining McKinsey. “A lot of people think, ‘Here’s a plan, let’s just do the safe thing.’ ”

When Akshay Ganju began at Harvard four years ago, he burned with ambition to be a doctor. “You get to help people all the time,” he said. But his junior year he took a summer internship with Bain & Company, and loved it. “It was like going to Harvard,” said Mr. Ganju, 21, a new graduate. “There were so many smart people there.”

Now he is about to join Bain for a full-time job. The generous salary, Mr. Ganju said, will make it possible to pay off his college loans.

He still may end up going to medical school, he said, or maybe business school.

“I don’t think the point of our education is to make us rich,” Mr. Ganju said. “We all feel we want to do something meaningful beyond just accumulating wealth.”

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  1. Alphonse Credenza says:

    More of the same old ridiculousness from Harvard profs and its students.

    “We’re in the business of graduating people who will make the world better in some way,” said Anthony Marx, Amherst’s president. “That’s what justifies the expense of the education.”

    (As a former two-time ivy leaguer, I say…) these Ivy-fostered social ideals deserve nothing but the trash bin, whence they came. Look at what the Ivory Tower has created for itself — giant bureaucracies of radical thought which agressively promote thought codes (“speech codes”) to abridge individual liberty. Wealthy Godzillas of education churning out like-minded, bright but poorly educated youth for other gigantic organizations.

    What about the essential importance of the traditional purposes of education? These schools no longer consider it of primary importance to foster the development of

    Incisive analysis

    the discipline required for clear thinking

    Persuasive expression, oral and written

    An understanding of where we came from

    A love of nation


    With exceptions, Ivy fails at this miserably — but one can, of course, take courses on the validity of Koranic ideals, lesbianism in the middle ages, desconstructing the Constitution, etc.

    Education factories turning out product for consumption by those who need it.

  2. @Alphonse,

    I am in full agreement with your last point about lesbianism in the middle ages. My main problem with the Ivy League is their unnecessary emphasis on lesbianism in the middle ages. Personally, I think lesbianism should be studied with the same significance young and old.

    With just about everything else you’ve written I stand separate.

    Enjoy the site.


  3. Alphonse Credenza says:

    Wonderful! I do like your site.

    Down with radical liberal academicians!

  4. Alphonse, I think you missed the joke.

  5. Amanda says:

    @Alphonse and Steve

    Your entire exchange filled me with mirthful laughter. Thanks.

    I just have one question, regarding this statement:

    “As…a new Harvard graduate who will be pursuing his doctorate in economics, put it, “A lot of students have been asking the question: ‘We came to Harvard as freshmen to change the world, and we’re leaving to become investment bankers…’ ”

    And my question is this: Who the hell goes to Harvard and majors in ECONOMICS in an effort to “change the world”?!? What’s he going to do? Be a guest speaker on CNN?

    Sounds like a load of crap to me… or maybe someone watched too many 80s movies…

    I think the overall problem with academia is this: it’s a culture of over-educated and under-experienced middle-class ego-centric social retards who would rather throw money and theories at a problem than actually solve it. They are too far removed from the experience of others to make any kind of lasting solution, because their superior education has purchased a convenient escape from the bulk of society. Meanwhile, it’s the starving artists and dropouts and homeless and blue-collar workers who are the backbone of society; the “un-educated” and “poor” are the people in the trenches. So the faculty at Harvard can blah blah blah all they like about going out and doing some good, and engaging in “public service” but it’s just a weekend or a “working vacation” to people who will never know what it’s like to worry about where the next rent check is coming from.

    (there’s a message in here somewhere…)

    But, hooray for the effort, Harvard- it’s a start.

  6. Alphonse Credenza says:

    Steve, I got the joke. And I do like your site.

    But this isn’t a joke: RAZE HARVARD. That would be a start.

    No, no. Save the buildings. We can use them for something worthwhile.

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