I have noticed an unusual air grip fellow upperclassmen as they go through the recruiting process for positions with some of the most prestigious names in the financial and consulting fields. Students aspiring for careers in those industries, the two that perhaps offer the most streamlined post-graduate paths for today’s students, are commonly being slandered for a lack of originality and commitment to service. Our school’s pre-professional crowd and student organizations have been hit with a wave of cynicism akin to the phrase “followers of the mob.” Standing in marked contrast to Stanford’s strong roots in public service, careers in investment banking have been subject to forceful bashing on campus. And, alas, the irony of it all: our most talented lot gloating with five-figure offers after having disparaged Goldman Sachs as home wreckers and perpetrators of the financial crisis.
Stanford students, like college students anywhere else, like to be reassured that they are diverse creatures or rather, clear outliers in the pack. At first I was naively surprised to see Stanford students using buzz words such as “sustainability” or “development” (arguably the most ambiguous words for expressing career interests) and attracting envy and respect from their peers. Apparently doing anything at all, besides the cliché of finance or consulting, of course, could potentially convey an authenticity of character. Surprisingly, however, students in less prestigious universities (for lack of a better word) don’t seem to share Stanford’s disapproving outlook on glamorous career paths. In my experience, students attending state schools are particularly less contemptuous of the financial services industry and favor openly articulating their interest in pursuing pre-defined career paths. Similarly, their majors and coursework have not been handpicked and tailored to conceal practical interests by means of fancy engineering degrees, which rarely abstract from building foundations in business operations.
There is something shameful about going to Stanford and failing to emerge having carved out differentiated life aspirations. Stanford students’ growing repudiation of lucrative careers in finance and consulting may be part of an emerging trend of the same intellectual elitism once exclusively used to caricature Ivy Leaguers.
Stanford’s select few headed for star-studded careers in either consulting or i-banking have woefully been placed at the forefront of Stanford’s long-standing battle to bury defined paths to success. Not surprisingly, the years preceding the financial crisis witnessed pre-medical and pre-law students facing similar antipathy. Stanford faculty, most noticeably former vice provost John Bravman, encouraged students to be bold while planning careers, while President John Hennessy concludes almost every address with the shared theme of service. Opportunities such as Teach for America, which are able to combine public service as well as retain exclusivity, have seen a tremendous surge in applicants. While both public service and lambasting the greed fueling the recession have moved our student body as a collective, nothing matters more than differentiation or individual branding to the Stanford student.
Shahryar Kamal Malik ’12