With the temperatures dropping into a crisp October chill, a new season is upon us: recruiting season. Friends dressed in business-casual rush from one consulting event to another. According to the Yale Office of Career Strategy’s First Destination survey, 31.4 percent of the Class of 2015 entered the finance and consulting industries after graduation, and this year will undoubtedly be similar. There they go, sinking deeper and deeper into corporate culture, the bane of true intellectualism and social justice. Rather than pursue the high salaries of the banks and firms, we should “follow our heart” and do work that we’re passionate about. That’s the entire point of a Yale education, anyway, isn’t it? Not exactly. Instead of shaming people who are trying to attain financial stability or assuming they are greedy, we should recognize the privilege that underlies such judgment.
We have this love-hate relationship with the recruitment process. We watch acquaintances and friends land interviews, then offers, half in awe and half in disdain. Where does the disdain come from? Let’s take a step back. Why did we come to Yale in the first place? Many of us came knowing that our degree would add dollars to our salaries. How many of us really came here purely to explore our academic passions or just to change the world? The way our system is set up is contradictory to the nominal main pillars of a liberal arts education. The pressure of GPAs incentivizes us not to explore intellectually. And yet it seems that we have mild existential crises whenever something is chosen for the resume-builder rather than the ideals held by people who can afford to stay starry-eyed.
Why don’t we value practicality more? To answer this question, we have to think about Yale as an institution. Historically, only the richest and most financially stable of families had the chance to go to Yale. Although the inequities have been reduced to some extent, our culture and mindset still echo the time when only the most affluent could afford to send their kids to explore their academic passions. Outside of our disdain for consulting and finance, this perspective has now manifest in areas like the student income contribution, and even the way we think about the objectives of our education as a luxury to be enjoyed rather than a stepping stone for better-paying jobs. We forget that Yale has been built by privileged people for privileged people. The negative stigma against consulting is really just another way in which Yale’s culture of privilege has distorted our perception.
Consulting and finance might not be the most fulfilling of jobs; allegedly, the first few years involve getting cozy with Excel and Powerpoint. Still, we can’t ignore the fact that a core reason for the prevalence of consulting and finance careers is because they’re pretty safe choices. Not everyone can afford to follow their passions and work at nonprofits. To those whose families never had the opportunities to land high-paying jobs before Yale, a career in consulting or finance genuinely is a very smart option. Nothing gets done without capital. We can’t always ignore the fact that money is an important decision-making factor. Even nonprofits must follow the mantra “no margins, no mission,” meaning without enough money to sustain yourself any altruistic intentions or personal goals won’t come to fruition.
There’s another reason the financial stability of certain jobs might be appealing. We have been so swept up in the romance of America’s individualistic values that we forget that sometimes, some of us may have families depending on us for financial support in the future. For example, children of immigrants are sometimes expected to help fund younger siblings’ college tuition and to support the family in their parents’ old age. Not everyone has the freedom to plan their lives so independently of others.
Careers in consulting and finance certainly aren’t easy. One might argue that playing into the system is just as hard as doing more emotionally fulfilling work. You need a great deal mental strength and stamina to tolerate 80+-hour work weeks and a corporate culture of misogyny, cutthroat competition, and intense hoop-jumping. All of it comes with its own set of difficulties. To provide for yourself, your current family, or future one, you do what you have to do, and that’s an entirely reasonable move to make.
Just as we wouldn’t judge people for working minimum wage jobs, we shouldn’t judge people for wanting to work high-paying jobs. So yes, perhaps the world would be a better place if more Yale alums spent their time in non-consulting, non-finance industries—but also maybe there’s something wrong with a system where the most lucrative jobs are ones that play into “corporate greed.” Where are these world-changing and fulfilling jobs that can help us sustain families? Maybe we ought to stop blaming the individual and instead acknowledge the core of the problem: the setup of our society incentivizes financial and job security over personal fulfillment.