Why Wall Street and Consulting Firms Win at the Elite College Brain Drain Game

The question of why graduates of prestigious undergraduate schools still wind up, in disproportionate numbers, at places like Goldman and McKinsey may seem so obvious as to be unworthy of notice. These schools are elite institutions, correct? Certainly this was all part of these students’ plans. They went to fancy academies to make sure they occupied a good position in society. The most obvious way to assure that is to get on a well-recognized fast-track career path. Even if things don’t work out as planned, these graduates will have accumulated more markers of their superior intelligence and work habits on their resumes, which surely will afford them better options later than other choices would have.

A new article in Washington Monthly describes why this conventional picture isn’t as tidy as it seems. Author Amy Binder and a small research team investigated recruitment processes at two campuses, Harvard and Stanford, and interviewed sixty undergraduates and recent grads who, seemingly by accident, wound up competing for and getting these highly-sought-after jobs. In fact, none of them had any interest in these careers before they encountered a systematic effort, in conjunct with the campus recruitment offices, to groom students for these plum positions. Consider: these firms still are magnets for new graduates:

In 2007, just before the global financial meltdown, almost 50 percent of Harvard seniors (58 percent of the men, 43 percent of the women) took jobs on Wall Street. That number contracted sharply during the Great Recession, but after 2009 it began rising again. Among this year’s graduating class at Harvard, 31 percent took jobs that will channel their energies into derivatives, mergers, and often destructive outsourcing. And many more tried out for such positions. According to a study by the sociologist Lauren Rivera, a full 70 percent of Harvard’s senior class submits résumés to Wall Street and consulting firms.

Meanwhile, among Harvard seniors who had secured employment last spring, a mere 3.5 percent were headed to government and politics, 5 percent to health-related fields, and 8.8 percent to any form of public service. Only high-tech fields captured the interest of graduating seniors at anywhere near the level of finance and consulting, and even this seemingly healthy countertrend has problems.

Yet perversely, the students aren’t keen about these jobs despite having competed fiercely to land them. As Binder writes:

Of the 31 percent of graduating Harvard seniors going into finance and consulting, only 6.39 percent say that they expect to remain in those sectors (0.68 percent of those going into consulting jobs and 5.71 percent of those heading to financial services).

It’s pretty much a given that way fewer than 6% will drop out. The compensation in these fields is well above those of other jobs that the employees can’t leave without taking a serious pay cut. And that pay gap widens further as they advance in these careers. That may not sound like a big sacrifice until you also realize that if someone has gotten married, or (worse from the perspective of mobility) had had kids, they have likely gotten themselves locked into overheads (houses, private schools, spousal expectations) that are very difficult to unwind. And these careers are so stressful (trust me on this one, despite the lofty pay and glamourous trappings, you have no right to say “no” to unreasonable tasks, time pressure, total hours, or travel demands) that buying yourself presents to reward yourself, aka “retail therapy,” becomes part of the coping mechanism. And that’s before you get to the fact that many of these firms are cult-like (Goldman and Bain are widely cited examples). The combination of routine boundary violations, limited contact with people outside the firm (family and friends go on the back burner) and elitism means that the employers strengthen their psychological hold over their staffers. For instance, even among those who had left Goldman to go to splashy jobs, virtually every one I spoke to said it took them two years to get over the idea that leaving Goldman was a major step down in life.

And as the article describes, persuasively, the students who wind up in these jobs never had any intention of going there when they arrived as freshmen, and indeed, didn’t know of the firms, much the less types of jobs they offered. But they soon fall in the force field of a finely tuned seduction, um, marketing process. Remember, getting staff with glittering resumes is crucial for selling premium-priced financial and consulting services. If you have staff who went to schools that rejected the executives at your clients, surely you really do have “talent” that deserves premium pay. Thus, these employers go to great lengths to make sure they land their targets:

To get to those kids, the nation’s top banks and consulting firms began by competing with each other to become “platinum” members of the career services programs run by the most elite schools. Winners of this pay-for-play competition get the best tables at campus career fairs, access to students’ email in-boxes, entrée to the most impressive banquet rooms for holding information sessions and receptions, bundled delivery of applicants’ résumés, and space and scheduled times to hold one-on-one interviews, among other goods and services known as “recruitment.”

It makes perfect sense that the universities actively support these recruiting campaigns. These institutions have every reason to cultivate ties with powerful private sector players that offer well-paid jobs that are an almost certain meal ticket to other well-paid jobs. These employers, eager to deepen their ties with the top academies in the hope of gaining competitive advantage, will almost certainly make generous donations (the schools are also clever in how they reward graduates who are consistent donors to keep them anteing up, so their are both individual as well as institutional reasons to curry favor with top schools). While the faculty is appalled that so many capable, intellectually curious students wind up in jobs with dubious to negative social value, they aren’t driving this bus. The campus administrators are. From their perspective, steering more students get big-ticket jobs creates a virtuous circle for the school: more well-heeled graduates makes for a bigger pool of income from which to solicit donations.

The article goes into great detail about how the wooing process works. An overview:

The recruitment process gins up early in the fall term and ends well before the academic year is over. Firms seek to sign up recruits as soon as possible, since it cuts off competing employers by removing fresh talent from the market. At the top of the calendar are firms’ information sessions, which are designed to educate students not only on the nitty-gritty of the application process (résumé-writing workshops, dates for résumé drops) but, more importantly, on what it means personally and socially to work for a high-prestige firm.

Marketing is heavy. Firms seek to make themselves the inevitable choice of students through slick video presentations, excellent food (more than one interviewee mentioned this perk), and a show of raw human talent. Investment banks and consulting firms do not send human resources personnel to work the room; they send teams of professionals to woo the young crowd, including recent graduates of the very schools where recruitment is taking place—an effective strategy for making the jobs relatable.

Most freshmen remain reasonably insulated from recruiters, but once students come back to school as sophomores they find it impossible not to notice their older peers’ “stampede to start applying” for jobs on Wall Street…

Nathan, who successfully landed a junior internship and then a job at a top investment bank, told us how these presentations simultaneously warmed him up for these jobs and also wore him down. “At Harvard,” he said, “you always want to seize every opportunity you can,” which is why he went to the sessions offered by the firms and gathered the “glossy pamphlets,” where everything “sounds so amazing.”

But it wasn’t just excitement that led him to apply; it was also, he said, “inertia.” Portraying himself as “extremely risk averse,” Nathan told us he hadn’t made “a conscious decision to pursue banking. It was more, I guess—I mean, I hate to use the term ‘fear of missing out.’ I didn’t know what I was missing by not applying, so I ended up doing my research and tossing my hat in.” Convinced by the information sessions that he would miss gaining “marketable skills” if he didn’t bite, he bit hard and prepared his file.

Yves here. These college recruitment blitzes are vastly more concerted and sophisticated than what I encountered when getting an MBA in the early 1980s. And mind you, then as now MBA programs are as much employment agencies as they are a combo trade/finishing school. But even then, most incoming MBAs, like the college freshmen, hadn’t heard about consulting firms and knew little about Wall Street. The business school students were there to burnish their credentials and wind up on a better career track (in most cases, not precisely defined) than the one they’d been on. It’s disconcerting to see an MBA grooming model applied so efficiently to even more malleable undergraduates. The recruiters are effective at capturing the ideal target: highly competitive, insecure individuals who don’t have a strong talent or gift that has given them an early career focus and are also drawn to the notion of a clear employment path. Keep in mind that these days, with children’s activities in the US vastly more structured than they were a generation ago, and job tenures short, the idea of a clear career progression has to be even more appealing than before.

And if you read the article in full, you’ll see that the need for a high salary to help pay down student loans doesn’t crop up as a motivator. Admittedly, this seeming omission might reflect reticence on the students’ part or bias in how Binder and her team framed the study But assuming we an take this work at face value, it suggests that students that had the luxury of choice nevertheless found themselves pulled by psychological manipulation they didn’t understand into careers they regard with considerable doubt.

Some may regard hand-wringing about the fate of elite college graduates as overblown. Should we be upset that they wind up slaves to what is now in fashion, career-wise? It’s not clear that this is that big a loss of “talent” since access to good-quality secondary and tertiary education in the US was wildly uneven before college costs exploded.

Nevertheless, this tracking should be a cause for concern. Whether or not you buy the PR of these schools that they have indeed admitted only the most deserving, at a minimum these kids are capable and motivated. A lot in the way of parental and society resources have been devoted to their training. It would be preferable if the broader community from this caliber of schooling.

Second, this feeder system deepens and institutionalizes class and income stratification. By contrast, when I went to college in the 1970s, most students were not terribly careerist. For instance, while one of my college roommates did get a law degree and wound up at Davis Polk (almost as an afterthought), one was deeply involved in the South African divesture movement and wound up playing important policy roles in the South African government in the post-aparatheid era, another worked at Brown managing the scholarly technology group, a third became a poet and the last an architect (note her family regarded her choice as downwardly mobile; architects don’t make a lot of money unless they go into development, but downwardly mobile was also not that far down back then). If I were to widen the sample (say to the people I knew in my college dorm, or through theater, my big extracurricular activity), it would have an even lower proportion who wound up on the conventional professional career paths.

Even with our current restricted class mobility, young adults have a wide range of career options and often make choices based on an inadequate understanding not just of what they are getting into but of their own character. The pressure of landing the right or even just a tolerable job leads people to convince prospective employers, and thus themselves, that they are a good fit. Some of this self-delusion and discomfort is hard to avoid in established careers; think of the stereotypical Organization Man of the 1950s who had to observe different but no less constraining routines and ritutals. But the idea that universities are enabling and profiting from this process rather than serving their nominal charges, the students, is yet another ugly proof that pretty much everything has a price in our plutocratic society.

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  1. proximity1

    It was in the main a brilliant article. Thanks for the link yesterday and this further attention today. This is a key feature of how and why things are and, especially, how they remain, so terribly messed up. I’d quibble with only one aspect of the story’s narrative, namely, the idea that many Harvard faculty members are these supposedly enlightened proponents of progressive social and economic principles. As I see it, most Harvard faculty are quite politically and socially conservative and turning out little establishment-perpetuating clones is exactly what they intend to do and what they fully understand they’re there to do.

    1. DJG

      I agree about the conservatism of much of “cutting-edge” and “fiercely insightful” academic interests. Much of so-called cultural studies is just a chance for the academic to write a book on the implications of patriarchy among appliance sales or some such frippery (leading to tenure). We live in an intensely fearful, baroque era, and academics at elite schools are part of this new baroque.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t have direct contact there any more, but economics faculties virtually everywhere are conservative and it is most popular concentration at Harvard.

      1. DJG

        I was surprised to discover that at the College of University of Chicago, economics is the most popular major, with about 11 percent of the undergrads. From my point of view, that’s like letting them major in anti-vaccination studies–educational malpractice.

      2. Tehanu

        It probably extends beyond the economics department – I spoke to Harvard Law School faculty about a year ago about the TTP and they were overall in favor.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Different sample. The post is about undergraduates and thus their faculty.

          Professional school faculty can be guaranteed to be more conservative, if nothing else due to the fact that they can and usually do make more from consulting to private sector companies than from their day jobs.

  2. Johann Sebastian Schminson

    “The recruiters are effective at capturing the ideal target: highly competitive, insecure individuals who don’t have a strong talent or gift that has given them an early career focus and are also drawn to the notion of a clear employment path.”

    Highly competitive, insecure, not talented or gifted and lacking career focus is the capitalist ideal? These are the folks Wall Street wants to remove from the pool of potential employees before their competition scoops them up?

    C. Northcote Parkinson had a lot to say about the promotion of mediocrity. According to Parkinson, management only promotes those not a threat to management. Do that enough times, sequentially, and you get imbeciles running formerly well-managed companies.


    A VERY smart businessperson once told me: “Never be afraid to promote someone who is more capable than you are. The last thing a General should do is to fear his best soldiers.”

    We’re stewed, screwed, and tattooed.

    1. TedWa

      Promoting mediocrity allows the elites the security of never being challenged no matter how idiotic their ideas are. I was considering, Where are the Presidents or politicians that someday want to be carved into Mt Rushmore? None of them care for that kind of notoriety anymore, no – they’re happy with a library named after them, as if that’s the highest ideal they could ever hope to attain. The dumbing down of America is going full speed ahead, with lawmakers and judges fully behind it.
      Indeed, stewed (slowly being boiled), screwed and tattooed.
      Thanks for that link.

      1. proximity1

        RE: “Where are the Presidents or politicians that someday want to be carved into Mt Rushmore?”

        Don’t kid yourself. Not that he’d actually admit to it, but I’d bet money I don’t have that President Barack -Yes,-I-Do-Have-A-Nobel-Peace-Prize- Obama would love to have his dumb mug chiseled into Mt. Rushmore. The really sad part is that, the way the nation and things are going, one day that might actually happen. Americans will come and look upon the scene and coo, “Ooooh, Barack Obama, first and only Black president of the United States! Oooh! And there’s Hilary!, first and only female president of the United States.”

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The top firms are really really eager to get super bright kids with sparkling resumes. Smart is a different axis than insecure. The ideal recruit for these firms is someone who is super bright and insightful but thinks they got into good schools by virtue of hard work, not by virtue of their intelligence.

      1. Johann Sebastian Schminson

        It was the “. . . individuals who don’t have a strong talent or gift . . .” I was referring to.

        I view being “smart” or super bright as being gifts.

      2. impermanence

        It is NOT what you know that’s important, instead, it’s what you know that CAN NOT know that means everything.

        Highly intellectual people are a dime a dozen. Those who know how to use their intelligence are extremely rare.

        1. proximity1

          That’s interesting but, without examples, how are we to know what you consider these different types to be? As I’m curious about your views of this, I would appreciate some examples, please, for —

          A) Highly intellectual people (those a-dime-a-dozen types).

          B) Those (extremely rare ) who know how to use their intelligence.

          I agree that the terms “intellectual” and “intelligent” aren’t simple synonyms. But without some named examples, I can only guess at what you mean.

    3. James Levy

      These people are not mediocre–they have a tremendous ability to do what is asked of them but little inner direction or joy in what they are doing. They are highly capable but insecure, and when you are at MIT (as my daughter is) you find that although you are great at X (compared to the general population), you are suddenly middling among your peers (and this is a scary, unnerving realization if you have always been the best). Thus, the insecurity goes into hyperdrive. So you want to jump through a hoop to reestablish your sense of being among the best. The recruiter from McKinsey or Goldman promises you a chance to “redeem” yourself and get paid beaucoup bucks in the process. Guess what the outcome is.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Look, as one of those people, I have to disagree with you, although it may be different now by virtue of many kids maturing later now due to protective parenting (parentally organized non-school time, summer camps, etc). And I also gather that kids now are far more conformist generally (for instance, I am told what we at NC would regard as normal intellectual debate, carried out verbally, would be seen as contentious and rude by most kids).

        When I went to Harvard, there was no doubt that I’d graduate. The only doubt was whether I’d get a summa. So I don’t buy your “these were mediocre kids by Ivy standards who were suddenly fearful of their status and thus were easily exploited by these Svengalis.” I did have summa grades in my major (which was an elite concentration, it took only 1/3 of all applicants). But I blew of doing a thesis, to the great annoyance of my department (I was the only summa candidate my year) because I was busy spring term producing one show, stage managing another, negotiating a professional summer theater season with the Harvard Ed School (which proved to be debilitating, we were in negotiations daily for eight weeks), applying to law schools, business schools, and looking for a job.

        I got into all the grad schools to which I had applied and decided to get an MBA rather than going to law school or getting a JD/MBA. Perversely, I did understand myself well enough that if I went to law school, I’d wind up doing whatever seemed to be the most prestigious type of law (which would have wound me up at a Wall Street law firm).

        Now this was the early 1980s and women were still not very well accepted at top firms or even in the business world generally, so you had to have strong credentials to even get a look-see. So you can argue that any women who were serious about getting a job had to be hypercompetitive or you’d be road kill. That was verified by the fact that no one would hire me out of college. I hadn’t majored in economics and I was a woman, ergo I must not be serious (Citibank, who came closest to hiring me, said I reminded them of their most successful money markets trader, but she quit to become an actress).

        I did interview with consulting firms at B-school (pretty much everyone in the MBA class sought interviews with them) but wan’t taken with them and the feeing was mutual. They liked people with more experience (I had gone directly from college to business school) and I didn’t like the way they used language (pretentious, faux cerebral. McKinsey was the least bad in that regard and nevertheless made me an offer. They said if I changed my mind about Wall Street, to get in contact with them, so that is how that came about). By contrast, investment banks were full of liberal arts majors who had decent math aptitude. I was a liberal arts major who had thought about majoring in math and so thought I had the chops. And I very much wanted to live in New York, and if you go into finance, you have to live in New York or other major financial centers, and that was a plus for me.

        It turns out the people who didn’t hire me out of college were probably right. I don’t have the wiring to make for a good big organization person. But how can you figure that out in your 20s? I had to work at two of the best managed firms in the US (which still have huge problems, trust me) and even then it took me a while to work that out.

        In other words, I was clear I wanted to have a good income. Wall Street and consulting were clearly then the most attractive career paths, money-wise. and no less bad than less well paid career tracks in terms of how they treated women (pretty badly).

        As a woman who expected to be self-supporting in a business world not friendly to women, getting solid credentials was also important. So while I was not intellectually insecure, I was insecure about my position generally (reinforced by having gone to ten different schools prior to college). You seem unable to recognize that, as I said earlier, being personally secure and intellectually secure really are different axes. You are conflating the two.

        1. Ysaac


          What would your advice be to the current generation,especially those who are simply lost after doing their bachelor’s?

  3. Jim in SC

    When I read Amy Binder’s article, I couldn’t help but think that these students are adrift when it comes to discovering anything about themselves or the meaning of life in college. The benefit of attending a school that leads one to ask the deep questions is lifelong. You continue to think about those questions forever. These Ivy League students who are groomed into the finance and consulting jobs won’t, by and large, have that opportunity. Those crucial college years will be reduced to dates on their resumes.

  4. Scott

    The other aspects of recruiting only from top schools (which has also afflicted Silicon Valley) is that is shows, from the outside, that these organizations really aren’t interested in attracting the best workforce or even the staff that would create the most value. For example, recruiting top Ohio State graduates (where an education is every bit as good as Harvard) who stays in Cleveland will probably cost the firm less money and do better at the job than a mid-level Harvard graduate living in New York.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You need to see how high the consulting fees are. The ability to charge the fees is based on the not-so-subtle intellectual intimidation: “Our staff all went to schools you guys could never get into, and we would never have hired someone with your resume.” And the premium these firms charge is large.

      The disproof of your thesis is that no new contender has broken into, much the less threatened, the status of the top consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain, BCG). Booz which was a smidge less elite in its hiring strategies when I was a kid, is now predominantly a government player and not a major factor in America’s board rooms.

      1. James Levy

        Yves, all I think that proves is that these are self-perpetuating “aristocracies” of powerful insiders, not that they have all the talent because they only recruit from half a dozen “elite” schools. It would be like saying all the aristocrats in Europe were the “best” officers because, look, they were all the generals in all the armies! The fact that you almost always had to have a patent of nobility (or in Britain be the younger son of someone who did) to rise to those positions did not prove that there were no sons of merchants or peasants who could have done your job just as well. It just reflected a largely closed system of recruitment and advancement.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I have to differ with you on this one. The top Wall Street and consulting firm really do seek out the students with the best academic records at these schools. In the later 1980s, when Wall Street pay outpaced that of consulting, McKinsey was in a serious funk as to what to do about it, since they were having trouble getting students from their targeted top 10% of MBA programs. Goldman later had a similar internal panic when it was having trouble getting these students due to competition from private equity and hedge funds.

          Both sets of recruiters now hire more broadly since both industries are bigger. They hire from the top 30% of the class rather than the top 10%. And McKinsey has (reluctantly) gone outside MBA programs and also recruits PhDs and even lawyers.

          And the only “artistocrats” in this mix are children of Goldman management committee members, who are assured jobs and have an advantage at making partner at Goldman. McKinsey is actually leery of people who come from wealthy, connected backgrounds in that they won’t be insecure and controllable enough. One McKinsey staffer, a very capable, personable and smart son of the chairman of a major private bank (which therefore meant he was old WASP) did’t make partner, and pretty much no one could fathom why, since his work was of the same or better caliber than people who did make partner and he clearly had the client relations skills and connections. The only plausible explanation was that he’d never been visibly worried enough (in demeanor or action) about becoming partner, and it stuck in the craw of the partners. And note that it was never that he was arrogant and assumed he’d make partner, merely that he was always composed and polite, and also so well organized and smart that he never had to punish himself or his teams to do good work.

          Most of these firms like kids who came from the wrong side of the tracks but got to fancy schools. That type is generally even more easily impressed by their trappings and perceived power.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Yes, that it what they are sorting for. You can still get really smart and credentialed people who are still extremely deferential.

          1. James Levy

            I’m confused–are you saying that the only top talent in the nation resides in ten or twelve schools? That the best people at the University of Illinois or UCLA are ipso facto not as good as anyone in the top 10% at, say, Princeton? Because that seems to be what you are saying, and I don’t think that is demonstrably true. The only thing true about the Princeton kid is that he or she will very likely get more and better opportunities because the people making such decisions hold the same prejudice that you do.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              With all due respect, your comment is a straw man.

              I first tell you why I don;t think the fancy schools are aristocracies (and they really were in the 1700 and 1800s, although what passed for an aristocracy in the US then had at most local/regional influence), PARTICULARLY as far as hiring for elite firms is concerned. I know tons of parents who went to Ivies (in some cases both parents) who were serious donors and their kids were not admitted. And at the top consulting firms, having a parent who was partner there is if anything a demerit in terms of getting hired by them.

              I never here or anywhere said the fancy schools have a lock on “talent”. They do have a lock of “if someone went there, they can be presumed to have met a pretty high minimum standard”. As with most branding, perception exceeds reality. I’ve met more than a few not so smart but very polished Harvard and other Ivy grads.

              But these firms are hiring for the branding, and they really do target the top students in terms of academic achievement. Why do you keep not wanting to hear that?

              I have consistently said that access to education is appallingly uneven in the US and there are lots of very smart, capable people who did not attend big brand name schools.

          2. Ulysses

            This whole discussion reminds me of “The Firm,” by John Grisham! I think Yves has a good point that the upper echelons of Wall St. don’t trust genuine, blue-blood aristocrats who seem to not really “need the job.”

            In this they’re probably right to be cautious– the most severe Marxist I ever met was Christopher Hill, also one of the most snobbish, aristocratic Masters that Balliol College ever endured.

            Genuine aristocrats, secure in their status, can afford to be subversive and to act as champions of “the little guy.” It is no coincidence that FDR was able to stand up to the kleptocrats of his day, when so many others weren’t able to do so. Claiborne Pell used to infuriate corporate titans, in Rhode Island and D.C., with his unflappable gentility, and steadfast refusal to be bought.

            1. JTFaraday

              “In this they’re probably right to be cautious– the most severe Marxist I ever met was Christopher Hill, also one of the most snobbish, aristocratic Masters that Balliol College ever endured.”

              Really? I like him! I think there’s something to be said for the independent intellectual. Too bad contemporary universities are so conformist.

  5. proximity1

    Those with access to the New York Times‘s archive can read C. Wright Mills’ review of William H. Whyte’s The Organization Man by searching under “Crawling To the Top” By C. WRIGHT MILLS, December 09, 1956

    One more point concerning what we’re used to calling “the best and the brightest” students. I think that what is really behind that phrase as it applies to those who fill so many of the places at the most prestigious colleges and universities is just this sort of conformist but driven super-achiever. Though there are of course exceptions, what comes through the article (by reading between the lines) is that these extremely bright young people are so often not the “best and the brightest” when it comes to thinking imaginatively or demonstrating a marked ability to deviate from conventional approved opinion. What makes these intelligent, high achieving young people qualify as the Ivy League’s idea of the best and the brightest is their capacity to be formed, molded, according to the needs and interests of the values and interests so manifest in the corporate world which the recruitment system serves. Real imaginative individualists–there must be some of them somewehere–are either not attracted to running the Ivy League application gauntlet or, if they do attempt it, find themselves either culled from the applicant pool or, if accepted, discover an academic environment which is only very partially suited to their iconoclastic tendencies.

    Then there are those rare outliers who go through the system and critique it and themselves seriously and then write books about it–to interesting effect. I’ve already had occasion here at NC to recommend Florence Noiville’s book, J’ai fait HEC et je m’en excuse . Similarly, Philip Delves Broughton came through the Harvard Business School and wrote about the experience in Ahead of the Curve. Susan Cain, a graduate of both Princeton University and Harvard Law School, has written Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking , now on my “to read” list.

    1. Banger

      I’ve had close friends from elite institutions who were very imaginative and creative but that was back in an era we will never see again. The current crop, from what I’ve seen in recent years, are a pretty dull lot, IMHO–the best and most interesting young people I’ve met recently are dropouts but that may be just me since I am, more or less, a permanent drop out.

    2. jlkl

      This is interesting. I know little of the top colleges, as my goals were not there. In health care, it’s all about well-roundedness and great scores, etc. However, I did have a friend that went to Princeton. Did the liberal arts thing, but networked with sports with powerful people. He is at a company that sent him to Stern School of Business. He wouldn’t have gotten there without contacts. In WASP culture, no one ever talks about such things. I don’t know him well enough to ask.

  6. dearieme

    The daughter of a friend of ours went the Elite University to Consulting Firm route. She seems to have looked on the latter as a better paid version of graduate school. After a couple of years she left them and went off to work for a company that Made Things. She’s retained many friends from her consulting days but seems to have no desire to return to the game.

  7. John Jones

    Do these elite universities create better educated or more intelligent people than any other regular university?
    If a student went to an elite university would he/she come out better than if he/she had went to a regular university?

    Ask this aside from the networking one might get from elite universities.

    1. John Jones

      Should read ‘I ask this aside from the networking one might get from elite universities.’

    2. Woodchuck

      Well, from my personal experience, I studied at a decent but non-elite University and then went to work for a few years at an elite university where I could take classes for free, and I have to say that the difference in quality of the teaching and work done was actually significant. I’m sure there’s some case by case basis and exceptions, but I’m pretty convinced that if I had studied there I would’ve had a more solid skillset and background acquired than what I got elsewhere.

      Would I have been better off now, more happy and in a better position in life, that’s a TOTALLY different question, and really I’ll never have any way to know either way. But in that particular case I can say that it gave me the impression that yes, elite university is really a plus in terms of quality of education.

      The article itself was really interesting though, and pretty worrying, I was not conscious of that whole part of it (so maybe I was better off not studying there…). I worked in genomics there and was working with many elite university graduate students or post-docs, and it was a bit sad to see that some that were actually very good at what they were doing and contributing to good research were mostly just waiting for an opportunity to leave and go work on Wall Street because the pay difference was just staggering.

      1. John Jones

        Thanks for the response Woodchuck.

        “I have to say that the difference in quality of the teaching and work done was actually significant.”

        Can you tell me anymore about this? Like in what way etc.

  8. John

    OK. I am guilty. I worked at one of those prestigious consulting firms for several years. Sure, the pay was good but life is not all about making money for a partnership firm. Is the recruitment over the top? Yep. They go after top talent across top schools and across many industry sectors. Most folks end up moving onto other careers because the burnout comes early on. Partners want you to become slick marketing tools, which many poor souls find out they can’t hack. Heaven forbid if you work in a sector where the margins are slim. Partners will rag on you until you end up quitting because you are not an earner. Something the recruiting blitz fails to warn you about.

    Oh, yea, the recruitment competition is so fierce at times some firms postpone obtaining your college transcripts prior to hiring. If you seem to be a hotshot — you can walk on water.

    In the big scheme of things consulting firms are a huge brain drain on the economy.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        They do analytical work (data crunching, preparing charts of said data crunching) and maybe summarize research. They are given tasks by the client team and expected to deliver “completed staff work” to use McKinsey nomenclature.

  9. Larry

    I always wanted to go into research, but found the career options limited in my geographic region for both academic and private sector employment. So I took my Elite school Ph.D. in molecular biology and went into the field of intellectual property. It is not as rewarding as research, but let’s me stay near family and live in the region I want to.

  10. Gabriel

    There’s a lot more at stake here than top schools sending many of their graduates to Wall Street. Also a lot more than the inability of the top schools to represent and to convey to their students a moral compass — which by the way most other non-denominational schools also can’t do. [I’m not arguing for a religiously based college education, by the way.]

    I think there’s an implied responsibility the nation holds of the top schools – to train future leaders of government, commerce, arts, etc, in other words the important sectors of our nation. Periodically, say every 30 years or so, there ought to be an accounting – “What have you [the top schools] contributed to the leadership of this country?” [This is a good book suggestion for some academic who studies the higher education industry.] I suspect that the record will be mixed – they’ve produced some outstanding people for some sectors and wastefully supplied graduates to other sectors, like financial services.

    I’m sure that in the future such an accounting will be held. Given that their services are very expensive and that they command substantial endowments, no doubt there will be a review. And I think the results will be uncomfortable for us and them.

    In a related area, the top schools [as well as other parts of higher education] have taken their affirmative action responsibilities somewhat seriously – or at least they’ve given nods to that responsibility, because I think that they realize that at some future point the country will look at how well they’ve done here. Despite massive inequality we still believe that the guys on the bottom should be given a chance at a top education. So as part of an overall look at higher education, affirmative action should be another standard the top schools should be compared to.

    1. Patricia

      “…inability…to convey to their students a moral compass—which by the way most other non-denominational schools also can’t do.”

      My daughter went to U of Michigan and received a beautifully ethical education, but it was through the Residential College, which was started way-back-when by those brainless hippies. She was also in the honors college, though, and found that to be soulless. She’d also been accepted into Oberlin and Reed, both of which also were (at least at the time) fairly ethically sturdy. So there are places out there.

    2. Gabriel

      I made an important point above – but I didn’t make it very well. So let me re-state it.

      Some countries have a leader-in-training university, such as the Ecole Normale Superieure de Paris and Tokyo University. Such schools are presumed to train future national leaders for government and commerce. [I know, there are also some problems with having a national leader-in-training school.] Similarly, the US has its top schools that pull in the ablest young people..

      I’m not sure that the US elites recognize their charge to train future leaders – or if they do, they do it poorly. My impression is that they use several “rules” to select from applicants – so many distinguished “achievers” from each state; so many “legacies”; so many athletes; so many band members; etc, rather than “How capable are you of serving the country well?”

      In the future, perhaps in a time of crisis, I see the US taking stock of our top universities – “What have you done for the country lately?” Such a review will find a mixed picture. Likely, such an evaluation will find the top schools producing very eager, very bright, and very hard-working young people that largely serve themselves with little thought of the greater good.

      A different slant on this is that maybe it’s good that the elites are ineffectual trainers, that they don’t very well work train national leaders – since they now do such a poor job of training them. If you do a poor job, maybe it’s better that you don’t re-double your efforts.

      I don’t see others looking at this important question – and it’s one that should be made.

  11. Grant

    A great comment on one of the many ways finance misallocates resources. I’d add two additional points about this process. First, college career counseling offices are measured at least in part by their success at placement and consulting/finance employers make their job easy — they show up on campus with a packaged process that requires career counseling to do little more than collect resumes and schedule meeting space, then take the credit as the job offers pour in. Second, students at these elite colleges and universities really want an offer in hand before they graduate — if for no other reason than to have an answer when family and friends ask what is next for them. Consulting/finance deliver on that, whereas most of the other options — especially nonprofit and government — don’t.

  12. Svaha

    When I graduated as a MechE in 2010 I sent out 100 resumes in my field. No response. One morning, frustrated, I filled out 2 online job applications for financial firms. I received two phone calls literally three hours later.

    I finally did find an engineering job, but the speed at which I found myself embraced by the financial community amazed me. Sadly, I think Wall Street is one of the few places where you are considered valuable right out of school if you have the right gpa and credentials.

  13. Chris

    I wonder why someone can’t start a campus movement akin to the divestment from South Africa due to apartheid in the 80’s, or the anti-military campaigns against on-campus recruitment. The movement’s goal would be to shame anyone taking these positions with Wall Street.

    Arguably these Wall Street criminals are doing much more harm to society than the armed forces or Pik Botha ever did.

    1. washunate

      Practically, the short answer is pretty simple. Shame is irrelevant when there aren’t better options.

      To give a bit more context, the vast majority of Millennials are quite self-aware. One of the defining characteristics of the generation, to the extent you can generalize about these things, is a desire to do meaningful work. There is much disgust amongst Millennials about how work works in our society today. Over the longer term, work will change through sheer numbers of Millennials doing it, whether older Americans support things changing or not.

      But in the short term, what can Millennials do? This is the society that has been created for them. All but the very richest need income, right now, to have even the most basic of living standards.

      1. Gabriel

        I admire and appreciate your concern for the kind of work the Millennials are doing. Why ignore people who will spend a good portion of their life working at grunt jobs with little satisfaction?

        Once you care about them, you also have to re-think outsourcing, the IT-ing of our economy, etc. These broad consequences in turn have, and will have, huge effects on the Millennials. For example, expect more emotional/psychological problems and physical problems – not to mention marital and friendship problems – among this group.

        1. Washunate

          Yeah, I think that’s an interesting part of the larger picture. It might be more so for Xers who went through that transition. Millennials largely grew up in a world after these things had already happened, so I think more unpredictable outcomes might potentially be in store. It was Millennial parents that had bad marriages, etc.

  14. DJG

    I went to the University of Chicago, and I seem to be about the same age as the (ageless) Yves. One big difference is that, back in that bygone era, you had students who were from the working class and were the first in the family to go to college. (My father was a unionist, and those were the days when we had a working class, not just working poor.) That whole “recruit pool” is gone–along with its implicit and explicit challenges to a university that always fancied itself a finishing school for the upper-middle class.

    1. RUKidding

      You raise an interesting point about, at least, economic diversity, if not ethnic diversity. In the bygone days, I attended one of those small private liberal arts colleges in the North East. Considered sub-Ivy League but still quite solid. I’d say that I got an excellent education, esp in critical thinking skills. I wonder today if such skills are ever encouraged anymore. I was admitted to my school under the aegis of an Admissions Director who really sought out diversity in the three or four class groups when he was working there. My small class was an amazing assortment of bright, intelligent and hard working kids. Many of us from the newly rising middle class post WWII, but we had a fair number of working class kids, some on scholarships, plus we had small sprinkling of international students from really far-flung and unusual places.

      It was CHEAP to go to school then, even though, in those times, my family sacrificed to send my sibs and I to good schools. My parents and I always agreed that my undergrad degree was one of the better investments my family ever made.

      I had a lot of choices and options when I graduated. Got a masters degree. Have been fortunate to have had really good private sector and public sector jobs, but nothing that’s BIG or amazing or mega-highly compensated. Well, I didn’t need to make mega-bucks to pay off an insanely huge tuition debt. So I had choices and could move back and forth between the private and public sector. I like to feel that I’ve contributed to society and benefited people, but such an airy-fairy notion is now looked down on as ridiculous or worse.

      My college classmates have all done well enough for themselves, including the minority students from Harlem, some of whom grew up in difficult family environments and not much money. But times were different then. Jobs today are so much less available. Kids graduating from the local state university in my current town have a lot of difficulty finding any full time work.

      Economic and/or ethnic diversity at the Ivies? Highly unlikely. Are these kids being cloned to do the same old, same old? Sounds like it to me but not surprising. Seems to me the Elites like to see other Elites who look (mostly) and act like them. Keep the Status Quo, doncha know.

      1. DJG

        Yes. What you describe once was common and now is gone. In a very real sense, those were exceptional times. As always, the U.S. upper-middle class gets what it wants, and it definitely wants control over admission to the elite universities. (The U.S. upper class, with all of its inherited wealth, is too stupid to worry about such matters, although they make sure that legacy admissions still exist so that George W. Bush can get his ticket punched.)

      2. ian

        “Economic and/or ethnic diversity at the Ivies? Highly unlikely.”

        Not true. I went to one and the student body was treated like a floral arrangement – so many poor kids, so many “legacies”, so many of each minority, etc…

        It was plenty diverse.

      3. Yves Smith Post author

        Your point re cheap is critical. My father despite having sorta/very senior jobs, never made really big bucks, but was able to save a ton by virtue of being cheap plus having company housing for eight years of his career (which of course allowed him to save more). So back in the day, if you were middle income and disciplined, you could afford to pay for your kids to go to an Ivy or elite small college. AFICT, that was dead by the mid 1980s

  15. DJG

    I’d also note that some recent articles about the whiteness (with some Asianness) of Silicon Valley indicate to me that the stats in the article above point to continued problems with “diversity,” as in the lack thereof. I find that the UofChicago sends out diversity stats that make no sense whatsoever. The ideal candidate for admission these days seems to be a female student from the Chinese kleptocratic elite: A win-win-win. Female. “International.” Corrupt family pays full tuition. (No need to recruit and retain an African-American student, as percentages from elite institutions keep showing, inadvertently.)

  16. craazyman

    It’s a cultural tragedy. These kids could be eeeking out a living as baristas and “Start-up guys” begging hand to mouth for the money of the wealthy for some social app that forces human beings who could be out at a bar to stare at a little screen like a pidgeon at a feedbox, but instead they get to throw money around like confetti at a parade. The burden of guilt must be enormous. They hardly have time to shop! And when they do, they don’t know what to buy. They go for the brand names because that’s all they know. A little research and appreciation for craft would show tthey can get better quality for less by avoiding the fashion industry marketing machines. It’s too bad they closed Syms because that’s where a man could shop and succeed at looking good and saving money. Today there’s nothing like it. Even Century 21 is too frenetic. Syms was visibly a low-rent operation, but you didn’t go there for the ambiance. You went there for the deals. I got two Alan Paine sweaters there for probably 28 dollars each. This is a sweater somebody could easily pay $150 for! You bring a consultant into that and the price goes straight up! Too bad these kids buy Gucci and Armani. What they should do is get a few good pieces of classically beautiful clothes articles and build from there. It’s quality not quantity. Most people have to learn that the hard way and then they start their education regardless of where they paid tuition for being brainwashed.

    1. proximity1

      Pardon me, but do you mean it’s not a cultural (& a moral) tragedy? There’s now this highly-organized, highly rationalized feeder-system for the supply of mental talent to a world-dominating financial order run amok. Some of this feeder-system’s “raw materials” are rightly considered both particularly bright and rather morally innocent while others are their polar opposites, cunning, scheming, driven super-achievers who aren’t looking for ways to others favors, they’re only too happy to game a system they see as their natural habitat for all that it’s worth. Yes, I think there is some real tragedy going on there. The social costs are immense and they’re being borne by people who have simply nothing to do with the making or the operation of such a heartless machine. What’s not to deplore? No one here is asking for your empathy for the sociopaths in the picture nor that you pretend that there are none.

  17. wbgonne

    I was perhaps a bit flip when this topic was raised yesterday, suggesting it was obvious why the Ivy Elites are going for the Wall Street gold. But you are right, Yves, to raise this issue again because it really is the crux of the problem. Just imagine what this brainpower and young energy could accomplish if directed at solving global warming, the most urgent problem mankind has ever faced and one that we are systematically ignoring. But who in power is calling for that kind of public service and commitment? Where is the encouragement and the societal reward? Where is our JFK imploring our young people to ask not what the country can do for them but what they can do for the country (the world!)? Without a substitute reward system we are left with The Money, which appears to be exactly why these young elites drift aimlessly into finance. When you have the allegedly Progressive, first black, Democratic president calling Wall Street’s biggest thieves “savvy businessmen,” there is no systemic incentive for young people to do anything but collect chips and toys.

    1. James Levy

      And it’s not just the Big Money, but the lack of Good Money that drives this process. The hubs of R&D and decision-making where people can do the most good are idiotically expensive to live in. Student loan debts are outrageous. Expectations for middle-class living are high. The number of jobs that “do good” and pay a middle-class wage in NYC, Silicon Valley, DC, or LA are small indeed. You need $150,000 per annum or more to live in such a place and raise a family (that is, in a real middle class environ–if you want to live among the working class you can cut that down a bit, but then private school become de rigueur as does additional commuting). How many jobs that add to the commonweal pay that kind of money? We’re asking kids to bust their humps at elite schools and then live worse off than their parents so they can compensate for the greed and mistakes of those parents. Kind of a tall order.

      1. wbgonne

        Excellent points. Of a piece with the lack of prestige and praise is the lack of money. The Middle Class has been reamed: government service and public interest work, two former bastions for the Middle Class, have been decimated, defunded and defiled. Not much of a draw for smart young people. So Wall Street it is! Almost like the plutocrats planned it that way. . . . Nah, that couldn’t be.

      2. Ulysses

        “We’re asking kids to bust their humps at elite schools and then live worse off than their parents so they can compensate for the greed and mistakes of those parents. Kind of a tall order.”

        Very well said!

  18. Salviati

    I am a high school physics teacher and several of my top former students are now attending the Ivy’s, all of whom are working or middle class. They were all interested in engineering and mathematics, but are up against the harsh reality of debt that they are taking on to go to these institutions. What is interesting is that they were not offered scholarships to make “less prestigious” schools more affordable, they had to choose between $50K annual debt to go to an Ivy or $30-40K annual debt to go to state schools.

    In high school these kids were acutely aware of the financial burden that they would be carrying and understand that while working for the FIRE sector is not what they want in life, they feel that they have to keep the option open. So this makes the recruiting effort by these firms much easier, because you have a student population who prior to going to college feel that they might have to take this route. I try to stress to my students that I feel the most important thing in life is financial and political independence of the system. This is one of the reasons that I am encouraging my students who are versed in engineering and programming to abandon college all together and try to develop their own businesses. At the end of the day, all they are guaranteed leave college with is debt, which they can accrue at any point in their lives.

    1. Gabriel

      Mr Salviati –

      From your comments it seems like our economy is doing a pretty good job of transferring the full cost of higher education to the student and their family – even for the very good students. An economist’s dream – those who enjoy a college education pay the full costs.

      If that’s correct, then the long term effects will be that more and more young people will say “no thank you” to the prospect of college and the resultant large debt. But then what do they do? Will starting a business be feasible for all of them? Will some decide to learn a trade in a community college?

      It looks like we’re going to put our young people between Scylla and Charibdis – or better, a rock and a hard place.

    2. Gabriel

      Looks like the top schools are doing a great job of making most students pay the full cost of their education – an economist’s dream – you pay for everything you get, especially your higher education. No societal largesse.

      Looking down the pike, what may happen is that even good students will re-think paying a lot for an elite education. Here’s where the balancing comes in – does s/he go to a lesser school? start their own business? Go to a less costly trade school?

      We may be putting our young people between plenty of rocks and plenty of hard places. Will they love us for it? Will they be grateful?

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      This is really a disgrace. It used to be a point of pride at Harvard, when it had a much smaller endowment, that no one who was admitted would not be able to attend by virtue of their financial circumstances. And that did not mean taking on lots of debt. In the old days, hardly anyone took on student debt, and the amounts were much smaller, the interest rates were basically equal to inflation (as in the loans were a bargain) and they were dischargeable in bankruptcy.

      The huge cost of getting a higher education is a big driver of why students now are both more careerist and conformist. Nicely played.

  19. Kokuanani

    What pissed me off about this otherwise excellent article was the author’s applauding the elite who “explore other fields” by enrolling in Teach for America. What a scam! That outfit, as the article points out, now has entrance requirements almost as rigorous as the Ivies; it’s a great “resume-builder.” But they are NOT trained teachers, nor are they trained to be. It’s all part of the myth that “the poors” will be improved by a dusting of intellectual fairy dust as the rich pass through.

    The TFA kids drop into needy schools, “teach” for a year or two, then scuttle out. Very, very few remain in teaching or education. Meanwhile, corrupt politicians like Jindal of LA fire all the “regular” teachers in New Orleans schools, replacing them with a crop of TFA folks that he churns periodically.

    Yeah, that really helps the school kids.

    1. washunate

      Ha, agreed.

      But I’d say an approving TFA name drop can actually be quite helpful. It tells us whether the author is seriously exploring the subject or still trapped inside the system, unable/unwilling to really think about systemic challenges and opportunities.

      I wonder if anyone on here will defend TFA?

      1. Tim

        I’ll do it.

        My sister served out four years with TFA: two in rural NC, two in the NYC home office. I did public service too: not quite 3 years in the Navy right out of college, then 3 years as a USG finance official post-crisis.

        The people who demand that TFA set its teachers up for careers miss the point. There should be some way to channel young people’s desire to serve their fellows and do something apart from their regular lives. It’s a long-term investment in more-involved, broader-minded citizens.

        Some of my peers in the Navy (especially among the USNA guys) already had whole careers planned out, but others (like me) just wanted to be responsible citizens for a few years and then go back home proud of it. Not everyone can or should be a lifer. To its credit, the Navy had room for guys like me, and in exchange for a few years of really hard work it gave me the chance to meet and appreciate all sorts of people I’d never have met on my comfortable Ivy League campus or on the trading floor. TFA likewise made room for my sister.

        We’re both better off — not least because you care a hell of a lot more about your country when you’ve spent a few years sweating for it.

          1. Tim

            I’m not on top of developments in the field enough to offer an opinion on that assertion. It’s not intrinsic to TFA’s mission, though. There is possible upside or downside to any enterprise of this type. Did I protect my country in the Navy, or stand to fight stupid wars for oil and Halliburton? Did my sister share her great science education with kids in poor districts, or bust unions? (A separate question: are the unions part of the problem or the solution?)

            Diversion of good intentions to bad ends should be called to account, but there’s always that possibility. If you can find upside without downside, reward without risk, let me know. It’s a dicey world we live in, but at least you have to try.

  20. Johann Sebastian Schminson

    St. John’s College Great Books program should be the model for higher education.

      1. anymouse

        Momma Momma can’t you see?
        What St. Johns has done to me?
        I grew my hair and did some drugs…
        Now I’m into, Persian rugs…

        I loved that school. One of the best destinations over the wall. And they play some mean croquet. Sadly, the credential is worth little beyond the edification of soul and mind…

        1. Gabriel

          I hugely love your irony – “Sadly, the credential is worth little beyond the edification of soul and mind…”

          Well said.

  21. washunate

    Gread read. This really captures our social challenge:

    “Remember, getting staff with glittering resumes is crucial for selling premium-priced financial and consulting services.”

    We are a paper society, a facade, obsessed with impressions and fluff rather than actual, substantive, productive output.

    I would quibble with the end a bit, though. I think it oversells the options available to most Millennials coming out of school.

    “Even with our current restricted class mobility, young adults have a wide range of career options and often make choices based on an inadequate understanding not just of what they are getting into but of their own character.”

    I would be eager to know where exactly these career options are located. I can think of very few employers of people under 40 who have employees there because it’s a worthwhile career. Almost everybody is working to pay rent (and student loans and food and medical bills and…). The exceptions tend to prove the rule. Pick a profession, from architecture to nonprofit administration to zookeeping, and it’s difficult getting a decent job. The ‘getting’ of a job has really been completely separated from the ‘having’ of a job in our society over the past couple decades, where people who have stayed gainfully employed in the top 20% or so of the income brackets simply have no experiential connection to what it’s like for people trying to get into even remotely decent careers.

    Even some of the most lucky and gifted of all students, like medical doctors, are increasingly trapped by a system that requires them to basically submit their life to authoritarian hospital chains (and the public policy that creates them) rather than working entrepreneurially as an independent provider or in a small office.

  22. Cal McElwain

    A few subjective impressions of Harvard in the seventies. First, a disclaimer: I was from a modest background, in my late twenties, and finishing my B.A. at a state university, but taking regular courses at Harvard. I took around 50 semester hours, IIRC. At the time, I was also driving trucks to make a living.
    The faculty did not seem particularly brilliant, nor terribly enthusiastic. Many had authored books, which just happened to become required reading or basic texts, and therefore had to be bought. (The faculty at a small, western, Catholic liberal arts college where I started in the late 60’s were probably as informed, and certainly more engaged.) Harvard faculty had points of view, and classes reflected their propensities rather than encouraging discourse. Fellow students were frequently more marked by severe ambition than erudition. Ethics were taught and demonstrated in in a manner that seemed theoretical rather than applied. All in all, I was not very impressed, and am scarcely surprised that these so called “brightest” lads and lasses end up serving the maw of Wall Street.
    As I indicated, this is very subjective, but my observation is that “elite” schools serve largely as networks for oligarchs to maintain themselves. The word “education” should be a gerund rather than a past participle, as education is an ongoing, lifetime quest. As with many (most?) on NC, I am saddened, appalled, alarmed, and infuriated at what the US and other (developed) countries have devolved into, and I often perceive a robust link between the “best” schools and the whole, infinitely sad mess we are in.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The point of Harvard then was its vibrant extracurricular life. The school was set up to accommodate that. Plus most of the real teaching took place in sections, not in lectures. Teachers (profs) who were willing to teach handed out really stiff reading lists to sort out the students who were serious about learning from them. I stupidly wound up taking three hard courses per term when conventional wisdom was to take only one (of four) because I was not deterred by the reading lists.

      However, I will also say that in some of the big survey courses (Ec 10, the classic basic economics course, and the Shakespeare course) the grad student section leaders I got were terrific. And in Fine Arts 101 (“Darkness at Noon,” a survey course but well known to be hard), the lectures were really good.

  23. Harold

    In 2009 Karen Ho, a Harvard anthropology Ph.D scholar went to work on Wall Street as an investment banker and produced a fascinating study, “Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street”, on this topic. Ho’s book was the subject of a lengthy and excellent review, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Market” by William R. Neil, founder of the Campaign for America’s future. Neil’s long review seems to have vanished into cyberspace, but his short version, “The Smartest, Bulimic Culture of Expediency in the World” is still available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/review/R39LTM37GLQESH/ref=cm_cr_pr_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0822345994#wasThisHelpful


    Wall Street’s presence “dominates campus life: recruiters visit the university virtually every week, even on weekends…the recruiting process saturates almost every aspect of campus life from the very first day of the academic year.”(Page 45.) Ho presents us with a two page spread of “Goldman Sachs Recruitment Schedule at Harvard University, 2000-2001,” and I count 30 or so events, multiples in every month from September through February. It’s so Wall Street saturated at these schools that Ho says “a glance at the campus publications…demonstrates what amounts to a communal obsession…” (Page 53.)

    It was in the light of Ho’s illumination that I read with great interest Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust’s September 6, 2009 NY Times Op-Ed, “The University’s Crisis of Purpose.” It’s a retrospective and lamentation at the same time, in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis, and what universities had become, unable to “expose the patterns of risk and denial” contained in that “bubble of false prosperity and excessive materialism…” She asks if “universities (became) too captive to the immediate and worldly purposes they serve” and, “has the market model become the fundamental and defining identity of higher education?” Noting the trend, since the 1970’s, for business degrees to outnumber by a 2:1 ratio the next most popular major, she reaffirms a mission for higher education to “offer individuals and societies a depth and breadth of vision absent from the inevitably myopic present.” This sounds hopeful, but the trends of 30 years of Market Utopianism, and the vast shadow cast by The Market, will not be lifted in an instant, barring a further economic catastrophe on the scale of the Great Depression.

    1. Harold

      Actually, I don’t know if William Neil was a founder of the Campaign for America’s Future, or was just associated with them.

  24. Matthew G. Saroff

    I think that part of the equation is left out.

    Even though a small percentage of graduates of high prestige schools go into government, they are fast tracked to leadership positions (Geithner, Summers, etc.).

    When you think of “people like you”, and you went to college, these people are your classmates, and you remain contact with them.

    The banksters recruit heavily at the Ivys because they know that this gives them direct access to senior regulators and to the revolving door in regulation.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Summers was the youngest prof in Harvard’s history before he went into government and is the nephew of two Nobel prize winners in economics. You can’t generalize from him.

      Geithner went to Dartmouth and did his graduate work from John Hopkins, so he was basically recruited from there. I know people who were in his graduate program and they say he would never have been singled out then for elite roles. So please explain that to me.

  25. kevinearick

    who is going to these schools, who are their parents, and who do you suppose they marry?
    what % of their spouses work in the other sectors, and how does that articulate into leverage?

  26. impermanence

    The professional class [particularly those who attended the elite institutions] have aptly applied the lessons learned in higher education. They are doing EXACTLY what they have been taught.

    There is no place more obvious in this regard then in the university system itself, as it takes the most innocent among us and renders them debt-slaves for life.

    Lying, cheating, and stealing. This is the legacy we leave our descendants.

  27. Harold

    “Even though a small percentage of graduates of high prestige schools go into government, they are fast tracked to leadership positions (Geithner, Summers, etc.)”

    People like Geithner and Summers were *very* well connected even before they went to elite universities. Geithner’s father “was the director of the Asia program at the Ford Foundation in New York in the 1990s. Geithner’s father is a German American. Geithner’s paternal grandfather, Paul Herman Geithner (1902–1972), immigrated to the United States in 1908 with his parents from Zeulenroda, in Thuringia.
    Geithner’s mother, a Mayflower descendant, belongs to a New England family.[6] Her father, Charles Frederick Moore, Jr., was an adviser to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and served as Vice President of Public Relations from 1952 to 1964 for Ford Motor Company.[7]
    Geithner spent most of his childhood living abroad, including Zimbabwe, Zambia, India, and Thailand, where he completed high school at the International School Bangkok.” (wiki)

    Summers is “the son of two economists, Robert Summers (who changed the family surname from Samuelson) and Anita Summers . . .who are both professors at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the nephew of two Nobel laureates in economics: Paul Samuelson (brother of Robert Summers) and Kenneth Arrow (brother of Anita Summers). ” (wiki) Granted, he is no slouch and entered MIT at the age of sixteen, but arguably he had a leg up.

  28. Cathryn Mataga

    Can Ivy League graduates do actual work, what I wonder. My concern is that they’d feel entitled, take long lunch breaks with drinks, talk about golfing all day and not get anything done. They’d sit around and wait for their butler to do things for them.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, these elite consulting and finance jobs are white collar sweatshops. The hours and the stress are terrible but you get addicted rapidly to the pay. You don’t have an accurate picture of what this is about. The abusive work conditions plus the perceived importance of the work (big companies! high stakes decision! and confirmed by big pay! which we deserve due to great personal sacrifice!) lead to the sense of entitlement. But these people do not loaf. You’ve got that part dead wrong.

      1. Gabriel

        The sweatshop work is also addicting. It’s great to be superman/woman for a few years – until you burn out or want a real life.

    1. Gabriel

      Nah – just give me the authority to create more and more devilish forms of debt.

      I’ll rule the world.

  29. proximity1

    Updated related reading:

    The current( September 1, 2014 ) issue of The New Yorker magazine has a book-review essay

    [ Books ] : September 1, 2014 Issue “Poison Ivy: Are élite colleges bad for the soul?” By Nathan Heller
    which reivews William Deresiewicz’s book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and references a 2008 article by Deresiewicz ” The Disadvantages of an Elite Education ” (LInk: http://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/ ) from The American Scholar, for which journal Deresiewicz is a contributing editor.

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