Opinion » Column | Oct. 15
I don’t really know what I want to do with my life, but I know I want to change the world. Maybe something small, maybe something big, but I want to make a difference — leave my mark.
Many of my freshman classmates share these hopes and ambitions with little idea how to achieve them. But that doesn’t worry me. After all, Princeton is supposed to be “in the nation’s service and the service of all nations.” The faculty and administrators have to be able to provide some guidance over the next four years. Right?
It’s the numbers that worry me. According to The New York Times, almost 36 percent of Princeton graduates in 2010 with full-time jobs were in financial services. And that was down from the high of 46 percent in 2006 before the recession. Around campus I see the posters for lectures by Wall Street executives and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I can’t even escape the presence of big business in my room. I keep opening emails about finance career open houses and interviews on campus. And I’m only a freshman.
Don’t get me wrong. Students who want to go into financial services and consulting should be able to do so. But the heavy emphasis on these fields makes it seem like more is going on than just providing opportunities to those interested; it seems that the University, by providing ample information and opportunities to interview for Wall Street companies, is trying to convince other students who are unsure of what career they want to pursue that working in finance is a good idea.
Maybe it’s partly a prestige thing; we, as a society, value money or think more highly of someone making a lot of money than we think of someone in public service. And Wall Street makes it so easy for Princeton students to obtain those jobs people hold in high regard. We associate income with achievement. It’s like an extension of the competitive college environment; when we graduate, we want the “best” jobs. Companies come to campus and wine and dine the students; it’s very seductive. Public service groups can’t compete. But is this cajolery enough to squash the naive dreams many students walk through FitzRandolph Gate with?
We like to blame the mass exodus to Wall Street on students needing high-paying jobs to repay the massive college debt hanging over them. But Princeton and its peer institutions provide financial aid without resorting to loans. As President Eisgruber has boasted, 75 percent of Princeton graduates have absolutely no college debt, and the remaining 25 percent have an average debt of between $5,000 and $6,000. Princeton students, therefore, are free to go into whatever field they desire, not just one that pays well.
We also have a high ranking in terms of alumni donations. U.S. News & World Report ranked Princeton second, with 62.4 percent of its alumni donating to the school. Of course, it’s great that former students love the school so much that they want to contribute funds. It means we have the largest endowment per student in the country and, thus, current students can enjoy a fantastic four years in the Orange Bubble. But, given these statistics, it seems undeniable that the University is benefiting from graduates making a lot of money in fields like consulting and investment banking.
Princeton works with companies, making it easy for them to recruit students. After all, the ensuing Wall Street conscription benefits both institutions. The companies enlist bright young graduates, and the school ends up with richer alumni. But is it the students’ interest in these firms that leads the University to encourage the companies to come here, or does the presence of these firms on campus generate the interest from the students?
CNN ranked Princeton as the number-one college in the United States with the highest-ranked graduates based on wages, with an average starting salary of $58,300 and a mid-career salary at $137,000. Yet, according to the same survey, only 49 percent of us think our job is meaningful. Should the University really be steering us into wealthy but unfulfilling adulthoods?
I don’t know exactly what I want to do in life, but I know it doesn’t involve sitting in an office crunching numbers. And I really hope that when I am nearing graduation I don’t feel pressured to work on Wall Street and have been presented with viable alternative endeavors. I hope that we students can be more concerned about enriching each other in the classroom and less about making ourselves rich.
Maybe when there is less University pressure pushing us in one direction, more students will trade in high salaries for a career they find more meaningful. And while we won’t be number one in average salaries or in donations to the University, perhaps not all number-one rankings should make us proud.
Marni Morse is a freshman from Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.