What Do Students at Elite Colleges Really Want?

At Harvard, a graduating senior, who passed on a full scholarship to another school, told me that he felt immense pressure to show his parents that their $400,000 investment in his Harvard education would allow him to get the sort of job where he could make a million dollars a year. Upon graduation, he will join the private equity firm Blackstone, where, he believes, he will learn and achieve more in six years than 30 years in a public-service-oriented organization.

Another student, from Uruguay, who spent his second summer in a row practicing case studies in preparation for management consulting internship interviews, told me that everyone arrived on campus hoping to change the world. But what they learn at Harvard, he said, is that actually doing anything meaningful is too hard. People give up on their dreams, he told me, and decide they might as well make money. Someone else told me it was common at parties to hear their peers say they just want to sell out.

“There’s definitely a herd mentality,” Joshua Parker, a 21-year-old Harvard junior from Oahu, said. “If you’re not doing finance or tech, it can feel like you’re doing something wrong.”

As a freshman, he planned to major in environmental engineering. As a sophomore, he switched to economics, joining five of his six roommates. One of those roommates told me that he hoped to run a hedge fund by the time he was in his 30s. Before that, he wanted to earn a good salary, which he defined as $500,000 a year.

According to a Harvard Crimson survey of Harvard seniors, the share of 2023 graduates going into finance and consulting exceeded 40 percent for the second year in a row. (The official Harvard Institutional Research survey yields lower percentages for those fields than the Crimson survey, because it includes students who aren’t entering the work force.)

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Kim browne

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