Stop for Sanity’s Sake

A banking job isn’t worth auctioning off your summer

On-campus recruiting for summer internships has come and nearly gone. Juniors, sophomores, and even some freshmen have made their way to the Faculty Club and the second floor of Bank of America, affectionately known as “The 1414,” for interviews. As usual, last year over 95 percent of companies recruiting at Harvard’s Office of Careers Services (OCS) were in finance or consulting—despite Harvard’s resistance to vocational courses (this is a liberal arts school, after all). But this policy has done little to curb the trend toward finance: More and more students cross-register with MIT’s accounting program each year, and the numbers speak for themselves. The mass appeal of the business world is evident, but things have gone too far. The mounting pressure to secure a summer job on Wall Street even before junior year represents a serious problem.

We are an industrious lot here at Harvard. Only 17 percent of students choose to spend their summer vacations actually on vacation. Throughout the fall, sophomores and juniors travel to New York for pre-recruiting events hosted by large financial services firms, with hopes of gaining an edge over other applicants. As deadlines approach, the interviewees’ waiting room at The 1414 becomes the most stressful and unfriendly place in Cambridge by a long shot. Pre-professional groups have huge campus memberships, even among freshmen, contemplating careers before they’ve chosen a concentration.

Harvard University Women in Business (HUWIB) may be disparaged as sexist by some on campus. Yet, these criticisms notwithstanding, so many of its members end up in top firms in New York over the summer that they hold club reunions just to keep track of one another. But while HUWIB has achieved its stated goal, it falls into the troubling plethora of campus organizations that promote and sustain a culture of ubiquitous résumé-padding, and the overall trend toward premature migration to Wall Street. Any day of the week, you can find packed campus events sponsored by the Harvard Investment Association, Harvard College Consulting Group, Aspiring Minority Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs, Harvard College Law Society or International Business Society.

There is a myth, especially among people with their sights set on the business world, that both a post-graduation job and that coveted junior summer internship will prove elusive without a sophomore-year position in finance already on the books, and—whenever possible—a freshman-year internship before that. Whatever happened to lazy summers spent reading by the beach, backpacking across Europe on a shoestring for months, or learning new languages? Why must these opportunities unique to college summers fall by the wayside of Wall Street?

Although it could encourage more career diversity, OCS cannot be entirely to blame for this exodus—looks like the Core Office remains the only dungeon on Dunster Street. After all, they’re just responding to demand. In the end, the accountability for this culture of careerism rests with us, the students. Traveling and research fellowships abound, but they receive far fewer applications than Morgan Stanley, in part because no one knows about them, but also because they can’t compare to a coveted step up the corporate ladder. Volunteer programs, summer school, Harvardwood: The alternatives to office work are there, but seem unable to generate enthusiasm like i-banking can.

It is easy to fall into e-recruiting, and also fairly easy to find yourself on Wall Street in July. It is often less easy, however, to find that activity that most captivates you (and that doesn’t involve ten weeks of obsequiousness). But the first step is acknowledging the problem. Repeat after me: We are interesting people. We can find interesting, entertaining things with which to fill our summers and keep us sane and happy before the madness of move-in day. Even if you feel you’re destined for Goldman Sachs, why not take a summer to think about it, maybe bungee jumping in New Zealand or writing poetry? At the very least, your summer adventures will supply interesting chat for your first-round interview and help fill that pesky bottom line on your resume that currently reads: “Interests: reading, sleeping, Guitar Hero.”

Emily C. Ingram ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Eliot House. She is a member of Harvard University Women in Business.