Overall, a sluggish economy appears to have made it harder for the Class of 2008 to find employment, with 66 percent of workforce-bound seniors reporting that they have a job lined up after graduation, compared with 73 percent in a similar survey last year.
Even in the face of inflation, wages appear to have remained steady: the average employed senior will earn a base salary of $45,425, about the same as last year.
Consulting firms and financial-sector companies, which use aggressive recruiting tactics to woo students, won 39 percent of workforce-bound seniors, down from 47 percent last year. This year, students are gravitating in larger numbers to the arts, health services, media, and public service.
Those working in business and finance will earn considerably more than their counterparts in other sectors. The average salary in consulting, business, finance, and technology was just over $65,000 (excluding bonuses), while in all other areas it was $35,500.
When students were asked to set financial concerns aside, they said they would prefer to work in the arts, media, and public service rather than in business, consulting, and finance (20 percent said they would remain in those sectors).
University President Drew G. Faust plans to focus on career choice and the finance and consulting phenomenon in her Baccalaureate address to seniors today. In the speech, she says that several students have come to her asking why so many Harvard grads head to Wall Street.
“I think you are worried because you want your lives not just to be conventionally successful, but to be meaningful, and you are not sure how those two goals fit together,” Faust says, according to a copy of her prepared remarks. “You are not sure if a generous starting salary at a prestigious, brand-name organization together with the promise of future wealth will feed your soul.”
Faust calls on seniors to find work in line with their passions.
“If you don’t try to do what you love—whether it is painting or biology or finance—if you don’t pursue what you think will be most meaningful, you will regret it,” Faust says in the speech.
The director of Harvard’s Office of Career Services, William Wright-Swadel, said that many students plan to work in finance, business, and consulting for only a few years. He said high salaries are only part of students’ motivations in choosing these sectors, and that many students see these fields as good preparation for a wide array of careers, from international development to journalism.
“I certainly think our students are looking to what is the best way to get the training,” he said.
Wright-Swadel said many seniors were unhurt by the economic downturn, much of which occurred after the fall recruiting season. But, he said, the office is concerned that the students who don’t have a job lined up will be discouraged from looking.
Some seniors found the job market this year particularly difficult to navigate. Philip R. Goldfarb ’08 said he competed against recently laid off workers in his job search, and he still does not have employment lined up.
“It was definitely hard to find a job,” he said. “I’ve been looking pretty hard for the last two months.”
Goldfarb, a history and literature concentrator, plans to work for a year before applying to a graduate program in English.
The lack of increase in wages from 2007 to 2008 may also be cause for concern for graduates, said Harvard economist Lawrence F. Katz, who has studied student career choices. Wages typically grow between 4 to 5 percent each year, Katz said.
“The fact that wages didn’t grow for this class versus last year’s class is telling us that the economy is not very strong,” he said. “It is a little worrisome.”
One lower-paying sector is not losing future employees because of salary size: education. Nearly 11 percent of respondents said they would go into education if finances were not an issue, the same percentage when finances were considered.
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Post-graduation plans for students receiving financial aid from Harvard (about 50 percent of respondents) differ in several significant ways from those students not on financial aid.
Students on financial aid will make an average salary of roughly $4,000 per year less than students not on financial aid. This gap, however, is largely accounted for by job choice. Students on financial aid are far less likely to go into fields like investment banking, opting instead for lower-paying sectors like public service.
When controlling for work sector, there is no significant difference between students on and not on financial aid.
The survey also found that students’ job prospects color their Harvard experiences. Four in five students said that they would still choose to attend Harvard if they could decide again. Among individuals that are still searching for a job, however, that fell to about 70 percent.
—Roger R. Lee contributed to the reporting of this story.
For more results from The Crimson's Senior Survey, see "Seniors satisfied overall; extracurriculars get high marks"