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A Rude Awakening

The financial crisis should serve as a moment for reflection

By Eugene Kim, None

You’d have to be living under a rock these days not to notice the grim state of the American economy. The financial crisis of last October has spiraled into a cataclysmic near-total collapse, with official unemployment figures spiking at 7.6 percent this month. President Obama has already made plans to resuscitate the economy through a massive stimulus package while somehow reducing the largest peacetime budget deficit in American history.

Of course, things could be worse—Latvia’s economy is projected to shrink by as much as 12 percent over the next fiscal year. But, more importantly for us undergraduates, the financial crisis has the potential to force Harvard students into reconsidering their postgraduate plans. For the Class of 2009, it may already be too late. For those of us who still have a little time left at the College, however, it is high time to reconsider the trade-school mentality that has characterized our campus in recent decades.

By no means am I parroting the traditional critique of the recruiting process, which I understand is a legitimate and very necessary function of our advanced postindustrial economy. This is especially true of highly competitive industries like the financial services sector, in which on-campus recruiting is essential in funneling elite students into elite firms; the process allows students’ careers to blossom and the economy to grow. I do question, however, its scale at institutions like Harvard. Last year, more than two-fifths of last year’s graduating class funneled themselves into one small sector of the giant American economy.

Nor is this massive influx of Harvard undergraduates into the financial sector a recent phenomenon. For more than two decades, investment banks and consulting firms have had a firm chokehold on the postgraduate dreams of many ambitious Harvard students. Renowned journalist Jennifer 8. Lee ’98-99 has aptly described the entire recruiting process as “a complicated rite of courtship, complete with flirting (invitations), wooing (interviews), and proposals (offers).

In light of the current economic situation, this mentality must change. In particular, the annual ritual of the junior-year finance internship search—which has given rise to a disturbing sense of entitlement—must be reined in. It is one thing to offer valuable pre-professional opportunities to interested students; it is entirely another to create a disturbing subculture of hyper-competitiveness that destroys the very foundation of the liberal-arts education Harvard claims to offer. And the devastating consequences of rejection can be damaging to one’s mental health—a concern not often realized by the eager droves of applicants who dive into the process without considering the real impact of the application process on their personal lives.

Moreover, with the once-rosy prospects of the financial industry now a distant memory, undergraduates here at the College—and at similar institutions—must realize that the days of simply expecting a firm to offer lucrative summer internships to nearly every qualified applicant are over. Unfortunately, most summer internships do not cover rent and plane tickets or offer a lavish monthly bonus—the way things are going now, you may not be paid at all. Those Harvard students who simply assumed that an entry-level analyst position would somehow magically materialize for them will now have to learn the hard way that finding a summer job is a truly difficult process.

Regardless of what my peers choose to do this summer—some will indeed be working at finance firms, while others may travel, volunteer, or work in different industries—we should all keep in mind that there are many other careers besides that of an entry-level financier. We should all sit down and actually think about what we want to do with our lives—and by that I mean more than the first job after graduation. The financial crisis should serve as an opportunity for every undergraduate at the College to ponder their life goals, their ambitions, and the hard truths of economic reality. If we can do that, then the rest of the process should be a piece of cake.


Eugene Kim ’10, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Kirkland House. He does not yet have a summer job and wishes everyone the best of luck in these tough times.

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