Pursuing Passion? Selling Out? Buying Time?

On a recent Monday evening, in the fluorescent-lit basement conference room of 54 Dunster Street, the Office of Career Services sponsored “Is Consulting the Right Fit?”

On a recent Monday evening, in the fluorescent-lit basement conference room of 54 Dunster Street, the Office of Career Services sponsored “Is Consulting the Right Fit?” Harvard College and Business School alumni, dressed in suits or oxford button-downs with untouched water bottles beside them, took questions and described their careers to an audience of about 20 students.

“Why consulting?” asked Robert B. Niles ’11, a former literature concentrator and former Bain & Company associate who is now a JD/MBA candidate at Harvard. “To this day I can’t really tell you.” “I was deciding between a Ph.D and consulting, and consulting was what I ended up doing. It felt right,” he said, shrugging, as the audience laughed.

A blue-eyed, brown-haired senior toward the back raised his hand to ask how consulting might teach useful skills for someone interested in start-ups. Niles replied that consulting would certainly make a candidate for an existing start-up “that much more valuable.”

“I really just went to ask them particularly about that,” said the student, Jacob D. Roberts ’13-’14, after the event. “I’m interested in consulting, but increasingly I’m interested in working for a start-up after school. I’m trying to decide what route I want to go in.” Niles’s answer was especially helpful, Roberts explained, because the panelists were speaking as individuals rather than on behalf of their companies. Roberts’s main hesitancy about consulting is the possibility of working on a project for months that is then rejected by the client—he sees the start-up culture as more immediately high-impact. But the timeline of senior year recruiting, “heavily skewed” towards finance and consulting, according to Roberts, has prompted him to reconsider his options.

The On-Campus Interview section of the OCS website entitled “Is On-Campus Recruiting for me?” cautions, “Although students often report that it feels like ‘everyone’ is using OCI to find their job or internship, that is not statistically the case.”

But according to last year’s numbers, 39 percent of the senior class does participate in the program. And 18 to 22 percent of the class will consistently enter consulting and finance—a statistic that jumps to almost 30 percent of seniors with jobs lined up by graduation.

These fields obviously encompass a diverse array of jobs and even careers. Still, consulting and finance positions are marketed similarly to Harvard students, they make up the majority of OCI interviews, and, perhaps most tellingly, the discourse on campus tends to consider them as one.

In many ways, it’s not surprising why consulting and finance continue to attract so many Harvard students. They offer prestige, generous compensation, and strong exit options; many students also express a genuine interest in the fields. But beyond the statistics, the constant and at times shrill on-campus conversations around these careers seem to speak to broader anxieties of “selling out,” “buying time,” or diverting passion—even as, for many, it's unclear what that passion might be.

Just over three years ago, as Tercentenary Theatre hissed under 96-degree heat, University President Drew G. Faust told the Class of 2014, “You have an affinity for the exhilarating and sometimes difficult and humbling and disoriented activity of taking risks.” For her bright and bright-eyed audience, now seniors, these risks can seem bigger, and taking them less feasible. Though often seen as safer options than other caeers, finance and consulting jobs entail the same risks of any important choice; they set students down a path with limits of its own.

The OCI Machine

Jared D. Sleeper ’14, a cheerful blond senior from a small town in northern Maine, became interested in investing in middle school. By his junior year at Harvard, he had won the second annual Undergraduate Stock Pitch Competition at Cornell, along with three other classmates.

“I knew I wanted to do [finance] from the beginning,” says Sleeper, grinning at me across the table as the din of Eliot’s dining hall picks up for lunch. There was a point, maybe freshman year, when he questioned his long-term interest: “Is this something that’s making the world a better place?” he asked himself.

“Even though it is helping the world, it’s so intangible and difficult to pin down exactly how, that people sometimes lose sight of that,” says Sleeper, the current co-president of the Harvard Financial Analysts Club. But he ultimately decided that a career in finance could contribute to society, to use his own terms.

Sleeper lights up when talking about his internship in investment research, at a company to which he’ll return after graduation. “Everyone who was there was really committed to making it work, because their self-interests were aligned so much,” says Sleeper.

An economics concentrator, Sleeper hasn’t found a comparable intellectual experience in his classes for the most part, barring a philosophy elective, an unusual outlier. “Everyone was super motivated about philosophy.... Everyone cared deeply.” Pausing, Jared continues, “I feel that way at my job.”

Sleeper thinks that while a passion like his may not be the motivating factor for many Harvard students entering finance, it’s wrong to automatically label those who enter the field as “selling out.”

“I feel like most of the generalized ire that assumes that people are making these decisions for a certain set of reasons is misguided,” he says slowly. “Because you don’t know what someone’s situation is. Because it’s so hard to know people’s motivations unless you know them well.”

Sleeper never fully participated in the recruiting process, as his current employer reached out to him after he won the stock competition last winter. But this tension between “giving back” and “selling out” is, according to the Office for Career Services, a common theme among Harvard students currently going through the recruiting process.

“We had a large investment bank where the recruiter would refer to Harvard students as the ‘save the world’ students,” says Deborah Carroll, who oversees the On-Campus Interview program. “And those were the students going into investment banking.”

Carroll and her colleague, OCS Director Robin Mount, say that they’re very proud of OCI, which results in over 6,000 on-campus interviews each year.“I think it’s one of the top in the country,” says Mount, crossing her legs in a second-floor office chair that looks out onto the windows of the MAC gymnasium.

But both Mount and Carroll acknowledge that there is a sense on campus that they’re not doing enough to steer students to alternative careers, that they welcome OCI employers with open arms while dismissing other paths.

“Everyone thinks that we bring those companies,” Mount says, referring to the large finance and consulting firms. “They call us up. We don’t go after them.”

Carroll adds, “We actually go after the companies that [students] don’t have the impression on campus that we’re doing enough for...that we spend our time and resources visiting in the summer, convincing them that Harvard students are a great hire for them at the entry level.”

This is a hard sell for many of these smaller firms or non-profit organizations, which are often swamped with applications, or don’t have the time or resources to travel to Harvard and court its students. For the 2013-2014 academic year, OCS charged for-profit employers $150 for each interview room and $300 for use of a conference room (non-profit employers were not charged).

OCS holds about 350 programs on campus per year. Many of these are start-up fairs, advertising and non-profit expos, and events for other fields marketed through a multicolored calendar that OCS hands out and posts on its websites. It’s true, though, that the very first events of each year are oriented toward consulting and finance. This week’s events for seniors included panels on international development, Ph.Ds, community health, and marketing—just as first-round OCI interviews for most major firms were winding down. By April, when the social impact expo is held, the rush of fall recruiting is a distant memory for many, and there can be a sense that those who still don’t have a job are scrambling.

“It was nerve-wracking to see everyone getting offers, because their recruiting comes earlier,” says Heidi Lim ’15. Lim went through the summer internship recruiting process herself last year, landing an internship at a tech firm; but according to her, consulting and finance firms hold a privileged position even within OCI in general. “These companies know what they’re doing,” she says. “They do it early so that they get to pick out of everyone, whoever they want.”

Roberts explains that finance and consulting firms “snag top talent” this way. “And then for someone like me who is pretty open between the two...” Roberts trails off, “it’s more attractive to pursue the OCI route—because then you have a job.”

Still, OCS’s efforts to introduce alternative programming have swung too far to the opposite end of the pendulum, according to some students. “They’re not that enthusiastic about people going into business and finance,” says Evan Wu ’14, who has taken advantage of OCS drop-in hours and is currently going through the recruiting process. “I think they spend a lot more time planning events to try to show people other options.”

Though he adds, shrugging, “finance and consulting don’t really need support.”

OCS and OCI directors claim that they’re neutral, that their role is to listen to what students are interested in and help them pursue these interests. “It’s a fabulous opportunity for students,” Mount says of OCI. She pauses, enunciating each word: “for whom that is what they want to do.”

“What we don’t want students to have,” she continues, “is what we call the lemming effect—that just because your roommate’s doing it or your friend [is doing it] that you need to paddle in that direction.”

Andrew, a senior in Leverett House from Poland, who requested that his name be changed because he did not want his comments to impact his own recruiting process, speaks casually and irreverently about this phenomenon as he spreads ketchup on his slice of pizza over dinner. “At Harvard, it’s a choice between finance and consulting,” he says. “Everyone is hyped, even if they have no idea what it really is.”

Why does he think so many students apply? Andrew shrugs: “For names, for money, for experience.” Some people truly want to pursue these careers, he thinks. “If they don’t choose it for a passion, it will turn out during the interview process,” he says. I ask, so those that receive job offers are the ones that should be getting them? He immediately nods.

Avowed interest is obviously just one of many reasons a fifth of Harvard’s class might choose consulting and finance positions each year. “I think anyone would be naïve to say there aren’t some Harvard students choosing finance for reasons other than passion,” says Sleeper.

The pay is one, although several of the students I spoke with claimed that, given the hours, the compensation isn’t as generous as popular thought would have it. According to Sleeper, for instance, a typical hourly wage in finance works out to about as much as a librarian might make. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for ‘education, training, and library occupations’ in 2012 was $22.13; for ‘financial operations’ the median was $30.05.

Still, Sleeper says, “I have friends specifically who are from family backgrounds where that compensation is really meaningful—that will allow them to support their families...and that trumps all other factors.”

For international students, like Andrew, the possibility of remaining in the U.S. after graduation can be appealing. American law requires employers hiring international candidates to file a petition on behalf of the candidate, involving a process of steep fees and heavy paperwork.

Many American companies thus state explicitly that they do not hire international students; those that do tend to be the larger consulting and finance firms, meaning that international students who wish to remain in the U.S. are more likely to attain legal residency by recruiting for these larger and mainly for-profit companies. And according to Andrew, even the companies that do hire international students may privilege Americans, given the hassle and high costs. “I feel like there’s still tacit agreement, where if there were two candidates of the same quality...they would still hire an American candidate,” he says.

Are those who go into these careers selling out? “It’s kind of a frustrating thing for people to perceive it as that,” says Wu. “I think there’s this overwhelming sense that if you go into banking or finance or consulting you’re not doing any good for society—or that you’re doing bad things for society, that you’re a negative value for society.”

“If you think about it,” he continues, “the very fact that these jobs are well-paying jobs implies that they do fulfill some sort of social function.”

Still, all the students I talked to who were entering finance were careful to distinguish between investment banks—which seem to bear the brunt of the stigma— and hedge funds, or private equity, or research. They also took care to underline their own legitimate interest in the field, as revealed by involvement in clubs or groups throughout their time at Harvard.

That students feel the need to do so is perhaps backed by the notion, more or less pervasive depending on with whom you speak, that these careers are a way of buying time rather than selling out. According to The Crimson’s 2013 senior survey, while 15.8 percent of the respondents said they were entering consulting, just .9 percent said they still wanted to be in the field in 10 years; for finance the rates were 15.2 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively. That gap may speak to a broader assumption among Harvard seniors about these fields: that they are a way to defer later aspirations, rather than giving up on them entirely.

Step by Step

Tuong Vi Nguyen ’15 has long dreamed of going into foreign diplomacy. Dressed in a sweatshirt and dark jeans, the articulate and even-spoken junior rattles off a long list of the “pre-government” activities she joined upon entering Harvard: Model UN, Model Congress, the IOP, “the usual stuff.”

During her first two years at Harvard, Nguyen spent some time at OCS attempting to determine how best to pursue her interests in government. “The adviser I talked to, she was very straight and honest with me,” she says. “There’s not a lot of people going into these low-level entry jobs, because when you go straight out of college, you do a lot of paper-pushing. You don’t get to talk to the higher-ups.”

Consulting and finance are different, she thinks: “They invest in their graduates.” These two-year stints will be more likely to support her in her later steps, perhaps funding her to go to law school, another goal. They’ll also give her the chance to do something out of her element, something more quantitative, before pursuing her ultimate dreams.

Consulting companies in particular emphasize the broad range of career paths their alumni have taken. The Harvard recruiting managers or coordinators at Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, and McKinsey either did not respond or declined to comment on the tracks their alumni take. But many students say that these and similar companies market their positions as two-year jobs after which alumni can go on to do “anything,” from business or law school to non-profit work and government service.

Some veterans, though, question this flexibility. Niles, for instance, cited business school and private equity as the major exit options when asked at the panel to comment on later paths.

Still, says Mount of OCS, “A lot of students think, ‘I’ll build my network.’ It’s a way to get some training and experience and skills that you can take onto your next passion.”

“There are very few people I know who want to be in consulting or finance for the rest of their lives,” says Lim, the senior entering the tech industry. “A lot of people I know don’t necessarily know what they want to do, so they’ll go into consulting. You’ll still be learning—then hopefully figure out what you want to do.”

This path is clearer for some than for others. Chukwuma C. Nwachukwu ’14 came to Harvard confident he’d be pre-med and reasonably certain he’d be a doctor. By talking to older friends in the Black Men’s Forum, where, he says, consulting and banking are “huge,” Nwachukwu began to learn more about business-related positions. Still pre-med, he’s currently recruiting for positions at life-science consulting firms, along with management consulting positions that will allow him to specialize in life-science consulting.

“I’m really into health, really into helping people, really into pharmaceuticals,” he says, “but I’m wondering if I need an M.D. to do that. I guess this experience is going to help me figure that out—seeing different parts of industries, seeing where people with different specialties fit in.”

“And if I do end up being a doctor,” Nwachukwu continues, “I feel like the experience will help a lot—having a business background, being able to manage things.”

For Sleeper, finance is similarly capable of opening doors. “You have that natural progression,” he says. “You have this option of spending two years,” he continues, ticking off his fingers: “making a lot of money, being surrounded by people from your similar background of top-tier liberal arts schools, in cities you generally like, where all your friends are going to be.”

“And at the end of it,” he concludes, “you have that safety valve.”

For consulting and finance, according to Carroll, “You’re not making a career decision, you’re making a job decision. You gain a lot of skills, you meet a lot of people—so you have lots of options,” once the two- or three-year stint is up.

Referring to what many students deem the “optionality” of these jobs, Carroll adds, “And some of that is perception—feeling like if you do other things you won’t have these options. Which, to some extent, is perception versus reality.”

For some, finance and consulting are natural stepping stones on the way to a career they’ve long envisioned. The proliferation of pre-professional groups at Harvard—HFAC, the Veritas Financial Group, the Harvard College Consulting Group, Women in Business—highlights early interest in these fields on campus. “For me and a lot of people,” says Lim of her high school and freshman years, “you hear BCG [Boston Consulting Group]—you don’t know what it is.” These groups, along with summer internships, are sometimes the way to find out what these fields might entail.

But the recruiting process also includes those who have never participated in these clubs or internships. The percentage of the class who accepts an offer from OCI jumps from 13 percent of juniors to 18 percent of seniors, which includes those who accepted a full-time offer from their summer OCI internship.

This fall, there is only one undergraduate course being offered in the Economics Department on finance, Capital Markets, a natural result of Harvard’s emphasis on a liberal arts education. And a not insignificant portion of students going into finance and consulting come from other fields: According to departmental data, 25 percent of history concentrators enter business school, consulting or finance; this figure is 18 percent for English concentrators. In general, then, many enter their senior year at Harvard with a vague interest or knowledge of the recruiting process, but without knowing what these jobs might involve and how much they might enjoy them—or what an ideal alternative career path would even be.

Dreams Deferred?

W. Hugo Van Vuuren ’07, an economics tutor in Eliot House, spends much of his time encouraging students to think beyond economics-related career fields. Van Vuuren is a venture capitalist who co-runs the $10 million Experiment Fund from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and holds a degree from the Graduate School of Design. Raised in South Africa, Van Vuuren tends to speak in fully formed sentences with a barely noticeable lilt to his voice.

“Sadly,” he says, “many students go into consulting and banking because they think it’s a safe bet that gives them transferable skills.”

“But in reality,” Van Vuuren continues, “unless you absolutely love finance or absolutely love the discipline of management consulting, what you often find is that people get on a career ladder that they do not love, that in the end doesn’t really give them the knowledge that they had hoped, in terms of what they’re good at. And they end up coming to grad school with the same questions they came to Harvard with, just a few years later.”

“As in,” he clarifies, “standing at the gates of choice and wondering, ‘Will I follow my passion, or will I defer the day that I do what I love longer?’ because of some seemingly reasonable excuse.”

For Van Vuuren, it’s not about finance or consulting versus jobs in entertainment or the arts. “Some people were meant to do finance,” he says. But those who were not—perhaps the majority—are nudged into them, he thinks, as part of a culture that rewards “gold stars” over truly meaningful work.

“What I’m saying is not crazy,” he says. “If you do ordinary things, you shouldn’t expect extraordinary outcomes. Walking into an on-campus recruiting job that is, arguably, tailored more to the needs of the employer than to the individual—taking that job isn’t, from my perspective, and with rare exceptions, the extraordinary brave act to find your passion.”

Van Vuuren refers often to students’ passions, to their dreams. What about those who have no idea what they’re passionate about? I ask him. “I think the reasonable thing to do,” he replies, “is to try out different things until you know what you’re passionate about.”

“It’s a myth that you will experience a wide variety of businesses [in consulting and finance],” he says, “that you’ll be exposed to different careers.”

“If you truly want to get a broad experience in, say, business or, say, the arts or, say, legal matters, wouldn’t it behoove you to become an apprentice to some master in that field, and then, by working more closely with her, get a more broad exposure?” he asks.

“But the reality of some of these immediate post-college training programs is that your job is to do the heavy lifting of data crunching or research work,” he continues. “You do not have a lot of freedom.”

The “gold star” culture that Van Vuuren references is part of a more common trope at Harvard and schools like it, one perhaps epitomized by David Brooks’ 2001 essay, “The Organization Kid,” which bemoaned the meek uncombative obedience of high-achieving millennials. Its generalizations aside, the argument does reflect a trend that Harvard administrators and faculty tend to refer to warily, if obliquely.

“I do somehow wish that some students would smell the roses a little more and schedule fewer appointments,” Lawrence H. Summers told The New York Times in 2004.

“Don’t compare, connect,” Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, repeats to students at his speeches year after year.

Michael E. Berlin ’15, an executive director of Veritas Financial Group who hopes to start his own company, thinks that this phenomenon makes sense for the typical Harvard student. “In middle school you do well so you can get into the honors program in high school,” he says. “In high school you do well to get into a good college; in college you do well to get a good job, one of these stable jobs.”

“And it’s totally not a bad thing at all,” Berlin concludes. He adds, laughing, “It’s probably what I’ll end up doing.”

For over 17 years, Lynn E. Barendsen, a project manager at the Graduate School of Education, has conducted research with young people and professionals in a variety of different fields for the Ed School’s GoodWork Project. Together with Howard E. Gardner ’65, Professor of Cognition and Education, she has also helped to conduct the “Reflecting On Your Life” sessions for Harvard freshmen.

Barendsen says that much of her research is relevant for students entering their first job or career. In interviews conducted with over 1,200 people, she tells me, one of the questions centered on responsibility, asking to whom or to what they felt responsible.

It turns out, she says, that the further on you are in your career, and life, the more responsibility you feel. “Young people would pretty much just talk about themselves and the circle outside of them,” she says, while those on the cusp of retirement were much more likely to talk about wanting to give something back.

It’s not selfishness, she says, but rather, “Young people don’t think that what they do has that great an impact.”

Despite what Carroll refers to as the “save the world” tendency of many Harvard students, Barendsen sees this same trend here as well. “We heard over and over again this intense pressure to make the most out of their degree,” she says.

Small-scale research conducted by another member of the project revealed what was deemed a “funnel effect.” “People coming into Harvard with an interest in many many different careers ended up being sort of sucked into this funnel,” says Lynn, “and working in mostly finance and things like that.”

Part of it was the pressures of recruiting season, she continues. “Other opportunities—if you’re going to wait and see about other opportunities—those often aren’t represented on campus until much later. Everyone else is interviewing, and to sit back and say, ‘Well, I don’t know if I want to do that,’ is incredibly stressful and anxiety-provoking.”

That’s not to say, Barendsen hastens to add, that “good work” (which the project defines as ‘excellent,’ ‘ethical,’ and ‘engaging’) isn’t possible in any career, including the finance and business worlds. But it’s difficult to attain, she thinks, without taking some time to consider how to achieve good work in whatever one decides to do.

“Often people get so busy—especially Harvard undergrads—that they don’t have the time to sit and think,”she says. “‘What does make me happy? What do I want to do? And how can I surround myself with mentors or models that will help me make these decisions?’”

The inexorable march of the recruiting process may allow students to defer that kind of reflection. Mount cautions against the myth that OCI is the “easy” way to find a job.

“It looks easy, it looks like you just put your application in and then you get these interviews,” she says, “but in fact those people have networked with alumni in those firms, they’ve been to their information sessions, they’ve shown a lot of interest, and they’ve done a huge amount of homework and prepping for those interviews.”

Lim agrees, “It’s not easy by any means.” But, she adds, “it’s a little clearer how to do it.”

“Harvard kids are always busy,” she continues. “How much are you willing to spend some time to go search for an option that you may or may not know is out there if you have time that you think is valuable to you that you can devote to your extracurriculars, or to recruiting for something that you know about already?”

“Harvard kids are very success-driven,” Lim says, “and whatever takes them to that success—if it’s clearer, it might be easier to take that path.”

Anxiety, Misdirected?

A little after 1 p.m. on an unseasonably warm day last week, it was lunch break for the interviewers at the OCI facility, and the red-upholstered chairs on the fifth floor of 1033 Mass. Ave. remained mostly empty. The first student to arrive took a seat near the front, cleared his throat, and adjusted his red-and-white striped tie. He looked out the window onto the foliage of a New England fall, the spires of Annenberg barely visible in the distance.

The room slowly began to fill up, most ignoring the wooden table littered with The New York Times, The Economist, and the Wall Street Journal open to Section C (Money and Investing). Some chatted among themselves; “I think I’ve seen you at a few of these,” a thin blond woman said to the student to her left, and the two struck up a conversation; others texted or shifted nervously in their chairs.

At 2 p.m. sharp a tall, young-looking redhead emerged from the offices. Everyone’s heads shot up. “Eleanor?” he asked. And the first interview began.

“People don’t talk about it,” says Andrew, the senior from Poland, of the interview stress associated with the recruiting process. “There’s a lot of pressure, but it doesn’t exist in public conversations and public discussions. It is there and everybody feels it, but nobody brings it up.”

This pressure, according to Van Vuuren, is misguided. “Students can literally do anything for the next five years and still be employable,” he says, “and they do the most risk-mitigating thing that’s the safest possible decision.”

“Honestly,” he says, “it’s irrational. The evidence is now fully on the side of taking risk. There’s an abundance of capital; you can find jobs all over the world. Students are doing the irrational thing by aggressively and violently mitigating risk right after college.”

Part of this tendency might stem from the simple fact that the vast majority of students haven’t yet spent much time in the workforce—or in anything other than a 17-year-long cocoon of school, with its clear standards, requirements, and results.

The metrics of success to which Harvard students are accustomed do not necessarily translate easily to the “real world,” particularly on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.

The simultaneous silence and ubiquity of recruiting may take the place, then, of sustained conversations around careers on campus—and with them, a more realistic understanding of just how important, or not, the first two years out of college might be.

Kathryn A. Cosgrove ’07 spent most of her college career examining how historical trends are reflected in comic books and graphic novels. An English concentrator with a creative writing focus, who also completed significant coursework in Visual and Environmental Studies, Cosgrove avoided recruiting throughout senior year. “Mostly because I was just scared,” she says. “I was an English major. ‘I can’t do banking; I can’t even do math.’”

After a summer internship with National Geographic convinced Cosgrove that the solitary life of a writer wasn’t for her, she cast a wide net senior year. Never having spent significant time abroad, she applied for a teaching fellowship in China after graduation. She spent a few years as a product manager for Abercrombie & Fitch, and ultimately returned to Harvard to run the Law School’s sustainability program.

Now in her final year at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Cosgrove’s story results in a possibly unexpected denouement, as she only recently discovered what she believes to be her passion: private wealth management.

“It’s a combination of working with people and working with markets,” says Cosgrove. She thinks her creative background has helped here: “Being able to kind of be a teacher and an educator and a communicator around a person or an institution’s investments was probably a differentiating factor for me.”

Cosgrove says she could easily have been happy going into consulting or banking for two years right out of school. “I think it really does give you a broad base,”she says. “You’re working on such interesting problems and meeting such interesting people.”

But she has no regrets on the long, winding road she took to get to her current position. “It’s such an opportunity,” she says of the initial post-graduation years. “Anything you go and do, as long as it’s something that seems interesting and you feel like you’re going to learn a lot.”

The chances that this will be your last career, she says, are close to zero. So, “you might as well just go someplace where you see smart people who are working on things that interest you, and you think you’re going to be able to learn a lot.”

“I think for me,” says Cosgrove, thinking back on her twenties, “life is just so long. ”The tunnel vision that seems to result from the recruiting process—from the undergraduate years in general—is, Cosgrove intimates, less necessary than we seem to believe. Follow her advice, and seniors may end up at Goldman Sachs after all. Or not, as the case may be.