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Overly Concentrated Concentrations

By Megan M. Ross
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Harvard students often enter college bright-eyed and with aspirations to change the world. However, the state of play on campus (and by this, we mean how consulting recruitment season is as ingrained a time of year here as winter) means that we enter with this enthusiasm only to be pipelined through specific internships right into the world of finance, consulting, or tech: 63 percent of the Class of 2020 graduated into these careers.

None of these paths are inherently unworthy, but they hardly seem worthy enough to command the labor of over half of all seniors entering the workforce any given year. It’s unfortunate that landing a job in tech, finance, or consulting can feel like the only yardstick to measure the success of your four years here. For some, a Harvard education is more a travel guide to certain six-figure jobs, rather than a chance to transform their bright-eyed passion into real improvements in the outside world.

In this sense, Harvard has managed to select for butterflies, then metamorphose them back into caterpillars.

Against this backdrop, it really is no surprise that Economics has prevailed as Harvard’s most popular concentration this year, attracting almost 15 percent of all declaring sophomores. The concentration offers students a clear, well-charted path to follow if they want to nab coveted finance and consulting jobs. Of course, you can do more with an economics degree than join McKinsey or manage a hedge fund. Still, a quick survey of the Economics departmental site reveals its not-so-subtle emphasis on the many for-profit and lucrative businesses its graduates have entered, citing finance and consulting at the top of its employment prospects listing. The overbearing presence of consulting on campus and sophomores picking Ec more than any other concentration are clearly linked.

We are not disputing the importance of economics as a discipline, nor do we mean to disparage anyone’s individual career or concentration choices. But we do feel the need to lay plain that Economics doesn’t reign supreme because it represents an inherently superior path to that offered by any other concentration — believing so would be antithetical to the very core of the liberal arts education.

Our discomfort with the popularity of Ec and, by extension, finance and consulting, lies in knowing there is more to life than receiving a return offer from your hyper-competitive junior summer internship, while also knowing that the pressure to secure such positions is so high that this fact can get lost in the mix. The question is a real one: What do you even do at Harvard if not consulting?

Look no further than President Joe Biden’s inauguration, where poet and Harvard graduate Amanda S. C. Gorman ’20, a sociology concentrator during her time at Harvard, beautifully demonstrated the power of art and the humanities. Hyper-focusing on high-paying fields to the detriment of other disciplines negates their value and can prevent incredibly talented graduates from pursuing the humanities or social sciences, as Gorman so winningly did during her time at Harvard.

We have all been, some time or another, seduced by material promises, beckoned by the calls of concentrations that promise a fruitful, comfortable, and secure future. Their allure is that of the path of least resistance, of clear goals and hefty economic rewards. It is easy to stay within the confines of concentration requirements and recruitment windows, marching towards achievable prerequisites and established careers. And the uncertainty and anxiety of deviating from this are only dramatized in a society that is extremely acquisitive and competitive.

But kowtowing to such pressures probably isn’t the point of a Harvard education, not unless we take the “deeply transformative” experience admissions promotes to mean crushingly homogenizing. If the University wants to encourage students to pursue their passions it should work to demonstrate that there are, indeed, practical and gainful career avenues for concentrators outside of economics and the applied sciences. A good starting point would be ensuring that the Office of Career Services more effectively promotes resources in these overlooked areas.

Increased academic flexibility is similarly crucial. Pigeoning sophomores into a discipline and restricting their access to others — by, for example, forbidding joint degree programs — only limits our intellectual growth. Concentrations that take this or other exclusionary approaches, from Economics to the Engineering Sciences, ought to rethink their policies.

Students themselves should also be pushing the boundaries of their own academic comfort zone, probing beyond their field of study through General Education courses, secondaries, and foreign language citations. Whether it be exploring the rich offerings of classes outside one’s concentration, or the array of non-finance, non-consulting career paths that are easily accessible to Harvard graduates, we encourage our fellow students to expand their horizons; to take something for the sake of it, and not because you’re eyeing how it’ll look on your resume under “Relevant Coursework.”

The pull of Economics and the big three (finance, tech, consulting) is unlikely to stop anytime soon. But pausing to question why we have allowed just three career paths to dominate undergraduate and postgraduate life so completely is a worthwhile exercise. Surely something beautiful (or hey, at least interesting) would come from more students pursuing passion over profit and going against the grain.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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