Ivy League Grads Reject Financial Services

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on February 13, 2012

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Are Ivy League graduates bailing on financial services? That seems to be the only conclusion one can draw from some numbers reported by the Yale Daily News today.

With the Occupy Wall Street movement a visible presence on several Ivy League campuses until the cold weather set in, and the financial services industry taking it on the chin on many fronts (financial, public opinion) there are fewer graduates of Yale, Princeton, and Harvard taking jobs in the finance industry.

At Yale, a report from the Office of Institutional Research out last June found that just 93 grads or 11 percent of the 2010 graduating class ended up in business and finance, down from 19 percent for the Class of 2008. At Harvard, 17 percent of the 2011 graduating class planned to enter financial services, down from 28 percent in 2008. And at Princeton, 35.9 percent of the 2010 graduating class took full-time work in financial services, a slight uptick from 2009, but down from 46 percent in 2006.

What gives? For one thing it should be noted that interest in finance jobs has waned among college students, not MBAs. And there is some squishiness in these numbers: while Yale and Princeton surveyed students after they graduated and reported actual employment, Harvard surveyed students in May 2011 and reported their expectations for employment.

For another, at least some of the shift away from financial services can be explained by the growing popularity of other fields. At Harvard, while the number of graduates expecting to take jobs in finance ebbed, the number planning to pursue careers in business, communications and media, and education grew. At Yale, the number reporting having taken jobs in the catch-all category of "industry" more than doubled, from 7 percent in 2008 to 16 percent in 2010. Clearly, Ivy League graduates aren't turned off by business. Just finance.

It's possible that the shifting popularity of academic majors might explain some of the change--nobody expects humanities majors to run hedge funds, so if the number of humanities majors suddenly rose, a concurrent drop in graduates going into finance might be explained. If that's happening, it's hard to tell from the data. At Yale, the number of graduates in the social sciences actually increased, while those in the humanities declined.

Which leaves us with the alarming possibility that America's best and brightest might be turning their collective back on an industry that--given its importance to the world economy and sorry state of disrepair--never needed the best and brightest more. Are they rejecting the industry's values, appalled by its behavior, or a little bit of both?

Reader Comments

Jim

February 13, 2012 1:50 PM

They're not turning their backs on finance... it's just becoming harder to get a job, even for Ivy League grads. Hiring is significantly down. Don't chalk it up to changing attitudes on the students' parts, if they had their way there would be just as many entering finance.

BW's Louis Lavelle

February 13, 2012 2:32 PM

That's a good point Jim. This is probably just much supply driven (the number of jobs) as it is demand driven (the number of graduates who want those jobs). I know recruiting activity among the big banks is off at some top MBA programs, but I'm not sure how much the banks' financial problems are having an impact on college-level recruiting. It's hard to believe (for me anyway) that that explains all of the drop-off in the financial services numbers described in the blog post. My gut tells me there's something more happening here. Thanks for your comment.

Louis Lavelle
Associate Editor
Bloomberg Businessweek

Jon Steiner

February 13, 2012 3:59 PM

Also, ivy league schools, specifically, are able to provide their undergraduates with grants, not loans. This is relatively new (I think 2008, actually.)

When it comes down to who needs money badly, it will be those with student loans first.

Karyn

February 21, 2012 7:35 PM

Simple law of supply and demand. Demand for finance jobs have been going down with all the layoffs on Wall Street, so gambling with other people's money is no longer a hot job prospect at HPY. Simple as that. Not like these people suddenly grew a conscience or anything. I'm sure once the demand picks up, these people will be the first to go back for an MBA and elbow their way to the front of the line for the next finance job. You know what they say about all these "well-rounded" students HPY insist are best qualified...a well-rounded student is one who can roll perfectly from New Haven to Wall Street.

Westernfan

February 22, 2012 2:48 PM

Well, gosh, let's see...The Fianacial Services Industry is almost as popular in the public eye as Congress, layoffs are rampant as it contracts, starting wages are down, and not a day goes by that you don't hear about those famous annual bonuses being cut, deferred, or eliminated altogether. Aside from the expense and/or debt incurred, why would you devote your time to go into the field at this time?

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