In elementary school, I wanted to be a pilot. I spent hours researching different airplanes and drawing them. I’m sure most of us had such dreams — perhaps some wanted to be an astronaut, others hoped to be a doctor and even more imagined being president. While my dream of becoming a pilot turned out to be a phase, I’ll never forget the passion and drive that a dream creates.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to hold onto a dream at Dartmouth. Surrounded by monetary anxiety, family pressure and imposter syndrome, Dartmouth students turn to what is tried and true: consulting and investment banking. In this cult of consulting, this religion of rent, this faith of frugality, Dartmouth students cull their “unproductive” behaviors and seek the highest profit.
In recent years, Dartmouth has become a pipeline to careers in consulting and investment banking: a quasi-vocational school. I don’t say “pipeline” lightly — each year from 2016 to 2022, over 40% of Dartmouth graduates went into finance or consulting. Forty percent into just two fields. Students, read carefully. There are jobs other than consulting and investment banking. I promise. You’d think this would be self-evident — the world is full of jobs ranging from culinary critics to high school administrators. Seemingly, it isn’t so to students here.
We do have students with a passion for investment banking and consulting — they may love “Wolf of Wall Street,” the thrill of crunching data or the flexibility of consulting. Additionally, for many students, these jobs represent a path out of crippling student debt. Dartmouth is the sixth most expensive college in the U.S., and at nearly $90,000 annually, Dartmouth’s exorbitant price pushes graduates to seek above average salaries to compensate. High-paying jobs in consulting and investment banking are perfect for that reason. The flashy benefits and high salaries relieve the unrelenting pressure to “make the most” of the opportunities a Dartmouth degree offers.
However, I find it hard to believe that 40% of Dartmouth students have a genuine passion for finance and consulting work. Without this passion, students who pursue these paths have nothing to shield them from the horrific work-life balance that defines these fields. I’ve heard horror stories of 70-hour weeks and endless deadlines. Surveys show that the workweeks of investment bankers range from 60 to 100 hours. But don’t worry, some of these companies pay for happy hour, so you can at least get tipsy before sleeping three hours, then rinsing and repeating.
Recruiting culture rules supreme at Dartmouth, and it is driving out all other jobs and students interested in those jobs. Part of the reason is our small size — fads catch on quickly and spread like wildfire. Our campus is chock full of recent consulting and finance interns and incoming analysts. Over time, the bounty of referrals and peer pressure to join the recruiting process drive more and more Dartmouth students into consulting and investment banking.
The singular prevalence of these industries attracts a horde of students who don’t know what they want to do after college. It’s hard not to fear that you’re letting a great opportunity pass you by as your peers toil away to prepare for “behaviorals” and “technicals.” The job market can be overwhelming, and in the deluge of emails, careers and choices, consulting and investment banking seem to be the answer — if everyone does it, why shouldn’t I?
Dartmouth all but ensures that these industries draw vast numbers of Dartmouth students for the foreseeable future. The point organization for Dartmouth career advice, the Center for Professional Development, does a poor job highlighting opportunities in fields outside of consulting or investment banking. In all the job fairs and resources that I’ve explored, very few included NGOs, nonprofits or anything vaguely outside the realm of quantitative trading, investment banking and other various ways of making money from money. The CPD doesn’t even try to hide its bias. At the bottom of their emails is a graphic listing their sponsors, which are virtually all consulting or investment banking firms.
Of course, we try our best to hang on to our dreams. Most students going into these industries subscribe to one of three polished avoidance phrases. “Just a couple years,” they say. “I’m going into ESG [environment, social and governance — corporate responsibility]” — not really investment banking. Or they simply fly in the face of criticism, referring to themselves as a “sell-out.”
What can Dartmouth do to finally live up to the admissions office’s bold claim: “We prepare leaders to embark upon rewarding careers in the arts and sciences, business, medicine, and engineering”? How can Dartmouth support its students’ diverse career aspirations?
Well, the administration could try to lower tuition. Some students, especially from middle-income families, graduate with five and six figure debt. This just about forces them into these high-paying yet relentless industries. While Dartmouth is perhaps more likely to start giving tours of fraternity row than lower tuition, it’s worth some consideration. A large driver of the nation’s skyrocketing tuition is the massive increase in administrators across colleges. Dartmouth is no exception — from 1987 to 2016, Dartmouth’s professional staff grew by a staggering 324%.
I would venture a guess that 20% of the administrators could be laid off and students would notice no difference. It seems that there’s a dean of everything from toilet paper to condiment distribution and ethical pest removal. An alternative for our administration lovers would be to redirect more of the endowment to financial aid. Dartmouth only contributes 20% of its endowment to college operations, half that of other Ivies.
More realistically, Dartmouth could increase the funding and focus it gives to other career options. Job fairs should not be 75% consulting and investment banking booths. Instead, the Center for Professional Development should ensure that job fairs have equal representation of all industries. This simple inclusion could be the vital reminder to Dartmouth undergraduates that it is possible to like your job.
We are rapidly headed for a world devoid of deeper meaning — a world devoid of dreams, be they extravagant or realistic. In our endless search to make the rational choice, we ignore our passions, diminish our desires and suppress our dreams. We should celebrate our dreams rather than sit back and watch as Dartmouth, and the pressures associated with it, crushes them.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.