Friday, June 27, 2008

What Are You Gonna Do With That Fancy $120K Degree?

Young Ivy League grads are having a hell of a time deciding. According to the Times, too many are pulled away by the lure of lucrative finance and consulting gigs, instead of entering public service. I heartily disrespected this choice as a young Ivy league student myself, because it seemed both materialistic and unimaginative. Granted, some classmates who went into i-banking or joined McKinsey had big loans to pay off. But many were unbravely looking for another competitive, elite experience to replicate what they already know, or a paycheck big enough to justify their parents' expenditures and expectations. Sez one student:

“It’s like applying to college all over again,” he added. “ ‘I applied to 8 to 10 Ivy League colleges, and I got in here. I applied to these 40 companies, and I got into these ones.’ It’s exactly the thing that appeals to the Harvard competitive spirit.”

Ironically, joining the finance world is not the same golden ticket that it was five or six years ago, as so many of these banks are imploding and shedding staff. Pity the kid who hates numbers but took a job at Bear Sterns just for the money.

I was aiming to join a different self-dubbed elite: the Devil Wears Prada, New York media set. This is just another brand of self-delusion, of course: "You work for fabulously wealthy people in divisions of multinational corporations, but are told you’ve somehow opted out of the consulting/I-banking rat race, because your filing and faxing and phone-answering is somehow edifying.”

Ultimately, all jobs have their venal aspects. I learned from some great mentors to respect people who work hard, play by the rules, and have the courage and insight to trust and develop their own unique capacities. And if the rules are too crappy -- change them!


Anonymous said...

Anya, I want you to know that I am 27 years old, married with an 18 month old girl and another baby on the way. We live in a house that the bank owns (though officially I think people in our situation say we're "homeowners") own two cars outright, have no debt, have a few thousand in savings or mutual funds etc. and don't have a clue what we're doing with the rest of our lives.

I found myself in our public library the other day looking for new reads...picked up "iCon: The Story Of Steve Jobs" and also "Generation Debt". Finished iCon; started/read most of G.D. I have to say: I'm really struggling with G.D. and I'm really struggling with this particular post... First of all, the danger in education for many years has been groups of people running towards the perceived money and not running towards what their passion is. A few years ago engineering was hot; then web development; then finance; then... The problem with this is that it's just like timing markets; only the limited few seem to have a good sense of timing while the rest of the would be investors seem to have a knack for buying high and selling low. They jump in at all the wrong times. Now is not the time to own Google stock; it's not the time to own _____-tech company that's already had their big's time to do the hard research of finding the good investments out there if you want to be aggressive OR it's time to buy into products you believe in.

How does this relate to your writings... well, the cutting edge jobs of tomorrow (the great opportunities that the seemingly lucky will get) are pearls--you have to find them. If they are talking about a hot career on Yahoo Jobs, chances are you're about 2-5 years too late to get in, although 1000's will change their majors tomorrow. OR maybe it's time to buck the trend and do something you really want to do, even though it's not the cash ticket.

G.D. speaks of a lot of numbers and figures of the down and out. You talk about America as being in this state of disarray where opportunities are no more; a perpetual wasteland. I came out of school with a business degree and (well, actually I started doing this full-time before I even graduated) became a youth minister to middle and high school students at a local church. 8 years later of doing this full-time and getting paid much less than most fields and we are chugging along in the financial situation I described above.

I think we need to be very careful about suggesting that it is various entitlements that are lacking or that rising college tuition is to blame. A) because I have to ask you: blame for what? Opportunities exist and will continue to exist for the visionaries and those who are motivated. Just because employers are not currently handing out jobs on a silver platter to any applicant who applies doesn’t mean jobs don’t exist. You can’t just be good on paper and expect that to get you anywhere in life. Is it possible that many of the “disenfranchised” you speak are pursuing the wrong fields for their passions and talents? B) I have to address a problem that I feel is becoming a huge one in America: the assumption that everybody should be given a college education. Over the years of working with teenagers and seeing them through high school graduations I can share with you one observation that has plagued me: not every kid should go to college. Continuing education? Yes! But you mentioned in your book that it used to be that kids would come out of school and go work at General Motors for $17.50 an hour (versus the $8 an hour Wal-Mart pays today). But let me ask you this: how many parents have said things like: “if you don’t study hard you’ll end up working for GM (or fill in the blank) for the rest of your life” like a tech/trade job is a bad thing? What message have we sent to the kids who should be electricians or mechanics or plumbers or ___ when we make a college education the only respectable career path. Instead of blaming the rising cost of college education I think we need to remind ourselves that a college education shouldn’t be available to everyone—that only cheapens it’s value. Should it be just for the rich? No! I think we would miss out on some great minds, but we have to change our thinking about it being for everybody and come up with new ways to encourage kids into fields that are more suited for them. This starts in high school!

What are high schools doing to really prepare kids for what’s next? And even beyond that: should we expect our schools to be teaching kids lessons about life, money or even family? But if you do have higher expectations of our schools maybe it’s time we start asking why there are no tech/trade classes that introduce kids to other fields that may not require a college degree, but instead we’re teaching kids how to properly place a condom on a banana. Maybe it’s time we start asking why we’re so focused on teaching kids how to test well to pass their state’s required aptitude test for graduation (in Florida we have the FCAT which you must pass in order to receive a diploma) while instead we should be teaching kids how to invest some of the money they are making working at their after school jobs (which of course might mean shares of J.Crew and Abercrombie lose their value as kids start to get smart about how they spend their disposable income- God forbid). Maybe we need to show them what debt does to people and how it affects their lives in an inescapable way; maybe we would do well to show them how they can make choices now that can reward them later by allowing them to work because they love it, not because they have bills that are dependent on their very next paycheck.

When I read Generation Debt I saw a lot of statistics and sad stories, but not much in the way of personal responsibility, and I am in the age group of the so called “entitled generation” (18-34). I don’t feel that the government owes me anything, including that tax rebate check that just came in the mail (and instead of buying a new plasma tv that money was immediately invested into a mutual fund without a single dime going to any indulgent behavior on the part of our family). I don’t feel it’s the government who should dictate whether or not I have health care or not. I want the government out of as much as I can get them out of because the government’s only necessary job is to keep our borders and our country safe via a military. I’m tired of them spending $$ and printing more up when they run out, causing inflation to spiral out of control so that none of us can afford anything anymore.

Finally, you mentioned how your fellow Ivy League grads are, more and more, choosing public service over the CEO or finance jobs. What is public service? A government job guaranteed to not be downsized? Politics? Do you really feel like you are “represented” in our “representative government”? I have yet to see a politician or a presidential candidate that is truly in tune with the will of the people. I see candidates projecting on the majority the hedonistic desires of a small majority but I don’t feel represented at all. And we feel powerless to change it all. Thank God we have one candidate promising “change” huh?

It isn’t that we disagree on the state of America; it’s that we seriously disagree on how we’ve gotten there and what to do from here.

Jamie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jamie said...

since when are there 10 ivy league colleges? did i miss something or is that ivy league grad not so smart?

Anonymous said...

This is a message for Jegg McLaughlin. I suggest continuing to read Generation Debt. Some of the point you take issue with (such as not everyone needing to go to college and vocational training being a viable option) are actually major themes of the book. I know you said you had just started to read, so I can understand why you don't see this - but really - there are whole chapters that make the point you are making in this post. :)

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