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Credit: Jackie Lou

It’s mid-October, and for students, fall at Penn has settled into its comfortable routine — the constant stream of midterms, extracurricular responsibilities, and the balance of work and life. However, there’s one dark chapter in fall semester of junior year that I wasn’t mentally prepared for, and that’s on-campus recruiting — the dreaded OCR.

Even as someone who says they’re “casually” recruiting, it’s hard for me and many people to not get swept up in the job- and internship-hunting madness. Students who aren’t remotely interested in consulting or financial services often feel pressured to attempt recruiting, and that pressure permeates throughout the student body. Some of my friends who don’t know what consulting is and don’t find it appealing at all still find themselves at BCG info sessions, wondering how they got there.

The thing is, there’s an inextricable link between Penn’s high-achieving environment and the allure of OCR. In many ways, OCR represents the next elite, sensible step after Penn — with many of these jobs boasting extremely low acceptance rates. For Penn students, this is like a heightened version of the Ivy League admissions process. Especially for students who are unsure of their career paths post-graduation, OCR provides a timeline that makes sense — for example, the popular and infamous investment banking route leads students to “two years of IB, business school, and then private equity,” or something along those lines.

That being said, the goals of OCR, in many ways, promote a very shortsighted view of success. “If only I can get this one prestigious job, then I’ll be successful” leads to narrow-minded ways of thinking that can lead students into life paths that they may not have wanted in the first place. Instead of asking what kind of jobs they want now, maybe students would be better off asking what kind of lives they want to live in the next five, 10, or 20 years, and see if that banking job they are trying for aligns with their personal life missions, or if it’s simply a way to procrastinate figuring out more suitable career paths.

Furthermore, the pressures of OCR and landing these internships and jobs have created an incredibly toxic environment for upperclassmen who are right in the thick of it. For students interested in certain industries like banking, recruiting is starting earlier and earlier, beginning in the spring of sophomore year, and not even in the fall of junior year. It can often feel like everyone around you is employed when you may still be job-hunting. In many ways, OCR is a huge contributor to mental health issues at Penn, as students are literally pitted against each other for a handful of jobs.

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OCR is a process that affects everyone differently, in varying levels of extremity. While some can handle the stress, others are affected more deeply, sometimes equating getting a certain job with self-worth. Getting rejected from a job can feel strangely and terribly personal, and adds to a heightened sense of failure, especially among friends who may already have jobs. We need better transparency about the selectiveness of some of these jobs, and more acceptance of counseling and therapy in the face of these needs.

Others will say OCR is inherently a privilege. Indeed, the fact that we have many of these incredible companies at our disposal every fall is not a fact that we should take lightly. However, what is not a privilege is the problematic culture that surrounds OCR and the pressures students face as a result from it. 

On-campus recruiting isn’t going away any time soon, but there are ways we can attempt to facilitate a better culture around it. Critically thinking about why you want to on-campus recruit for certain industries (instead of falling into the trap that you “should do it because everyone else is” and falling into a path that you hate), understanding that jobs are transient and simply one facet of life, and promoting better methods of coping with rejection are just a few ways students can change the way they see OCR. Only together can we create a better environment for all students when it comes to those three dreaded letters. 

JESSICA LI is a College junior from Livingston, N.J., studying English and psychology. Her email address is jesli@sas.upenn.edu. 

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