After spending another Friday night feeling like I am rotting away in a Huntsman GSR, I, like so many other Penn students, am guilty of stumbling across the thought of “Should I go into consulting?”
At Penn, more than 50% of the most recent graduating year entered work full time in either the financial (28.29%) or consulting industry (18.88%), even though Wharton consists of only 25% of the undergraduate body. With median starting salaries nearing six figures, names such as McKinsey & Company or Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are tossed around with such frequency you can’t help but be drawn into the snake's den. While I have no interest in taking the trek up to Wall Street, I am intrigued yet alarmed by the numbers.
Why are so many students from Penn — even the ones that had no previous taking to a corporate lifestyle — giving into the notorious 100-hour work weeks? Why does Penn foster an environment with a disproportionate amount of support for entering financial service fields? Why isn't there more postgraduate support for public service and other nonprofessional fields?
Penn’s culture of elitism is no matter of secrecy. 71% of students come from the top 20%, 19% of students come from the top 1%, and only around 3% of Penn students come from the bottom 20%. This lack of socioeconomic diversity has led to the infiltration of the thought that the acquisition of social capital and social status is a matter of utmost importance in life. As a result, insecure, confused, and vulnerable students are easily targeted and picked up by financial juggernauts such as McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, etc.
These temptations of the so-called pursuit of selling out and working for a prestigious firm on Wall Street are also continuously pushed onto Penn students. Clubs, recruiters, career fairs, and peers passionately speak of the perks of these renowned firms such as generous pay, the ease of getting involved in the field, short-term commitment, etc. With only a four-year degree, summer internships leading to job offers, and a path already walked by others, the support to enter a business or financial field is unmatched.
Evidently, a majority of students blindly hop on the bandwagon up to New York forgetting the highly questionable social and ethical impact of these firms that gets lost in the long list of material promises.
The culture of Wall Street is fully focused on itself — in which one guy is trying to make more money than the next. At the height of the pandemic, recession, student debt, housing and health-care costs, the system remains to be shaped in a way that benefits only go to people at the top. Firms continue to work with fossil fuel companies, cigarette makers, opioid distributors, regulatory agencies, and autocratic regimes. The culture of disrespect and degradation towards women still persists. The rates of depression, anxiety, and immune-system problems that come with climbing the corporate ladder are ever growing.
Why have we glamorized a system that creates and perpetuates inequality?
However, if you do take this path, your goal should be for betterment. These internal systemic problems will not be fixed by only external voices speaking on them. Change will only happen if the future of the workforce that enters knows of the flaws and fights them from within.
Attending an institution where success-driven students witness their peers become monetarily successful in their careers years before them leads to the feeling of being behind. Penn needs to support their students with more than just words. Actions such as investing in the creation of a school for public service would send a signal to its student body that these fields are also valued. Increasing the number of events targeted towards taking the public service path, either with alumni or prominent figures in different fields, would help students get a sense of security in the path they take post-grad.
It's time to re-evaluate the glorified wealth addiction and celebration of big business. Maybe I have an ignorant and idealistic understanding of the world — yes, time and money are valuable, and it is unrealistic to think that pursuing passion projects is a feasible path for everyone. And yes, the world isn’t shaped in a way that we can take multiple years to find out what our passions are before committing to them. But stop blindly walking the easy paved path others have taken. As Robert Frost once said, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
LIALA SOFI is a College second year from Roanoke, Va. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.