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Credit: Anish Garimidi

One of my professors once said, “When I taught at Harvard, those kids wanted to change the world. When I came to Penn, I couldn’t say the same.” 

I naively believed that Penn would be full of the students that they claim to have: passionate kids who tire at nothing to make their mark on the world, the earth-shakers and world-changers of the next generation. And given Penn’s selectivity in college admissions, it would be easy to become indoctrinated in that delusion. 

Unfortunately, the earth-shaking in most Penn students’ futures will be from the oil rigs that they’re engineering and financing.

Last September, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that over half of the University’s graduates pursue careers in consulting and finance — fields notorious for their uniquely high salaries for junior employees. For Wharton, that number is nearly 84%. In the same naivete that I applied to Penn with, I thought this statistic would be met with intense backlash from the community. Instead, crickets. Maybe even mildly positive reception. 

I was intensely puzzled. Only about 15% of Penn’s undergraduate population is in Wharton. For those students, pursuing futures in these industries is likely in alignment with their passions. 

But what about everyone else? If Penn really attracts the “people who want to do something big,” what happens to the dreams of the other 85% of the student body? Why does Penn funnel people with diverse passions into boxes neatly labeled “finance,” “consulting,” and “other?”

The support for these fields is tangible — whether it be the 88+ consulting clubs that prey on vulnerable first years trying to find community or the “all industry” career fairs with about one in three employers representing finance or consulting — with nearly every decision the University makes is in support of this reality.

This infrastructure is reprehensible but understandable. As an elite institution, Penn should be raising a generation of critical thinkers or “revolutionaries” as admissions claims. Instead, it has become a factory for consultants by setting its students on this path. 

These career fields do not excite the vast majority of students. They aren’t the subjects of the impassioned rant sessions that resonate in the residence halls. In fact, they aren’t even the subjects of the personal statements that got students here. We are killing the things that bring us joy (and good to the world) in the pursuit of the false god that is absurd wealth.

The institutional support for profit maximization also dissuades us from truly assessing the dystopian impacts of these fields. When Morgan Stanley literally owns Chicago’s streets, when the Raytheon engineer expands a bomb’s explosive capabilities, when private equity makes home ownership unattainable, there is an incentive to not even think about the greater ramifications of those actions beyond the paycheck.

The worst part of all is that it doesn’t even feel like a choice. Finance, consulting, defense, and all of these industries that inflict anguish on the everyday and marginalized are so commonplace that it takes far too much effort to opt out. The passions to do good in the world are quickly squashed under the guise of employability and vain metrics of success.

I understand the intense need to establish financial stability for first-generation, low-income students or to pay off student loans. However, the reality is these students are edge cases at Penn, not nearly the 50% who choose finance or consulting. Only 19% of students on financial aid take out loans, and only 46% of students qualify for aid in the first place. These students have greater truth to their justifications in making huge sums of money. But the median income of a Penn family is $195,000, with 71% of students coming from the top 20%, compared to a national median of $74,580. Penn does not look like most of the United States.

I do not place much of this blame on individual students. It is a reasonable response to the astronomical cost of higher education, especially at Penn, to want to prioritize money post-graduation above all else. But this false dichotomy between pursuing something you love and making enough money to be comfortable should be the first thing Penn tries to dispel.

There should be robust support from the University for students whose passions do not lie in consulting or finance. Opportunities to make a good living in these realms should be highlighted with the same enthusiasm, so students don’t feel the need to press their ideas into a mold that was not made for them.

If after heavy consideration of all other options, “selling out” is for you, choose a slightly lower paying but far more ethical option. Opt to work for nuclear power instead of nuclear bombs, nonprofit banks instead of Morgan Stanley, or low-income housing instead of Blackstone.

Collectively, I urge us to imagine a brighter future: Demand better from Penn. Do good in the world. Study what you love. Use the resources of this institution to make your dreams come true.

Credit: Sydney Curran

NIHEER PATEL is a College first year from Atlanta. His email is