Written By Nick Bekos
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, NYU Stern’s own Scott Galloway famously blasted the higher education system for being “drunk on exclusivity” and replicating a modern day “caste system.” But is higher education really to blame? Have we not all become enamored with the idea of name brands and their exclusivity? We have only continued to enable this culture.
The college experience is not what it once was. Students step foot on campus their freshman year and immediately face the pressure of recruiting. What club program do I apply to? Who should I be networking with? What internships are the most prestigious? This obsession with prestige has eliminated the personal and professional discovery that college should offer. As many students can attest to, much of thel value in college is the network. Many students utilize the guidance of school alumni to navigatenavegate the professional world and eventually obtain positions. The actual difference in curriculum is minute from college to college. The skills required to do well in interviews are often unrelated to the majority of classes we are required to take, and the burden falls on us to learn outside of school. And while several clubs aim at preparing students for recruiting, that only furthers a student’s non-reliance on their education.
The point of attending college was once to figure out your passion. Higher Education’s College’s continued support of core curriculums and the ‘liberal arts’ education as a whole was designed to do just this. To obtain a greater understanding of the world and begin to master the subjects you have interest in. Yet, the largest institutions in the world recruit their talent earlier each year. Before you can even begin to learn about what industry fascinates you and what work could possibly interest you, the pressure of obtaining an internship shrouds your judgment.
But that’s the point! Why would these big firms want to give you time to figure out what interests you? The sooner you sign an offer with them, the worse your chances of finding better options are. The thing is, there are many other options out there. There are smaller companies, boutiques, fintech firms, and everything in-between that are willing to pay more than what banks will for half the hours offering great internships without needing to network your way into the company. The meritocracy has not completely vanished! For too long, students have lost sight of alternative routes and been pressured by peers to walk the road most traveled. We’ve been tricked into thinking working for a big name is a one-way ticket to the 1%. In doing so, we have only dug the hole deeper, creating this cult of personality for ourselves. That’s not to say boutique firms or smaller companies will solve all of your problems though. For more risk averse individuals, it’s true that the stability of a larger firm and the hierarchical structure may fit their needs more. The guarantee of having a big name on your resume and potential exit opportunities can’t be a bad idea right? But at what cost? You can bet on yourself now, or subject yourself to the dreaded finance lifestyle.
We have clubs here that openly boast about low acceptance rates and their placement to these big-name firms, happily gatekeeping information on how to actually get there, reserving it for their program members. In reality, many times their outcomes are no different to students who never participated in these programs, and sometimes even worse. Every student at Stern supposedly had enough potential according to admissions anyway, and after all, finding a ‘good’ internship can be largely procedural. Study your technicals, cast a wide net, and network if you need to. But to an unknowing freshman, it’s easy to fall into the pipeline. This leads me back to my original idea. When we assign value to names instead of numbers, we only perpetuate this culture. It’s not only the college’s faults, but also the system they serve. Our continued infatuation with corporate prestige has leaked into our education system, whether through clubs or raw acceptance rates, fostering a culture of elitism and putting immense pressure on our greatest talent.