By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Taking the pulse of Harvard graduating seniors

I went to a reception last night for graduating seniors at one of the Harvard undergrad residences. I spent a good deal of the evening asking seniors about what was going on in the job market. Here's what I learned.

First, apparently many seniors still don't have jobs. The job situation is a little better than last year, but not great. Hiring by investment banks ("i-banking" as the kids call it) is up a bit, but hiring by consulting firms is still very weak. I was surprised that two of the students I spoke with (out of a total of maybe eight) were planning to get Ph.D.'s -- one had already been accepted in a graduate program in theoretical physics, and the other was going to earn some money doing S.A.T. tutoring before applying for a Ph.D. in English. Both of the students were women. Although I didn't meet any, apparently some Harvard seniors will be taking advantage of an opportunity that, as best as I can tell, guarantees that any work-willing graduating senior from a good American school need never go unemployed -- namely, going to Asia to teach English.

Apparently close to 20 percent of Harvard graduating seniors have applied for Teach for America, a truly astounding percentage, although of course not all will be accepted and not all those accepted will take the jobs. The kids I spoke to expressed some skepticism about these huge numbers, noting that Teach for America temporarily seemed to have replaced "i-banking" as a resume jewel, but feeling this would not survive the economic downturn.

One student who was going to work for a hedge fund told me that "the work I will do adds very little if any social value," but that the culture of the firm prescribed rather modest workdays of only 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., leaving him spare time to work on setting up a non-profit that represented something about which he could get excited.

While we were talking about Teach for America, I asked a group of students if they considered work for the government to be "public service" -- the Partnership for Public Service has pointed out that many college students see only non-profit work as public service. To my pleasant surprise, all three of the students said that they did consider government work to be public service, and all said they could definitely imagine working for government at some point, although none of them knew any graduating seniors who were going to work for government.

Posted on May 25, 2010 at 12:08 PM


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