Should Swarthmore Really Be Having Fireside Chats with Goldman Sachs?

Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Co., and Citigroup have conspicuously invaded our inboxes.

It should be no surprise — finance and consulting firms spend millions of dollars every year courting ambitious college students toward a Faustian bargain: spend the 80,000 hours of your career working to perpetuate the inordinate wealth and power of the 0.1%, and in exchange, you too shall receive your own small slice of elite prestige and material luxury. Because this professional path is so well-traveled and because campus recruiting is so established and well-funded, many Swarthmore students don’t think twice before affixing their own golden handcuffs.

To be sure, we do a better job than some peer institutions. Compared to Amherst, for example, Swarthmore graduates five times the number of non-profit and government workers, twice the number of PhDs, and half the number of investment bankers. But 12% of graduates still go into finance and consulting, and Swarthmore should reconsider facilitating students’ careers in such dubious professions. 

Swarthmore’s mission is to “help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.” While it may not be impossible to benefit the common good at Goldman Sachs, such cases would seem to require a fair amount of subversive behaviour by the employee (e.g. by donating almost all of your income). Even putting aside its long list of controversies over the years — which include contributing to the 2008 financial crisis by lying to investors about the quality of their mortgage-backed securities — Goldman Sachs’s very purpose, through investment banking and wealth management, is to further enrich its clients, i.e., the already wealthy. 

It would be one thing if finance and consulting jobs were typically pursued by lower-income students to secure financial stability and even pay off loans before moving on with their career. However, research shows that jobs in finance are dominated by students who grew up wealthy

Consulting firms are not much better. Environmental and non-profit consultancies may genuinely make the world a better place, but firms such as Bain and McKinsey are poor contenders. Like Goldman, these consulting firms do the bidding of the very wealthy, often through nefarious means. For instance, McKinsey was charged $600 million for its role in “turbocharging” opiate sales, which fueled the opioid pandemic. Bain and McKinsey also contributed significantly to the gutting of middle management at top corporations in the late 20th century, leading to a collapse of labor union membership. Banks and consulting firms do all this while embracing progressivesounding language to obfuscate the consequences of their actions. 

Many college graduates quickly leave consulting jobs within two years, sometimes with the goal of switching to a career in public service. But consultancies are suboptimal launching pads for non-corporate careers: for jobs in academia, government, or non-profits, students would be better off directly working on a given cause straight out of college. 

Career Services does an excellent job highlighting the work of alumni in public service, as well as incredible organizations like the International Rescue Committee, yet more can be done. The non-profit 80,000 Hours — named after the amount of hours we have in our career — regularly updates a list of high-impact jobs that tackle the world’s most pressing problems, from climate change to global poverty to regulating emerging technologies like AI and synthetic biology. Dozens of internships for this summer are on offer, each of which has outstanding potential to reduce suffering and fight injustice around the world. Careers in public service are also more likely to make you happy: few in finance report high life satisfaction, while the jobs with greatest life satisfaction almost all involve helping others

Students and administrators should work together to further publicize these jobs via speaker events and email threads. It may be more difficult since public service employers don’t have the same recruiting heft as big corporations, but the investment is well worth it. Swarthmore should seriously consider not hosting finance and consulting firms at career fairs at all, but if they do, job opportunities with greater potential to make the world a better place should be given greater prominence. 

For now, students should be skeptical of emails about lucrative yet unimpactful careers. 

13 Comments

    • extending through ink

      “It would be one thing if finance and consulting jobs were typically pursued by lower-income students to secure financial stability and even pay off loans before moving on with their career. However, research shows that jobs in finance are dominated by students who grew up wealthy.”

  1. for students interested in finance, like myself, swarthmore actually doesn’t do enough to assist us in recruiting as much as it should. a lot of us have always wanted to go into the industry, so those fireside chats aren’t pushing us into it. not everyone has to save the world.

  2. Please note that without Wall Street you wouldn’t be enjoying anything from the 3 billion dollar endowment and you will have to drop out of school. Never seen anything ridiculous like this before.

  3. This article completely ignores how helpful these fireside chats can be for international students (2 reasons).

    1. Companies like Goldman, EY and other big tech or consulting firms are one of the biggest employers of international students. Local NGO’s, think tanks, research places dont have the funding to sponsor visas for international students and that one of the reasons why international students turn towards these big companies.

    2. International students often don’t have connections/referrals to get into these companies which puts us at an unfair disadvantage. Our only support system then is events like the fireside chats or other events hosted by career services. If Swarthmore wasn’t hosting these events, only people who already have connections at these firms (mostly already rich kids) would get in. If we go by what the author is suggesting, you’re putting the already disadvantaged at a further disadvantage.

    ^just two of the many problems with the argument proposed in this article.

  4. Good point, but not sure I agree with the conclusion. What good will cancelling the events do? Goldman will fill those slots no matter what, the job will just go to some pretentious ivy kid instead. Why not convince Swarthmore students going in to those fields to donate some of their money to charity or to think about choices they make on the job? These would actually have an impact and improve the world whereas cancelling the events basically just makes privileged students even more likely to get the jobs. Push for more events talking about In addition, convincing students to pursue nonprofit work seems like a lost cause. Your statement about job satisfaction in these careers screams correlation not causation. If you forced someone into a nonprofit job without them wanting to pursue it, it seems unlikely they would magically have high job satisfaction. The whole argument seems unproductive and divisive and I think there are better and more effective things to be doing for those that care about the common good.

  5. The financial services industry, of which Goldman Sachs is a part, provides the capital that companies need to make the clothes that we wear, the computers that we use, the vehicles that we ride, the food that we eat, the books that we read, the musical instruments that bring us Mozart, and virtually everything else that is a part of our lives. There is nothing dishonorable about working in the industry, and there is no reason why Swarthmore should deprive its students who are so inclined from exploring opportunities in the industry.

  6. Wow have to say all you future financiers seem a little defensive about your chosen profession. Wall Street is looking for sharks, not snowflakes.

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