Friday, September 26, 2014

The six paths of the typical US college graduate—and why they’re all wrong

chrisjohnbeckett via Compfight cc

"There are currently six prominent paths for achievement-minded recent college graduates: financial services, management consulting, law school (still), med school, and grad school/academia.  The sixth is Teach for America, which continues to draw approximately 5,000 graduates (and 50,000 applicants) a year from universities across the country.

Here are the stats from national universities over the last several years:

If you add up the numbers, you’ll see that these six paths account for between 50-70% of top university graduates in the US. Relatedly, the top destinations for graduates from these schools are New York City, San Francisco, D.C., Boston, Chicago and L.A., all of which are hubs for professional services. At my organization, we sometimes joke that smart people are doing six things in six places.  If the strength of our economy and society was determined by the academic excellence of our coastal professional service providers, we’d be in great shape.

Why is our talent so concentrated? Former Yale professor Bill Deresiewicz recently published a book, Excellent Sheep, which argues that elite college students are being trained to advance and compete with little regard for higher concerns. In my mind, it’s in large part a question of access and resources.  The banks and consulting firms have massive recruitment budgets and spend millions a year seeding and building talent pipelines (as does Teach for America). Law school, med school, and graduate school are very easy and obvious to access and apply to. How much would the brand “Harvard Law School” be worth if it belonged a private company? Plus, the government will provide you tens of thousands of dollars in education loans to attend professional school if you get in. (I know this from personal experience—I attended law school and borrowed over $100k no questions asked, signing various forms when I was 21.) Meanwhile, Businessweek projects 176,000 unemployed or underemployed law school graduates by 2020 and the unemployment rate among PhDs is as high as 40%."

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