Yale Student to Peers: Consultants Are Sellouts

As recruiting season heats up and legions of consulting firms descend on elite college campuses, one Yale student has a simple request for his peers: “Don’t go into consulting straight out of college.”

The question of what the country’s best-educated college graduates should do with their talents has been batted around for years. The argument typically starts with someone decrying the path from the Ivy League to the finance world, saying grads have more to offer than commandeering spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks in the service of a rich company. Detractors then ask how fair it is to vilify people for trying to pay off debt or secure a stable job.

Yale senior Scott Stern—whose column appeared on Monday in the Yale Daily News—takes a focused stab at management consulting, an industry that profits from advising companies on how they can improve their performance. “How are graduating college seniors qualified, in any way, to tell businesses how to change their structure or practices?” he wrote. “Frankly, they aren’t.” He promises a follow-up that warns students against heading to Wall Street.

Stern doesn’t “think people who are going into consulting are all evil,” he says. What troubles him is that high-achieving students seem to be succumbing to what he labels inertia, or choosing prestigious jobs largely for their promised stability, as opposed to pursuing what they’re passionate about.

Stern’s admonishments come as demand for management consultants grows. The field will expand 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, forecasts the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yale says 13.5 percent (PDF) of its class of 2013 went into the broader consulting industry, although it doesn’t break down how many became management consultants as opposed to focusing on technology, economics, or other areas.

With so many future consultants among Stern’s classmates, it’s unsurprising that he’s gotten flak over his column, and not just in the article’s comments section. Some of his friends heading into the industry told him he got it all wrong. But Stern stands by his view, saying much of the competitive streak that got his classmates into Yale bleeds into the way they navigate the job application process.

“I think when you get to a competitive college, you get really good at applying to stuff. You see this at Yale, where there are majors that are really popular because you have to apply to them, and in some respect, this just continues this very competitive culture,” says Stern, who’s currently applying to law school and hopes to practice public-interest law. “I don’t really think people are entering the industry for the money—I think they’re doing it because it’s the well-defined route.”

Stern is incredulous about students who think they can make their biggest mark on the world through gigs at consulting firms and investment banks. “Last year, I was having lunch with two kids who were both going to be working for big banks over the summer. I said to them, ‘Do you really think … within reason, that this is the most you can do for the world?’ And they both unhesitatingly said yes. I don’t think they were lying to me.”

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