Dartmouth College has four valedictorians this year: Wills Begor, Glynnis Kearney, David Rogg and Jie Zhong. They are impressive kids. All have stratospheric GPAs. Most pulled off two majors and a minor. One developed a new social-networking platform for the iPhone.
So what are they doing next? Investment banking, mostly. Begor is headed to Morgan Stanley. Rogg and Zhong are headed to Goldman Sachs. Kearney is the rebel. She’s going to McKinsey & Co.
Ezra Klein is the editor of Wonkblog and a columnist at the Washington Post, as well as a contributor to MSNBC and Bloomberg. His work focuses on domestic and economic policymaking, as well as the political system that’s constantly screwing it up. He really likes graphs, and is on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. E-mail him here.
That’s no surprise. After all, 39 percent of Harvard’s 2010 graduating class went to work in finance or management consulting. At Columbia, it was 34 percent. Nothing against finance or management consulting, but do they really need such a big chunk of our best and brightest?
Two years ago, Mike Mayer appeared headed in the same direction. A high school valedictorian, he attended the University of Pennsylvania. As a sophomore, he worried that he wasn’t learning usable skills, so he switched into an undergraduate program at the Wharton School and, as he puts it, “followed the herd into the finance concentration, and then into New York and Wall Street.” Last summer, he worked at Credit Suisse as a research analyst. They quickly offered him a job, which he turned down. Instead, Mayer signed on with Venture for America, a young start-up with a slightly odd mission.
Venture for America is the brainchild of Andrew Yang, a charismatic former lawyer. “We’ve got the best universities in the world,” Yang says. “We have the talent. But our best and brightest are being absorbed by what I call ‘the meta economy.’ They’re heading into professional services and transactions and optimizing, but not into direct value creation. If you can imagine a country where the equivalent wave of talent currently heading to professional services was heading to fast-growing companies, think about what that would do for job creation.”
Yang got the idea for Venture for America while running Manhattan GMAT, a test-preparation company that was acquired by The Washington Post Co./Kaplan in 2009. (I work for The Washington Post.) “I saw there was a huge pool of investment bankers and management consultants who weren’t very happy in their jobs and didn’t know what they wanted to do next,” he said. “So they would come to us because they were taking the GMAT to go to business school. Then, after business school, they would have a debt load to pay off and would end up being recruited to the same firms. But they were looking for something.”
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that enticing Ivy League graduates to work at a for-profit business can now be sold as a way to “give back” to the community — on the grounds that the job isn’t in finance or management consulting and isn’t in New York or Boston. Yet that’s Yang’s pitch. “Let’s say you were to place 20 teachers in Detroit,” he says. “That would be a great thing. But if you could place 20 entrepreneurs in Detroit and have each start a business, that would also be incredible for Detroit. These regions need our top people helping to build businesses and create opportunities.”