The narrative of Georgetown students who fall into finance and consulting careers after graduation is well-known throughout campus. I have always considered myself to be the type of person who would do what she loves, no matter what. But as a senior, I find myself coming face to face with the very real lure of financial security. In previous years I scoffed at the idea of hordes of seniors flocking to consulting and the like. Yet, I have watched many friends and acquaintances do the same for a wide variety of reasons. They flock because they either actually love it, aren’t sure what else to do or are ambitious.
There are immense expectations for Georgetown graduates. We are supposed to become exceptional people with high-powered careers or impressive humanitarian records. Entering the banking or consulting world is, for some, an instant gateway to prestige and validation. The conversation about Georgetown students settling for impressive careers instead of pursuing their riskier passions is centered around the dissonance between doing what you love and doing what will impress others.
If money factors into the debate, it typically does so in the form of the warning that money cannot buy happiness and that it shouldn’t impact people’s decisions to follow their hearts. This view seems at first generally benign, albeit idealistic. But the dismissal of making money as a valid concern when choosing a career path shows a certain degree of privilege. It means that people have the security to say that everything will turn out OK even if they don’t end up living in Manhattan as a banker making six figures. Everything has always been OK, so it always will be. But the prospect of financial security is a strong draw for those who have never had it.
For low- and middle-income graduates, entering a high-paying field is not just a chance at a lavish lifestyle, but also a chance to develop personal and possibly familial security and to up open a world of choice. Having financial security means peace of mind and something many take for granted: being able to choose what to do with that wealth. Taking a risk to follow your dreams is difficult when you don’t have anyone to fall back on. There is pressure to make the degree worth it and definite pressure to relieve the crushing weight of student loans. Income is not an unreasonable or vapid concern for lower-income students.
On the other hand, there are still those who claim students on financial aid should only study for high-demand, high-paying jobs to, in a sense, earn their keep. Low-income students have as much of a right to study and pursue what they love, against the odds, as upper-class students. But as fields like the arts and humanities are generally derided in favor of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it is harder and harder for financially struggling students to justify following a riskier career path that they may love. For students aiming to be artists, writers, actors, journalists and more, censure from naysayers is frequent and discouraging. Imagine the same social pressure toward “practical” fields, with the added burden of foreseeably low salaries or spotty pay, no savings to fall back on and student loans.
Low-income students need encouragement to do what they love. As a part of the larger problem of the overly preprofessional culture at Georgetown, lower-income students must be included in the conversation. The experience of future planning is even more fraught for these students than for students from privileged backgrounds. By openly discussing these experiences, all Hoyas can have the opportunity to reflect more deeply on their choice of vocation and break through the expectations and assumptions, whether their hearts lie in dance or finance.
As for me, I’m choosing to do what I love, but to approach it with pragmatism. I plan to teach English next year, and look forward to becoming a career teacher, a job where I can actually use my English degree, not succeed in spite of it. As I navigate choices among fellowships, service years, and masters programs, I am acutely aware of the cost of each. I have been told too many times how little teachers make to be ignorant of that fact. Money does inform my decisions, but it will not dictate my path.
Laura Owsiany is a senior in the College. Missing Class appears every other Friday.
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