Editorial: Teach for America’s Rise Reveals Need for Options

Opinion by Editorial Board
March 9, 2011, 12:29 a.m.

Teach for America has become a household name over the past year as the number of applications has skyrocketed 32 percent to over 46,000 — making TFA one of the leading employers of new graduates from top schools across the nation, including Stanford. Increased media attention, along with a growing TFA presence on campus, has brought the program to the front page of many campus publications. While this Editorial Board believes that TFA’s burgeoning success attests to the civic-mindedness of our peers, it also casts a spotlight on the gaping lack of options for Stanford seniors seeking alternatives to graduate school, consulting, or finance.

TFA has become a corporate giant in the world of college recruiting, turning public service and education reform into a status symbol. The New York Times has even claimed that “getting into the nation’s top law schools and grad programs could be easier than being accepted for a starting teaching job with TFA.” Such assertions have prompted many examinations of the TFA model — especially its recruitment tactics.  In his article “What Are You Going to Do With That?” which quickly went viral among seniors after being featured on the “O’Leven” Facebook page, William Denesiewicz argues that TFA appeals to the modern generation of overachievers. He likens TFA to McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Harvard Medical School and Berkeley Law because “it’s prestigious, it’s hard to get into, it’s something that you and your parents can brag about, it looks good on your résumé, and most important, it represents a clearly marked path.”

Danesiewicz criticizes today’s generation for being unwilling to take chances and think creatively. While this critique is not wholly unfounded, it fails to acknowledge another piece to the puzzle: there is a lack of resources devoted to exposing students to entry-level positions in many fields other than consulting and finance. The problem lies in the way campus recruitment functions. For many seniors, particularly those without pre-professional majors, it seems as if there are now two options: go the banking/consulting route or go the TFA route.  Of course, other options exist, but the numbers show that a disproportionate number of students gravitate towards one of these two divergent paths.

The reality is that there is a substantial group of students in the middle who are interested in other job opportunities. Conventional wisdom has it that “if you are not going to sign with a bank or consulting firm, your better land a job through a Stanford alum.” What about the students who do not have an existing network of alumni in their fields of interest? We are constantly reminded of Stanford’s extensive network of influential alumni — certainly they are not all bankers or consultants (and even fewer are schoolteachers). The question then becomes, what can Stanford do to help make students aware of the paths less taken, and to facilitate success in those areas?

To start, Stanford must reinvest in the Career Development Center (CDC). Banks, consulting firms and TFA have deep pockets and finance their massive recruiting efforts accordingly, with great success. Conversely, other, smaller employers in the public and private sector cannot afford to send recruiters to Stanford.  If the University values the employment of its graduates, it should expand the CDC’s overstretched staff and make job listings on the CDC web site more robust.

A second problem is lack of structure. TFA provides a coordinated recruitment effort based on a systematic framework: there are campus reps, head recruiters, presentation dates, specific deadlines and outlined timelines for the application process. All applicants know whom to contact and when they should expect to hear regarding first-round on-campus interviews. The structure can be replicated on a grander scale to help spotlight public sector and start-up opportunities, while appeasing students’ need for structure, formal applications and deadlines. There should be a focus on expanding the use of existing resources, like the Stanford Alumni Network and the Stanford Alumni Association website, as well as a push to leverage support from Bing programs. By using off-campus resources, the University expands its regional presence and can help students pursue opportunities in other regions and abroad.

TFA’s rise is a good thing, but no Stanford student should apply for lack of a better option. Too many students heed the siren call of fall recruiting without an adequate understanding of their options. Stanford fails its students when a cohort feels disenfranchised in the world of campus recruiting. With minimal increases to the CDC’s staff, and creative discussions with Bing programs overseas and in Washington, Stanford can reach these students and help engage them find an appropriate choice, whether it be a consulting gig, Google, TFA, or a job with a start-up, NGO, or non-profit organization. Perhaps students do not need a “clearly marked path,” as Danesiewicz argues, but they do need a push in the right direction while pursuing their own options.

The Stanford Daily Editorial Board comprises Opinions Editors, Columnists, and at least one member of the Stanford Community. The Board's views are reached through research, debate and individual expertise. The Board does not represent the views of the newsroom nor The Stanford Daily as a whole. Current voting members include Chair Nadia Jo '24, Joyce Chen '25, YuQing Jian '25, Jackson Kinsella '27, Alondra Martinez '26 and Sebastian Strawser '26.

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