Financial Needs and Deeds

Opinion by Uttara Sivaram
Jan. 30, 2014, 3:30 a.m.

It’s about time someone rolled a keg down to the Career Development Center. The grad students at Munger have already devised a drinking game for every time they spot a nervous undergrad shuffling past the Haas Center, clutching a soggy resume in one hand and a copy of The Economist in the other. There’s no doubt about it – jobs season is in full swing here at Stanford, and it affects everyone, whether you’re a CDC regular or just a supportive friend who knows the interview loop by way of osmosis.

I myself probably helped a few amused Munger-ites get a little more tipsy when I moseyed over to East Campus, memorizing the perfect stock pitch and trying to remember a time when I worked well in a team. This is the first time I’ve gone through this bizarre process: Last year, I was hired via Skype and based in the Bay, where jeans and the obligatory Dropbox tee can go a long ways.

In all seriousness, I’ve never been quite so astounded by a campus trend, especially since I myself can admit to having a (minor) role in this mass exodus to Wall Street. As I walk through it myself – accompanied by a good chunk of my graduating class – I’ve had plenty of time and inspiration to think about the Fabulous Finance Fad, or more fondly, the FFF. Which means, of course, that I must choose my words very carefully – accompanied, perhaps, by a good analogy.

Each year, about three percent of high school basketball players (male and female) are recruited to play in college. Of those, a staggering one percent make it to the pros, where they will get to schmooze with LeBron on the court and Beyonce off it. As early as the transition between high school to college, the prep-to-pros filtration system is deadly for these players – you really have to love the sport a great deal to not hate the numbers. Basketball is not unlike competitive graduate programs with two or three-percent admissions rates – in truth, both systems are incredibly similar and selective, and pump out experts in basketball, medicine, law, etc. who are the very best in their fields.

It’s not a perfect parallel to the FFF, but it’ll work; having made it to Stanford, starting in mid-November, we also began ascending to the second tier of selectivity when we started applying to the big firms – the big consulting and banking firms that sit in the East, where the weather is miserable enough to actually warrant wearing a suit every day.

It’s true: We’re not orthodox candidates for these firms, mostly because of the number of flip-flops that we own, but also because many California natives (like myself) have grown up with our heads in the sand, far away from the trading floor. Thus far, we’ve been out of sight and out of mind.

But there’s no denying the value of a student who can think analytically, a student creative and talented enough to innovate a new satellite or successful mobile app. There’s no reason Stanford students can’t be useful in finance – putting our naivete aside, the skills we’ve honed from growing up in a world of sprawling creativity are valuable, and more importantly, profitable.

But like the NBA, it’s a numbers game. At the end of the day, only the best will be recruited to the best. We all know the names: Sorgan Manly, GCB, AinBay.

The problem is: Here at Stanford, we’re all pretty great – smart, driven, and in some cases, beautiful – so the label “best” isn’t quite as easily acquired or defined as when we were in high school and had two important numbers to our name – or when our athletic talent could be aggregated into points-per-game averages.

The thing is, these firms don’t mind much – it doesn’t really matter that Joe wrote his thesis on counterterrorism in Afghanistan or that Susan specializes in string theory. What matters is that both Joe and Susan will learn how to optimize a stock portfolio a lot quicker than most new recruits. Raw intelligence, pure IQ, aptitude that can be quantified and stacked against others – that’s what recruiters come here for.

And that’s the great thing about attending a brand-name school like Stanford. Here, we can excel laterally, without necessarily stepping on each other’s toes for the sake of a rank. I’ll make the bold statement that we didn’t come to Stanford to yet again scale and clamber over our peers to succeed. We don’t and shouldn’t have to.

There has to be a reason we chose Stanford beyond the financial industry. Looking beyond recruiting season, I really do believe that if Wall Street is your destination, virtually all roads will take you there. But other options still exist. Placing too much stock (pun intended) on firms that want the best only for the sake of having the “best” renders that choice in colleges that you had, however many years ago, somewhat null. I thank my lucky stars every day that I’m not a great basketball player – although I had my moments in 8th grade P.E. – because I can’t imagine wanting and doing the same thing so damn much for so damn long. I usually don’t even like my choice in groceries the day after I buy them.

I don’t write this to discourage or dissuade anyone from applying to these firms. They’re big, exciting and pay extraordinarily well – plus, I might’ve sneaked my own application through. But I’d like to caution against spending too much valuable time on campus thinking about life off campus, drinking martinis in the Big Apple and running into Taylor Swift in Central Park. We have much better apples and plenty of our own celebrities to toast to here, in California.

More importantly, it’s essential to always keep in mind the reason we came here in the first place – to pick a great major and learn everything we can about it, assisted by the greatest professors and students in the world. The stock market may not wait on anyone, but I think we can afford to let it wait for us.

Contact Uttara Sivaram at [email protected].

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