Vilsan ’19: Economy justifies professional compromise

Staff Columnist
Thursday, October 13, 2016

In an economic climate where no job or investment feels safe, more and more college graduates and wide-eyed employees-to-be are choosing seemingly safe professions in finance, putting up their true aspirations as collateral on their impending loans. At a place like Brown, we tend to shame those who temporarily sideline their ideals in favor of financial security.

As I walked into information and networking sessions for the big names on Wall Street this fall, I was often met with a room brimming with students, many of whom were wary of the future rather than excited about the promise of working on the Street. As Brown students, we often encounter the cliche: Follow your dreams. Yet, as graduation inches closer and closer, it seems even those seemingly least likely to pursue finance are lured into info sessions with the promise of a friendly checking account statement and a predictable career path.

It is certainly worth mentioning that some of the Brown students seated in investment banking info sessions are there because they are truly drawn to the profession. Students from all backgrounds, including those completely unrelated to economics or finance, are welcomed and often employed by the biggest names in the business. Indeed, the CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, studied history at Harvard.

In addition, many twentysomethings are under immense pressure to pay off student loans or wean themselves off of their parents’ paychecks. Many students initially look for a job in the finance sector in order to jump-start their post-graduation earnings, promising themselves that they will return to their professions of choice and that finance is simply the right move for now.

Indeed, the state of the global economy suggests that short-term sacrifice in exchange for long-term stability may be the right move. Janet Yellen’s ’67 latest description of the current climate as one of “considerable uncertainty” undoubtedly resonated with many Americans. It seemed to reflect what’s been on everyone’s mind in these info sessions: Right now is not the right time to be taking a leap of faith.

According to Harvard professor of economics Lawrence Katz, it is becoming increasingly difficult for college graduates to find jobs that pay well. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates have more of a safety belt when it comes to job prospects, but for anyone — even those heading out into the job market with Ivy League degrees — a stable income is not a guarantee.

The truth of the matter is that the economic climate today is generally more accepting of students completing occupation-specific majors and looking to enter the corporate or vocational worlds. Some students may find themselves pushed into industries that they never pictured themselves in as a result of personal and family finances. The tradeoff is inevitable. So before you judge those who may choose this stability over pursuing passions, consider the very real possibility that you, too, could be making professional compromises in a year or two. Left feeling safe and sorry still leaves you able to pay the bills.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this op-ed to and other op-eds to


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