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Sarah Yu '11: Post-graduation allocation

A student's journey through college education is about challenges. For us, this means thinking about and accepting ideas outside of what we have become accustomed to, realizing the potential in the cosmic grandeur of the universe and leveraging ourselves to be successful for the rest of our lives.

As a newly-risen senior, it is my duty and honor to welcome first-years beginning their journeys at Brown and to share a little bit about what I have learned by this stage in my own journey.

From my current speculations about the theoretical and practical implications of my future trajectory, I am convinced (or rather, I am in the process of convincing myself) that Adam Smith was, and always will be, correct. It has not been an easy admission for me, as my Communist-Chinese-turned-welfare-state-Australian upbringing has always somewhat sheltered me from that rather large and imposing (albeit benevolent) Invisible Hand.

Now, however, as I face my last year in college — and serious contemplation about my impending job search and graduate school applications — I realize that I need to embrace the philosophy that I will always, no matter how much I might want otherwise, be subject to the Hand's omnipotence.  

Why have I finally learned to accept the inevitability of the free market? Well, to put it economically, it is out of rational self-interest. I would like to be doing something meaningful and productive with my life come June 2011. To me, and undoubtedly to many of my fellow Brown seniors, this means either making a living or enrolling in a respectable post-graduate program.

Our generation, however, has been plagued with uncertainty. In recent years, we have witnessed the global financial crisis and continue to worry about the high unemployment rates it has engendered. Our disillusionment with corporations (including even institutions of higher education, with steadily rising tuition costs and more competitive admission rates) has left a deep imprint on what we perceive to be our chances of survival in the real world.

After trying to maintain a good GPA through a series of internships and extracurricular activities, then spending the fall semester cramming for another round of standardized tests, it will finally be time to put ourselves, our resumes and our interview smiles to the test for our futures. Yet we're not guaranteed that this nerve-wracking process will turn out any fruitful results.

In order to reassure our baffled selves, many of us turn to the inevitable scramble of applying for everything in conceivability. While our elders (and less harried peers) may question the actual utility of the indiscriminate application rush, and we may face some disapproval from parents and various mentors and encouragement to focus our attentions on one particular area, I see this phenomenon as simply the natural course of the free market economy that comprises college students' post-graduation options.

Instead of the traditional manner of thinking about graduating seniors in the labor supply of our respective societies, let's try to reverse the supply-demand charts that our economics professors taught us to memorize. That is, my dear class of 2011 and I are consumers, desperately vying for our demand (work) to be met by what seems increasingly like a scarce and dwindling supply of opportunities. Applying to everything in sight isn't a sign of our lack of ambition, misdirection or frivolousness; it is simply an attempt to attain more perfect information in our current market.

After all, keeping our options open and interests broad is something that Brown's very own Open Curriculum has taught us. With a diverse and vibrant undergraduate education under our belts, it is only natural that we see what is out there and consider trying it all out.

Despite the pressure on graduating seniors to pinpoint our exact future paths, there is perhaps some logic in allowing ourselves this one more chance to diversify our interests as much as we'd like in as many places as we can and hoping that the Invisible Hand will help match our demand with the available supply, ultimately informing us about our desirability to others in the professional world. I would like to maintain my newfound confidence and optimism in the capabilities of the competitive market as I approach my final year of college, and I hope that the important lesson I have learned will embolden both my peers and those who will soon be in my shoes. Let's broaden our horizons, and as thus, do justice to our Brown education.

Sarah Yu '11 considered concentrating in Economics at one point, but then decided to keep her options open. She can be reached at xia (underscore) yu (at)


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