Attending an Ivy League institution such as Brown is an incredible privilege. Not only are we privy to an astonishing range of resources and top-notch faculty, but we are constantly surrounded by bright peers who push us forward. This brilliance is so commonplace that it's easy to take for granted.
People come here with big dreams and often hope to change the world. Yet as we approach the end of another academic year, it's worth reflecting on what it is our graduates actually end up doing. For a place as liberal and diverse as Brown, one might think that graduates go on to pursue a range of meaningful careers such as those in public service, research, the nonprofit sector or the arts. Yet in 2021, 51% of employed graduates who responded to CareerLab’s survey ended up in just three fields — finance, consulting and tech. Equally concerning is that 40% of last year’s graduates concentrated in economics, computer science, applied math or some combination thereof. These data are striking, and we ought to ask why this is the case.
Now I want to be very clear, I am in no way disparaging these fields or reducing their value. It’s just that I find it hard to believe that one-fifth of undergraduates at a university as quirky as Brown dream of becoming investment bankers or management consultants when they grow up. I find it even more difficult to believe that Brown students, who commonly cite the Open Curriculum as their reason for choosing Brown, are so frequently enthralled by economics, computer science and applied math. During my first week at Brown, someone once told me that “the save the world to consulting pipeline goes crazy here.” As I have connected with my peers across grade levels, I’ve already begun to see it. An education concentrator adds on economics and eventually drops the original education degree. Or a visual artist becomes a tech aspirant. Slowly, our wide-eyed dreams become whittled down and the “Incoming Summer Analyst” announcements grow ever more regular like a steady drum beat.
This is incredibly distressing to me.
Who will write my next favorite novel, or develop pharmaceuticals for my aging relatives or craft policies to mitigate climate change if not Brunonians? The phenomenon that I speak of is not unique to Brown. In fact, one might even say it is mild here. This brain drain to these three industries is endemic across America’s top institutions, especially amongst our Ivy League peers. Yet when our brightest students so commonly abandon their passions we and the world are all poorer for it. Between the time we march inward through the Van Wickle gates and the time we march out, something has convinced many of us that there are only a few set paths to success — and that must change.
I believe that the overrepresentation of these fields and concentrations in part reflects a shift in mindset about what the value of education really is. In the past, education was seen as a personal pursuit as much as a utilitarian one. Degrees such as those in philosophy or English teach a way of thinking rather than a specific skill. But, with the rise of STEM and the increasing cost of education, this view seems harder for many to justify.
Many peers may rationalize this redirection as a necessary evil that will provide them with on-the-job training to pursue more meaningful employment down the line. With such clear pipelines and the promise of six-figure salaries, it's easy to see why over-achieving Brown students so disproportionately end up in fields like finance, consulting or tech. However, what we often don’t realize is that now is precisely the time in our lives when it's okay to take risks and even fail. Unrestrained by the responsibilities of family life, we can be at our most innovative. Instead of consulting on someone else’s dream, investing someone else’s money or building someone else’s startup, our early 20s should be a time for exploration. When one sees so many peers following these well-trodden paths, it becomes easy to second-guess and doubt one’s own path (something I myself have often done). As a result, our intellectual curiosity has been tainted by our pursuit of security.
One could rightly argue that it is an incredibly privileged position to say that we can all pursue our passions when, for many, a Brown degree enables social mobility. However, I think the very fact that we are here gives us that privilege to some extent; regardless of our concentration, we are highly employable by virtue of the Brown name. And further, it is okay to live a middle-class life. A peer once said to me in passing, “My high school teacher went to Cornell, that’s so sad,” as if those of us who pursue less flashy careers don’t deserve a world-class education. There is something — a lot even — to be said about education for the sake of education.
As young people and Brunonians, we are incredibly blessed by both time and opportunity. I worry that as we grow older and put our passions by the wayside we will forget who we are and why we are here in the first place. I know that work isn’t everything, but it honestly just makes me so incredibly sad to see my peers' talents go unrealized as we are slowly beaten down by the machine. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but every time I meet someone new here at Brown, I am just in awe. I want to see them see it through and fulfill their wildest dreams. So to all my classmates, please know that there are many paths to success, and we should explore them all. Let’s all become architects of not only our own education, but our lives.
Tas Rahman ’26 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tas Rahman is a staff columnist at the Brown Daily Herald writing about issues in higher education. When he's not coding or studying biochemistry, you can find him hiking and enjoying the great outdoors.