Does Wall Street Still Appeal to College Students?

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College student contemplating

At a recent trade tech conference, I asked a professor at NYU's Stern Business School if his students still wanted to work on Wall Street. His answer: "If they want to be a one-percenter, where else are they going to earn that kind of money?"

The reality is that the answer to that question all depends on who you ask.

There appears to be a drop off among the number of applicants from Ivy league schools to Wall Street firms.

According to an article in Duke University's campus paper, The Chronicle, only 30.4 percent of Princeton's grads were finance-bound, compared to 46 percent in 2006, and at Harvard, where finance has been the most popular among graduates for five years in a row, the percentage of graduating seniors going to Wall Street has fallen to 17 percent last year from 28 percent in 2008.

The Duke paper says graduates of its school are “still flocking to the finance industry in massive numbers.” According to the article, Duke is not alone, and financial services tops the list at Columbia.

Meanwhile, the New York Times Economix Blog's Catherine Rampell wrote last year that the number of graduates at Harvard, Yale and Princeton going into finance has actually decreased significantly since the years before the financial crisis.

Duke’s career services Web site doesn’t break out the exact percentage of graduating seniors who choose finance jobs, according to Dealbook, which goes on to say that if if The Chronicle’s claim of “roughly one-quarter” is correct, then the number of Wall Street-bound students is likely to have declined there, too. In 2008, when the site did break out industry-by-industry percentages, finance claimed 32 percent of survey respondents.

The Duke paper says Wall Street is the first choice for top-flight graduates because:

A) banks are really good at recruiting

B) banks are flooded with proud alumni who want to recruit students from their alma maters

C) bank jobs still pay well, and attract rich kids who want to maintain the lifestyle to which they’re accustomed

D) bank jobs are still seen as the most prestigious, competitive gigs on campus

Dealbook also says the Brown Daily Herald published an article this week about socioeconomic diversity on campus. A chart accompanying the article showed that, nationally, the percentage of students seeking bachelor’s degrees who come from families in the top income quartile jumped in 2010 from 2005. It goes on to say that you’d expect, then, that the percentage of students going to Wall Street would also increase as student bodies became wealthier; instead, finance recruiting at the top feeder schools was declining.

All in all, it appears that Wall Street is still attractive for some college students despite the bad press, the pay cuts and the layoffs. It is still an exciting place to be in good markets and bad, or as they say in Vegas, "never bet against the house."

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