College students seeking jobs on Wall Street have always had hurdles to overcome — grueling applications, endless rounds of interviews, and fierce competition for the relatively few available spots at top firms.
This year’s Wall Street hopefuls have had a new force to contend with: The wrath of their peers.
Banks and hedge funds have long wooed undergraduates from elite colleges with lavish dinners, personalized e-mails, and free trips to New York for interviews. It’s all part of an annual courtship ritual known as on-campus recruiting.
But this fall, the antibank animus of the Occupy Wall Streetmovement has seeped onto college campuses. At some schools, anger at big banks has turned the on-campus recruiting process into a crucible of controversy.
“I teach financial markets, and it’s a little like teaching R.O.T.C. during the Vietnam War,” said Robert J. Shiller, a professor of economics at Yale University. “You have this sense that something’s amiss.”
Even at universities traditionally considered to be Wall Street feeder schools, student bodies are becoming polarized over recruiting. At Harvard, Dartmouth and Cornell, student newspapers have featured polemic columns that urged fellow students to consider working somewhere — anywhere — outside finance.
At Stanford, an opinion column that took aim at Wall Street’s “aggressive, sophisticated and well-funded recruitment system” resulted in “Stop the Brain Drain,” an online campaign that is trying to stem the tide of top students flooding into banks, hedge funds, and private equity firms.
“We think it’s really problematic,” said Nathan Gusdorf, 22, a senior at Dartmouth College who is an organizer of the Occupy Dartmouth movement. “There’s a culture here that takes a lot of people and directs them towards jobs in the finance industry. We breed a lot of the technocrats who go on to administer the global financial system.”
Wall Street has been steadily losing its allure on college campuses since the financial crisis, when many banks reduced hiring and left many finance-minded graduates in the lurch. Amid new uncertainty and lower profits, banks are again laying off workers, and most of those still working in the industry have seen their paychecks shrink.
Goldman Sachs , which was hard hit by this year’s downturn, canceled its fall information session for undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania, traditionally one of its core recruiting schools. (The firm is still planning to hold a session for summer intern recruits in January.) At Harvard, only 17 percent of last year’s class planned to go into financial services after graduation, according to a survey of graduating seniors, compared with 25 percent in 2006, before the crisis.
But with the added vitriol of Occupy Wall Street, this year’s recruiting process is even more forbidding.